#3 Emotional Intelligence

In today’s episode, Pilar looks at the components of Emotional Intelligence, she covers three phenomena we see in the workplace related to emotions and she introduces the emotional capabilities of high-performing teams.

Emotional Intelligence

A little bit of history. Some of you might remember Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence hitting the bookshelves in 1996. What a revelation – how we navigate the emotional aspect of life is just as important as how we use our intellect.

The book was followed by Working with Emotional Intelligence, as well as
Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, co authored with Richard Boyazis. If you are interested in the subject, might want to check out one of those. I’ve dipped in and out of them.

One of the reasons I thought I’d share my thoughts about this topic here is that just the term itself, just the fact that it has made our way into our vocabulary of desirable professional competencies, means that we acknowledge that we all have emotions, and that it’s how we operate with them that allows to work better or worse.

Long gone are the days when we were expected to leave our emotions out of the office door (or computer, if you are working away from your colleagues) – we are humans, let’s celebrate that.

I’ve been struggling with how to tackle this topic – defining emotional intelligence is all very well, but how does it help us? And how does it help us as managers and how does it help us to create the best conditions in which a team can operate, which, for me, is at the heart of 21st Century management. So I’ve decided to structure my thoughts in three parts:

The components that make up emotional intelligence, or EI, then a couple of terms that I’ve come across over the years – sometimes it’s nice to have names for those elusive things that surround emotions – and finally, I’ll share some research on self-managed, outstanding teams, which shows some of what we might want to look out for, encourage, facilitate and even role-model.

A little bit of a definition of emotional intelligence, as defined by Daniel Goleman (The term Emotional Intelligence was actually first used in 1989 by two American academic psychologists: John D Mayer and Peter Salovey.) but I’m going to stick with Goleman as he’s more palatable, this is a coffee break podcast after all, emotional intelligence is the cluster of skills that allow us to understand and regulate our own emotions and those of others.

Let’s start with the four components of of EI then.

This is the basis of all leadership practice and indeed, the basis of all successful human interaction.

I imagine you can see how in all human interactions it’s desirable to be aware of how we’re feeling and of how we’re coming across. But let’s go a bit further.

It’s not just about seeing or feeling that an emotion is brewing up (and it could be happiness, I have a feeling that when we talk about emotions at work we’re always looking at those that might get in the way – joy, excitement, they’re also emotions…

So, acknowledging the emotional aspect of communication is something key in our interaction with others; understanding where they might be coming from is the next step.

If you really want to know yourself, understanding where emotions come from can be uncomfortable. I’m not even thinking of going into some deep analysis (although you can do that, of course) but it’s thinking “Hey, doing this is making me really happy” or “Mmm having coffee with that person has left me inspired” or “You know what, that conversation made me really angry, probably because…” Fill in the blanks.

When we’re leading a team or a project, it’s tempting to design a process or to shape the group’s process to suit our own tendencies. You might decide to continue running weekly meetings because it makes you feel connected to the team or it makes you feel in control. However, maybe what the team needs at the moment is daily progress reports on tasks, short bursts of information that are best shared online. Or maybe the project requires people working from different locations and actually, a weekly meeting is too unproductive. Revise your current processes to see who you’re serving: the task? The project? The team? Or yourself? Are you actually designing a team process that suits your individual emotional needs? That was self-awareness.

It’s also worth looking at this with your team – are you serving an emotional collective need with your processes or are you best serving the project or task?

I suppose we can then move onto:

Self-Management – this is a natural progression and I don’t really think we can move onto self-management without having addressed Self-Awareness. Makes sense – you can’t manage what you’re not aware of.

Self-management is not just about managing your emotions, it’s also about keeping yourself in check, acting with integrity, staying adaptable – making sure that you don’t get in the way of your own opportunities or that you don’t get in the way of others. (As an aside, any time I start talking about management, I want to ditch everything I’ve ever thought, said and written and replace it with Just get out of the way… But that would be a very short podcast – and a very short career as a consultant…)

So, if we strive to have healthy levels of EI, we need self-awareness and we need self-management. Now let’s start looking outwards.

Another component of EI is social awareness and that includes empathy. This is not easy and it’s where management meets anthropology meets psychology. (And it’s why if you don’t like people or are not curious about their behaviour you really should delegate all people management responsibilities to someone else…)

Empathy is really about standing in someone else’s shoes. It’s about understanding where they are coming from – and this builds up with time. Sometimes we think we understand someone because we have been in a similar situation – but then, are we just reflecting on how WE felt or are we really understanding how they’re dealing with it?

This social awareness is key to understand what’s going on in your team, in your organisation and with your customers – and it takes time to develop. Curiosity and asking questions before assuming you know the answers will help… (Small ad here, check out episode 2 from this podcast, on Creating a Coaching Culture).

And from social awareness, we can move onto relationship management, which is essential if you are running a team. And if you are not great at it, if you’re not great at bringing people together, instigating change or collaborating, then make sure somebody in your team is – I never said we can all do everything… and yet, in a moment, I’ll share with you what successful teams do to see whether there is anything you can tap into, even if your own natural tendency is not to facilitate teamwork.

Emotions in the Workplace

Now, I promised I’d introduce some terms here, which are just worth noting. And it will be interesting to see whether, now that you’ve come across them, whether you can identify some of these phenomena in the workplace.

The first is Emotional Contagion – and this is, exactly what is says on the tin. The ability of emotions to go from one person to the other, for emotions to be contagious – which is why it’s so important to be self-aware and to then self-manage. Don’t underestimate how these emotions can spread not just in person, but also through video and even through writing.

If you want a little bit more psychology about the reasons behind emotional contagion, check out episode from 23 June 2016 in the Two Guys in Your Head podcast.

In a nutshell, we have been designed to try to understand what people are feeling. So, when we’re with someone else, we absorb slightly another person’s emotions, to see whether we can understand what we’re feeling. It’s like putting on someone else’s shoes and then walking in them, to give us a sense of what they feel. And of course, as we absorb the emotion, we start to embody it. And this is the theory behind emotional contagion.

So you can see how we might not realise that we are in a terrible mood and then we come into contact with others and bang, the mood spreads. Soon, nobody in our team wants to talk to each other – or the other way round, we might be lucky and our happiness can spread everywhere!

But, this doesn’t mean that we supress our emotions or that we constantly have to check what emotions we’re displaying, because that can lead to, get ready for another term. Emotional labor. This is basically the psychological effort of holding back one’s emotions at work or of displaying emotions we don’t really feel. Maybe when something makes us very upset, or when we try and help someone out of a terrible mood by saying things that, well, we might not really feel but that we think can help that person out of the pits.

And finally, one other term: emotional dissonance. This occurs when we are constantly having to display an emotion when we feel another one – when the waitress smiles at you even though she’s feeling terrible; when you have to contain your frustration when a client send you yet another last minute request and reply to them, yes, of course, what a great idea. Or even, when we are really happy because we’ve just got promoted while the rest of the team has just found out they have to go back to square one in their design process.

What should we do if we come across any of these in ourselves? Full disclaimer here, this is just my opinion and I’m not a trained psychologist, but if you are experiencing any of this, first, acknowledge it, then dissect it, why is it happening? Is it necessary? Then come up with some strategies that might help you – either talking to someone in or out of work; writing down your experiences or reminding yourself that you are human – I find this kind of dissection of negative emotional experiences often helps…

Emotional Competencies in High Performing Teams

Right, finally I’d like to share with you some emotional competencies of high performing teams, as identified by Vanessa Drukat where she analysed 150 teams at a huge American polyester plant and then compared the ten outstanding teams with others doing the same job.

Now these were self-managed teams, which means that we’re not taking into account the effectiveness of a manager or official leader.

While I’m not saying that management as a profession should disappear – if I were, I would have titled this podcast differently – I do think that the main responsibility of a manager is to create or help create or remove barriers to an environment that will help people do their best work. So, in looking at the characteristics of self-managed teams, we can begin to understand what contributes to healthy team emotion.

What Drukat found was the following. These teams showed the following emotional competencies: and I’m going to quote directly from Goleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence

Empathy or interpersonal understanding

Cooperation and a unified effort

Open communication, setting explicit norms and expectations and confronting underperforming team members

A drive to improve, so that the team paid attention to performance feedback and sought to learn to do better

Self-awareness in the form of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses as a team

Initiative and taking a proactive stance toward solving problems

Self-confidence as a team

Flexibility in how they went about their collective tasks

Organisational awareness

Building bonds with other teams

Before we continue, just to say that the teams didn’t show ALL of these, but a combination of some. And with relation to the last two points, Organisational awareness and building bonds with other teams, remember the more recent research by Sandy Pentland into high performance teams, in the first episode of this podcast? One of the characteristics was that they often came into contact with members from other teams.

Some of these competencies are very difficult to nurture and all of them need plenty of time and patience. But for example, take “Initiative and taking a proactive stance toward solving problems” – what can you as a manager do to encourage this? Or take Flexibility in how they went about their collective tasks – what are the barriers to this? How about Self-awareness in the form of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses as a team – what processes can you suggest that will help to do this?

If your team is not located in the office, then you must absolutely review your communication processes to see whether there is anything that you need to start thinking about. Look specifically for examples where you can find empathy or lack of amongst team members (and yourself!) and have a look at how open communication is affecting team norms. (I’m assuming you have open communication because virtual teams, ironically, tend to have more open communication as it’s the best way of staying aligned…)

So, my management challenge over today’s cup of coffee is for you to have a look at this list and think about how your team measures against them. Or better still, why not share this with your team in your next team strategy meeting? (What, you don’t hold them…) Have a look at the list, see how you compare and then pick a couple of items and see whether there is anything you can do to nurture those competencies in the team. Or maybe even just observe your team over the next few weeks and then go back to the list.

Recommended Reading

Following on from today’s theme, why not have a look at Daniel Goleman’s Focus, the hidden driver of excellence (don’t you just love this subtitles…) There he goes deeper into why self-awareness matters, he of course taps into plenty of science and he covers other essential skills such as developing empathy and social sensitivity. Aren’t those two wonderful phrases to leave you with today?

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