Emotional Intelligence At Work
Emotions are ancient response strategies which are hard wired into your body. They have evolved over time and are present in animals as well as humans. They enable fast decision making when there is not enough time for rational consideration. As a faculty of the brain, emotions are extensions and extrapolations of the sensory apparatus and the inputs from our eyes, ears, nose, touches and tastes. Emotions are written into our postures and facial expressions. They serve a number of functions, not the least of which is the motivation for survival.
Emotions can be broadly described as being either positive or negative. Examples of positive emotions are joy, happiness and excitement. Examples of negative emotions are depression, anxiety and sadness. In addition, all emotions occur on a continuum from low to high intensity. The degree of intensity of any given emotion is a measure of how motivating it will be.
Emotions signal something important and may communicate cultural universals. One such signal is a happy face. No matter their cultural differences, people from any part of the world all react the same way to a happy smiling face. In general people approach things that elicit positive emotions and retreat from things that evoke negative emotions. Positive emotions have been found to motivate us to broaden our thinking, increase our repertoire of behaviors, see new connections and generate new or novel solutions to problems while inoculating us against negative events and people. Negative emotions call for a change in the status quo. They shrink our field of attention to a more limited range and encourage us to respond in very specific ways. For example, emotions like anxiety orient people to danger so that they can avoid it. While there may be some harmful aspects to negative emotions these emotions can also be useful in enhancing our ability to think in practical ways by becoming more motivated.
Because of the instinctual nature of emotion, it is very difficult to communicate without revealing emotion, and many communication tasks get harder to accomplish when emotion is removed from communication. It is far harder to get team members to work well together when they are required to suppress emotions; they can fail to bond and trust one another, and have difficulty reaching consensus, or feeling safe enough to share ideas. Unemotional sales people fail to make the sale. Trying to deny or disguise our emotions generally does not work very well and is fairly unnatural and difficult to learn. While we may think that we can hide our emotions the truth is that we cannot do so as well as we think we can. Those people who do manage to succeed at hiding their emotions are typically best suited to positions that require competitive dealings with strangers (e.g., negotiators, con-artists, poker players, etc.)
Workplace Emotional Intelligence involves learning to identify and manage emotions for both personal and organizational effectiveness. While emotions are not typically thought of as a critical element in workplace success, they are far more important than a casual observer might think. An Emotionally Intelligent Supervisor is able to use emotions to enhance reasoning and problem solving and to make more accurate judgments about people and situations.
Management of emotions is not about refusing to deal with negative emotions. Emotional management in the workplace is about being maximally effective which requires accepting a full range of emotions in one?s self and in others. Purely rational decision making fails to take into consideration the emotional impact the decision may have on other people which may result in the decision falling short of expectation or being difficult to put into action as conceived. In fact, an attempt to engage in purely rational pursuits in the workplace (suppressing all emotions) can result in decision making errors as well as creating an atmosphere of mistrust. Instead, it is better to make decisions based on both rational and emotional grounds by respecting the valuable information emotions convey.
While emotional gestures and expressions may be universal, there are a wide variety of societal rules dictating the appropriateness of emotional use. Every society has its rules about whether or not it is okay to display certain emotions. The emotionally intelligent person tunes into these implicit rules and learns when particular emotional displays are appropriate and when they are not. For example, within the business world there are rules for emotional display that are part of the hidden organizational culture. In a very formal, upscale law firm partners and associates may be expected to behave with a great deal of emotional constraint. In contrast an advertising agency may encourage employees to openly display positive emotions.
Roles may also change based on gender. While men can be assertive and in-your-face, a woman who does the same is often considered to be too aggressive. On the other hand if a female expresses happiness in an ebullient manner her behavior is often judged as being girlish or , typically, female. This appraisal tends to result in her being considered too soft to be an effective leader. Men, meanwhile, can high five in the hall as much as they like with no consequences. Even though these rules are not necessarily obvious or expressed in writing, they strongly influence the hiring of employees and how well employees and their work are accepted as a part of an organization, and because of this, an emotionally intelligent person will strive to map out these rules so as to use them to their personal and organizational advantage.
Basic Emotional Management Skills
Once a person agrees that emotions impart valuable information, the next question involves how to tap into this information. One way to begin to manage emotions is to explore your own emotions. You can start with these exercises.
- Pick an emotion that you are think you might tend to over-generalize or exaggerate and consider how you dealt with it in a recent situation.
- Upon reflection do you think it was reasonable for you to feel the way that you did?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 how strongly did you feel this emotion?
- How did the emotion feel physically? Did you feel tense? Hot? Cold? Did you feel weighted down or light and free? Did you feel depressed? Energetic? Tired? Drained?
- Do you often feel the way you did on this occasion?
- What kinds of things do you think about when you experience this emotion? What do you usually do to make the situation better?
- Do you have any ideas about why you feel as you do or any specific triggers that might illicit these feelings in you?
- How did you interpret the event? How do you think an impartial observer might have interpreted the situation? Do you think that it might be possible that your appraisal of the situation might be incorrect?
- Think of alternatives explanations for what happened. Are any of the alternative explanations reasonable?
Next think about your feelings and the likelihood you may feel this emotion in the future. Make a list of situations that might provoke this response from you; order them from situations apt to trigger relatively minor levels of the emotion to those that you feel would trigger a major emotional outburst. Think about how you might best handle each situation. Next relax deeply and picture yourself handling the least provoking situation effectively. Gradually work your way through your list, imaging yourself dealing effectively with each situation. Then relax a bit longer and tell yourself, "I can handle these situations."
Next time you face one of your triggers take a few moments to breathe deeply and think of alternative ways to handle the situation. Remind yourself that you can do this. Then use the information the emotion gives you to help you better deal with the problem or situation at hand.
Emotional Intelligence For Supervisors
Emotionally intelligent leaders possess a great deal of empathy concerning what their employees are feeling. In this case, having empathy means that they understand what their supervisees are going through. Decisions may be influenced by this understanding, but they need be in no way determined by it. Some of the questions that an emotionally intelligent manager should consider when dealing with the emotions of supervisees are:
- How do these people feel in the current situation?
- How are their feelings influencing what they think about the situation?
- Why do they feel like they do? How do I expect their feelings to change as various events unfold?
- Is there anything I can do with their emotions? Can I notice and include how they are feeling into my thinking and decisions? How can I stay open to the information in these emotions so that I can integrate that information into my own thinking and behavior?
With an enhanced understanding for emotional intelligence, a supervisor is ready to consider the major challenges of management and leadership. Some of these include:
- Team building
- Planning and decision making
- Motivating supervisees
- Imparting a vision
- Promoting and facilitating change(s) when they are necessary
- Demonstrating and encouraging the development and continuation of effective interpersonal relationships between management and supervisees as well as between supervisees.
An emotionally intelligent supervisor may have an advantage over their rivals because they are able to see the big picture, look at issues from multiple points of view, and do the right things to motivate others. These are the things that build effective teams and over time promote trust and a sense of belonging.
An effective manager should be able to optimize the quality of team interactions by resolving dissent, encouraging and using cooperative behavior, and encouraging productive team member interactions. An emotionally effective supervisor is comfortable letting team members take credit for positive outcomes while not necessarily blaming them for negative outcomes.
When it comes to motivating people, emotionally intelligent supervisors recognize that showing appreciation for others' accomplishments and celebrating community efforts are beneficial in motivating people.
How is this accomplished?
In order to benefit from the information found in emotions expressed by supervisees, it is first necessary to identify all the emotions in play. Look to your own emotions for information. Use this information to clarify the situation and help you manage both emotions and the situation well.
For example, a subordinate's productivity has taken a precipitous decline. You call the supervisee in to talk with them about the problem and the supervisee is very defensive and angry and almost tearful. How does this display of emotion affect you? Do you feel angry, perhaps put-off by their display of emotion? The supervisee in front of you has been with the company for some time but their current behavior has cost the company money. If you are angry you may be tempted to simply put the supervisee on a performance contract with termination a possibility if a quick turn-around does not occur. On the other hand, you sense that the supervisee is in serious emotional distress. Given the supervisee has a history of exemplary performance in the company you might want to consider a supervisory referral to human resources to see if the problem can be resolved. You ask a couple of "You seem" questions and the supervisee acknowledges that they are not feeling themselves but that it has nothing to do with work. You decide to offer the referral. The supervisee acts relieved at your offer and willingly agrees to your suggestion. You let the supervisee know you are concerned about them but that this is a serious work issue and you will be kept informed if they are keeping scheduled appointments with human resources. Slow but steady improvement follows. Since supervisors are not privy to the nature of the problem you may never know exactly what was wrong. However your ability to manage your own feelings and recognize those in the supervisee has resulted in ameliorating the productivity issue while keeping a good employee which has saved the company time, money and trouble recruiting and training a replacement.
In the scenario above the supervisor:
- Paid close attention in order to accurately identify their own emotions and moods while closely attending to those of the supervisee.
- Did not immediately put the supervisee on a performance contract which would most likely lead to the firing of the employee because of their own anger or discomfort with the employee?s emotional state.
- Observed the supervisee's nonverbal behavior including facial expression, eyes, mouth, posture and gestures.
- Noted any discrepancies in verbal and nonverbal behavior and between the tone of what was said and the actual words.
- Asked the employee a few "You seem" questions to see if they understood what was going on with the supervisee.
- Remembered that two people in the office had expressed concern about the supervisee over the past couple of weeks.
- Decided to give the employee the benefit of the doubt and offered the human resources referral which was accepted with an eventual successful outcome.
- Made an emotionally intelligent decision even if the referral had not solved the problem because it demonstrated the company had shown a good faith willingness to work with the employee, reducing liability for them if the employee was eventually terminated.
Using Emotional Information
As you begin to try and utilize emotional intelligence it is a good idea to review how emotions tend to motivate us.
- Fear tends to motivate people to act now to avoid negative consequences
- Anger may motivate people to fight against wrong and injustice
- Sadness may motivate a person to request help or support
- Disgust may signal that you cannot accept something because it offends you on some level
- Interest may motivate people to be enthusiasm about exploration and learning
- Surprise often makes people pay attention to the unexpected which may be important
- Acceptance tends to enhance friendship bonds
- Joy tends to motivate people to repeat the event that caused the gratification
It is also useful to encourage emotions appropriate for situational goals. For example:
- Brainstorming is enhanced if participants are feeling happy
- Being somewhat fearful tends to focus a people or group to recognize possible problems and what might have gone wrong
- A neutral mood is helpful when setting long-term goals
- A happy, interested group is more likely to form a consensus
- Possessing a genuine interest in a project tends to foster the development of efficient action plans, appropriate allocating of resources, realistic planning time lines as well as personnel and assignment choices
- A happy, enthusiastic mood provides momentum when implementing a plan
- A negative mood is helpful when evaluating possible issues during follow-up while a happy and positive mood helps the group stay motivated to keep going and to tackle obstacles.
Depending on the circumstances you find yourself in and how you are reacting to those circumstances, you are then in a position to use that emotion (e.g., by communicating it, or knowing when not to communicate it, by rewarding supervisees or withholding reward, by creating buzz or working to minimize it, etc.) for the good of your organizational goals.
Be respectful of supervisees or office support help. Express appreciation for good work and give criticisms in private. Be tactful and specific about things that need improving. While having a general open door policy can interrupt your concentration, having a specified day and time that team members or subordinates can come to you with issues may provide beneficial for everyone.