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Why Today’s Workplace Needs Emotional Intelligence More Than Ever!

July 16, 2010

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We learn a lot from our clients.  Their insights and experiences are our primary lifeline to what is happening – at every level – in today’s workplace.

And too often, what we are hearing – isn’t pretty.

Overworked, overburdened, stressed, exhausted, cynical, pessimistic, untrusting, disengaged, resentful, frustrated, fearful and angry are common descriptions too many people have given us of their work experience since the ’08 economic downturn.  Not that things were rosy before – but pre–recession “good times” tended to obscure the picture and skew reports.

Since we began integrating Emotional Intelligence (EI) into our organizational consulting in the late ‘90’s, we’ve watched it slowly grow to become a more accepted “best practice” in some business settings.   Many leaders and HR professionals have come to understand and inform their organizations that all intelligence is not cognitive.

Increasingly, more organizational leaders are seeking out EI training, coaching and interventions for their employees

Why is that?

Well if you’ve seen the some of the surveys and reports we’ve read, you know that trust and engagement are at all time lows.   Reports of bullying and escalated conflict (taking many different shapes and forms) are on the increase.

At a time when creativity, innovation and sustained engagement are urgently needed to restore and fuel new business, organizations cannot afford for their employees to be carrying so much emotional baggage.  More than ever, employees need the tools to navigate interpersonal differences, manage change effectively and build strong relationships.

How Can EI Help?

While there are no magic formulas, increasing EI awareness – for people and organizations (yes, workplace cultures can be EI rich or deficient) can significantly contribute to healthier workplace environments. In our work, we are always hearing reports of how enhanced EI skills support personal and organizational efforts.

Let’s take the example of Jim, a manager in a Midwest manufacturing plant.  In his workplace conflicts have been the norm for a long time, but have gotten worse since the recession. Jim reports that his company has tried everything to reduce arguments, lower turnover and absenteeism and implement changes.

“Initially, we never entertained the idea of Emotional Intelligence. I guess we thought of it as some California “love-in” kind of thing. When we heard about training people to develop their empathy competencies, we thought it sounded like a real waste of time.”  

Now that his employees have developed and are using their emotional intelligence skills, Jim’s perception about EI has completely shifted.

“We looked under every rock, used all the right language and people still couldn’t deal with differences, their own issues and handling changes.  Now we are starting to experience what respectful communication and collaborative thinking can do to turn those negative numbers around.”

What the Heck are EI Competencies Anyway?

There is no universal definition of EI.  So let’s begin with our favorite “definition.”  It’s based on the work of Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf, authors of the book, Executive EQ.

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source for connection, collaboration, influence and inspiration.”

This rich description captures the potential of using strong EI skills as a sustainable resource for self-motivation and healthy relationship management.  Nearly everyone has the potential to build their capacity by developing the competencies identified as fundamental to the skillful use of emotional intelligence.

With some variation, most EI developers use the following competency clusters to organize skills.

The first two are considered to be intrapersonal skill sets.

  • Self- Awareness  
  • Self-Management

Self- Awareness - Our success and accomplishments in the workplace rely on our ability to be aware of ourselves and our impact on our environment.

What’s that mean?

First and foremost, what do we know about our mindsets – how we think, feel and act?    Until we develop the skills of self-awareness – conscious thought, feeling and action – we often operate reactively, in auto-pilot mode.  Unless we have a strong awareness of our intrapersonal process – we tend to look everywhere except inside for motivation,  problem-solving and to meet our needs.

Self-Awareness is the “mother-ship” of EI competencies – the foundation on which all other skills sit.

Self-Management - This critical competency addresses how we manage our internal processes.  Everyone gets emotionally triggered, especially in the workplace. The question is how solid are our skills to honestly and clearly identify what we feel – and then to make a choice about how we are going to handle those feelings.

Without strong self-management skills we’re often looking for something or someone else as the cause and remedy for our experience.

Poor self-management skills drain personal and organizational resources. Managers spend as much as a third of their time managing conflicts and dealing (often indirectly) with employees who lack skill in these competencies.

The second cluster of EI competencies centers on our relationship abilities:

  • Social Intelligence
  • Relationship Management

Arguably, relationship building and the ability to collaborate effectively are among the most important skills for the 21st century workplace.  Some of us are naturally gifted in this area – but for most of us – it takes a great deal of “work” to maximize our people skills.

Social Intelligence – We’d single out two areas that we believe are the cornerstones of this competency – the ability to respond to others empathically – and the ability to develop trust in relationships.  Both of these are worthy of multiple posts in themselves!

Although often misunderstood, empathy is not sympathy, coddling, indulgence, condoning, pampering, overlooking or conceding towards others.  It is simply our ability to relate to others with care and consideration, even when we don’t like them or disagree with their views or actions.  Empathy is natural to us all, unless those channels have been shut down in some way. Consciously acting empathically requires that we be as in touch with our emotional brain as with our “rational” brain.

Trust, in serious short supply these days, is the glue that binds relationships. Can we really be effective in our work without it?  We certainly don’t think so.

Trust is a personal and idiosyncratic experience.  It stems from our values, beliefs and the experiences that have been shaped by them.  The more that we know and understand about how trust works for us – and for others – the better.  Without that knowledge, we largely act from past experience (not always an accurate barometer) or from unchecked assumptions and expectations.

Relationship Management – Clearly this competency is built on all the others. How capable and flexible are you in relating to others to maximize your personal and organizational goals?  That’s the challenge.

There is no question that people bring all kinds of emotional issues to the workplace.  One reason (and there are too many to list in this post) is because most organizations don’t hire for EI competencies.  As a society, we are not at the point (yet) where we have fully realized the value of social and emotional skills to accomplish  work more effectively.

The three skills we want to highlight within this competency group are:

  • Listening
  • Assertiveness
  • Conflict Management

Regardless of the professional or organizational goals – EVERYONE benefits from expanding their EI competency.

Better listening elicits greater understanding and rapport.  Assertive vs. aggressive communication strengthens leadership and influence while respecting the boundaries of co-workers and colleagues.  In workplaces burdened with unresolved conflict or conflict-averse climates,  good conflict management skills contribute to creating “cultures of permission” where people can speak honestly and respectfully about their differences and disagreements – freeing up creativity in the process.

In the “new economy” organizational leaders must find new ways to increase engagement, retain talent and create climates where trust and resiliency are optimized. More satisfying emotional experiences and workplace relationships are a key to that future.

 What do you think EI skills bring to the workplace?  What are your EI strengths and how do they support you professionally – and personally?

 

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 8:35 pm

    Great substantive post on Emotional Intelligence. It boggles my mind that many leaders see these competencies as “soft skills”. I hope that is really changing…there is no question that empathy, social intelligence, etc. are crucial to business success. I would characterize these competencies as Critical Success Factors and omit the word soft from the business dictionary. Clear Leadership is a relative new book with a focus on interpersonal skills that is quite revealing. It’s not an easy book to read, but it does have some gems in it. Thanks for this important overview of EI… @WorkIntegrity

    • July 17, 2010 8:46 am

      Hi Terry,
      Thx much for the comments! We are 100% with you in reaction to the continued use of the word “soft.” Even with all our years of study and practice, we are still amazed at the challenges of communication and relationship – especially in the workplace. This mindset in business reflects the lack of understanding in general of the role our emotions play in every single thing we do. No question in our minds that without strong EI skills, personal and workplace success is nearly impossible. In fact, we’d jump out on the limb and say that it has been one of the major factors holding back “real” productivity.
      We’ll check out Clear Leadership, thanks for that tip!
      Best,
      Louise

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