Emotional intelligence is a buzzword in management circles. Advocates claim that emotions should be allowed in the workplace, and managers should be taught to better understand and manage their emotional impact and that of others. Emotional intelligence, according to the experts, is a necessary competency that enables managers to be more effective and people savvy.
Emotional intelligence first captured popular attention with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s bestseller, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ ,” in 1995. EQ was soon linked with a full spectrum of social and emotional competencies and credited with up to 80 percent of high performance. As the demand for workplace applications generated by early enthusiasts outstripped more rigorous research, many declared EQ a fad.
It’s a fad that has proven persistent.
Emotional Intelligence and effective management
A steady stream of studies over twenty years has consistently demonstrated the impact of emotional intelligence across industries and job functions. Managers who use their emotional resources and knowhow to engage staff deliver significant bottom-line results. Emotional Intelligence also helps people connect and communicate effectively, make better and more ethical decisions, manage pressure, conflict and stress.
Managers who use their emotional resources and knowhow to engage staff deliver significant bottom-line results.
These results have been assisted by refinements in the way emotional intelligence is measured. Researchers recently estimated that emotionally intelligent behaviour makes up 36 percent of leader effectiveness, with 25 percent attributable to IQ, and 12-15 percent to personality. The remaining factors were not measurable by standard tests.
While some people are clearly born with innate emotional intelligence and others are less so, experts suggest that many of the skills can be taught and learned.
Sue Langley, CEO of Langley Group, says developing emotional intelligence gives managers the biggest bang for their buck as they progress in their career. “There is not a huge amount you can do to up your IQ, and while some aspects of personality can be changed, you may be quite happy with who you are. What you can do is choose to change behaviour and attitude.” By increasing the frequency and demonstration of emotional intelligence behaviours, such as emotional awareness and self-management, you can become more impactful as a manager, explains Langley.
Many managers and employees are still sceptical about the link between emotional intelligence and managing people in practice. Expressions of emotion at work are often seen as inconvenient, better stifled or left for social occasions. Decisions often need to be made quickly and people are under increasing pressure to focus on hard business outcomes.
A necessary skill?
Why would pragmatic, hard-working managers make room in their demanding schedules for too much of the soft stuff?
Consider this example. Manager A has had an incredibly stressful day already and is rushing to finish a deadline. A staff member bursts into her office in distress about a personal issue that means she will not be able to contribute a critical piece of work to the project on time. Manage A feels immediately frustrated and put upon, and snaps at her employee. The staff member retreats, regretting she ever confided in her boss. It isn’t the first time she’s been bluntly dismissed and while she had been struggling to keep her mood under wraps, it seems her manager didn’t notice or care. She is starting to wonder why she puts in so much effort at work.
A similar situation happens to Manager B. When his employee bursts in he feels a similar pang of intense frustration. He notices this emotional signal and before it escalates to anger he takes a breath. This enables him to slow the urge to react and shift focus to listening to the other person and conversing calmly. He acknowledges she has seemed anxious lately and expresses his concern. He feels his irritation subsiding as he works with her to come up with a solution to get the work done. The employee feels listened to, less distressed, and more able to make a clear decision about how to manage her conflicting priorities. She appreciates the fifteen minutes her boss has taken from his busy workday, feels glad they have a strong relationship and committed to making up the time later.
Emotional intelligence is often considered a ‘hard’ skill to learn. It requires discipline and practice over time.
This everyday experience illustrates how managers who understand the emotional impact of behaviour and use emotions intelligently are more able to engage the discretionary effort of their people to increase workplace performance. It also gives an insight into why emotional intelligence is often considered a ‘hard’ skill to learn. It requires discipline and practice over time.
Hardwired for emotion
Another reason why EI is hard has to do is the way the brain is wired.
Neuroscientists explain the brain in terms of dual systems of thinking. System 1 is fast, reflexive, intuitive and emotional; system 2 is slower, more effortful, deliberate and logical. The emotional centres of the brain are designed to scan our environment and react based on perceptions and past experiences, usually without conscious thought. Their primary function is to mobilise us to deal quickly with important interpersonal or threatening events. These emotions give us early warning signs to pay attention and respond quickly. Our cognitive systems then make sense of the situation and, if necessary, adjust our behaviour.
Even when we feel we have made a rational decision, chances are our emotions made it first. Reasons are then established to justify our instinctive gut feeling. This is why we can’t leave our emotions at the door when we come to work. And why emotions play a far greater role in determining business outcomes than many managers think.
Learning how to use emotions intelligently empowers us to respond effectively, rather than reactively. By increasing our range of emotional intelligence strategies and using them more proactively, we can make more intelligent choices and decisions.
If our emotional and cognitive systems are not tuned in to each other, we can over react and behave in ways that are not in the best interests of the people around us, our organisations or ourselves. Learning how to use emotions intelligently empowers us to respond effectively, rather than reactively. By increasing our range of emotional intelligence strategies and using them more proactively, we can make more intelligent choices and decisions.
How to be intelligent about emotions
So how can managers start to learn emotional intelligence?
“Emotions are data,” explains Langley. They are not good or bad, just information. Microexpressions on our face provide data about how we feel. As a manager if we can get better at perceiving these microexpressions, we have more data about how people around us feel which then gives us more choices. “If you don’t notice emotions in other people or yourself, or you are inaccurate in your perception, you have less data and fewer choices.”
Managers can also use emotions intelligently to help their teams work more effectively and creatively. Research shows that positive emotions are beneficial for big-picture, creative thinking and generating new ideas, findings confirmed by Langley’s own experimental studies. Neutral and slightly negative emotions create more accuracy, bottoms-up processing and problem finding. Managers can proactively generate emotions to suit tasks and create an emotional climate that will ensure better outcomes at work.
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