Emotional intelligence is probably one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader. It is all about understanding yourself, managing your emotions, understanding how your actions may affect others and what emotional impact these actions may have.
Why bother? Being an emotionally intelligent leader means you are caring for individuals and are able to create a positive mental environment. A positive mental environment leads to improved morale. A more positive morale means increased productivity from the team.
Before I got married I was very good, and believe I still am, at managing my emotions. I understand which situations make me feel a certain way and how to manage those feelings effectively. However, I was not very good at empathy (putting myself in someone else’s shoes to understand how they might feel). If ever my wife was upset about something and I didn’t get it my response would be to ask why on earth she was upset about something I believed to be trivial. I didn’t see it as an issue or something to be upset about because it wasn’t an issue for me. I was not putting myself in her shoes or trying to understand why she may feel the way she did. My wife has always been the thoughtful one and she would always do generous and kind things for people. It was never a generic nice thing, it was something thoughtful – she puts herself in the person’s shoes and says what would this person like or what does this person need right now? Again, this is something I was not great at. In fact, my lack of empathy was so great I once had my best friend stay around my flat at University and slept on a comfortable bed with a pillow and merely offered him an unused loo roll to sleep on.
I have come a long way since then and am very thoughtful in my approach to people to ensure I exercise empathy. What this means is that I am able to grow effective relationships and sustain a team of diverse people who have different emotional needs, drivers and responses. The most important thing is to first know yourself. Evaluate your effectiveness at being empathetic. Where are your strengths and weaknesses and what can you do to turn those weaknesses into strengths? How do you react to certain stimuli? Do you have techniques in place to manage your own emotions?
In trying to understand yourself and reflecting on how you feel in certain situations you may fall into the trap of assuming someone feels the same as you do in a particular situation. DON’T ASSUME. Unfounded assumptions that can easily be verified are a very weak foundation to base anything on – so don’t do it for something as important as human interaction and relationships.
Here is a questionnaire you can take to aid your self-reflection and really understand where you are at right now. This questionnaire is based on Daniel Goleman’s thinking on Emotional Intelligence. Goleman essentially categorises emotional intelligence into 4 parts: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.
Manage yourself before you wreck yourself
Do you understand your emotions? Do you have a way of dealing with your emotions? Do you understand your triggers and what emotions they lead to?
One of the best ways to manage your emotions is to first identify your trigger points. What sets you off and what emotion does this elicit? If you have time you can delve into the why as well to reflect on your perception of the world and what wrong assumptions you may be holding that mean you react in a certain way. Write all your trigger points down like so:
Trigger for your emotions: Bob asks me a stupid question in a meeting…
Listen to your emotions: I get angry at Bob’s stupidity so I end up shouting at him…
Consequence of your emotions: Bob gets all upset and doesn’t talk for the rest of the meeting…
TLC is a good way to remember it (Tender Love and Care). Once you start keeping a note of these triggers, emotions and consequences you can start to draw a picture of how your environment is affecting you and in turn how you are affecting those around you.
Now that you have your TLC list we can do something very powerful. We can change the way we react by changing our habits. Habits are things you always do in a certain situation. One of my habits is that when I wake up I need to check the news and have a glass of water. My habit has a trigger and an action associated with it which is exactly what happens when we emotionally respond to something. What we can now do is take the TLC points and identify helpful habits that can get us on the right track. For example:
Trigger for your habit: Bob asks me a stupid question in a meeting…
Instead of… getting angry at Bob and shouting at Bob…
I will… encourage Bob to ask questions
So that… Bob feels empowered to be curious and confident so that he continues to contribute to the team meetings
You have now highlighted things you do habitually that are not helpful and why they are not helpful, but you have also identified new habits you can put into place and what positive effect this new habit will have. From the example above the “So that…” enables us to think through what Bob might feel if we treated him differently and if we stepped into his shoes. Give it a go, I have found it to be extremely empowering and effective.
Empathy – how do I step into someone’s shoes?
As mentioned before, stepping into someone’s shoes is not the same as “how would I feel in this situation?”. Putting yourself in someone’s shoes is about trying to understand their drivers, motivations and values – what makes them tick – and therefore how might this situation make them feel. An easy way to do this is to actually ask your team/followers what their values and drivers are. One tool you can use to do this is a values questionnaire where you get everyone to choose between various values to rank which ones they value most highly. Here is one that may work for you.
Now that we understand our team/followers a little better it is time to show some empathy. Here are some ways you can practically do it:
- Strip. Before you dive headfirst into someone else’s shoes, you need to strip off. Take off your shoes and put them to one side for a minute. Please note this is only metaphorical… Your shoes are your perspective and their shoes are their perspective. To effectively see from their point of view you need to put aside your own point of view
- Validate. People do not all have to agree. We are complicated beings that all formulate different opinions based on different experiences and cultures – that’s OK! In fact, it is OK for someone on your team to not agree with you. You give yourself the right to your own opinions you should give that right to others too. You need to ensure that you acknowledge that someone might feel/believe a certain way even when you don’t agree with it.
- Open them ears. Listen, listen, listen. One of the best ways you can empathise with anyone is to actually listen to how they feel in a given situation. Don’t be afraid to ask people how they might feel if a particular situation may arise. In meetings, I attend where I am not leading or presenting I will observe people vigilantly. I listen with my eyes and ears to see how people react physically to different discussion points so that I have a better understanding of them.
- Time. Building up your empathy skills can take time but it is definitely worth the investment. Empathy can create a whole new level of relationships and as a leader, it can help you to get your team to their very best.
We all lock horns at some point in time. There is a disagreement of opinion, a mismatch of values a misunderstanding – you name it we always find a reason for conflict. Here is an interesting survey conducted in Belgium in 2017 about the reason behind neighbourhood fights. According to the article, 23% of neighbourhood conflict was due to “Insufferable character neighbours”. Let’s be honest, I think we all know one of those characters so how do we go about a conflict with someone so insufferable in an emotionally intelligent way?
- It’s all about the facts, about the facts – no trouble. Make calm, factual statements. OK, so here is the issue – I did such and such and you did such and such which lead to such and such. Depending on the situation and the root of the conflict it may be suitable to focus on the task or the action rather than the person on the other side. It can help to make things less personal sometimes.
- Ask and Listen. Ask questions and listen carefully. Try and understand where they are coming. Try and understand what it is like to walk in their shoes. Why are they upset? Or why did they do this particular unhelpful thing? You need to get to the root of it. Once I had someone I was managing agree with something with the client without my knowledge. They said, don’t worry we can do X for you. However, slight problem, a few months down the line I get asked by the client why didn’t we do X – and I was made to look like a fool and had to come to an arrangement and understanding with the client. After confronting this person I asked enough questions to get to the root of the problem. It wasn’t that they were trying to go round my back. They weren’t trying to sabotage the project. They wanted to be empowered to make decisions and to lead. At the time, I was making all the decisions and not allowing them to grow and develop as an individual. Going forward I have empowered this person and this kind of thing has never happened again. Get to the root. Get to their motivations. Step into their shoes.
- Expectations. What are your expectations for resolving the conflict? What are their expectations? Ask them if they have any solutions that you can discuss together.
- Choose your battles. Before I got married I always heard the phrase “choose your battles”. The point is that not all conflict is worth winning. Is the result of the conflict worth pursuing? Sometimes it can be more beneficial to your relationship to lay down your pride and say you are right – I was wrong, I am sorry. Sometimes, the person on the other side of the conflict doesn’t want a solution, they don’t want a discussion – in fact what they want is conflict. Sometimes it is just better to walk away and come back when things have cooled down. I was once in this situation – someone just wanted to argue, they didn’t want a discussion or to come up with a solution. I had to walk away, I told them what I was expecting in our discussion and that because I felt that we would not be able to adhere to that we should revisit it again the next day. I had to do this twice. Eventually, we got to the point where we could have a conflict that was safe and productive.
- Social style. Sometimes personalities clash. It is important to understand what your personality is like, how you are praised by others and what others are like and how they would like to be communicated to. Sometimes all it can take to resolve a conflict is to adjust your communication and approach. Where do you and your team fit in with social style? Find out here. Here is a video too from the same site explaining Social Styles:
Humour breaks down walls and is so important to connect with your team and shows emotional intelligence. Organisationally, research shows cultures that incorporate humour are more resilient.
In the Journal of Applied Communication Research, researcher, Owen Hanley Lynch, states: “Organizational humor has been linked with successful leadership, with increases in profit and work compliance, with a successful business culture, with message and goal clarity in managerial presentations, with improvement in group problem-solving, and with reducing emotional stress due to threats and role conflict at work.”
Humour is a great tool to reduce stress and induce positive moods. Did you know that laughter actually has measurable physiological effects that strengthen our immune systems?
“Humour appears to buffer an individual against the negative effects of stress,” says Millicent H. Abel in a 2003 study. “Furthermore, research reveals that a good sense of humour is related to muscle relaxation, control of pain and discomfort, positive mood states, and overall psychological health.”
Humour also increases engagement and can help us feel motivated.
According to this report from St. Edward’s University, “An Australian industry-wide study of 2,500 employees found that 81% … believe a fun working environment would make them more productive; 93% said that laughing on the job helps to reduce work-related stress. A further 55% said they would take less pay to have more fun at work.’”
OK, you get it. Humour has many benefits. However, it is important to note that humour at the expense of someone else can actually be detrimental to a team. Sometimes it is good to be playful and tease one another but don’t let it get too far. Personally, I use humour a lot in my leadership style. I use it to break the ice in meetings, when things are getting tense and when the team just need a pick me up. I also believe it is important to be able to laugh at yourself. However, you should make sure you use this tool in moderation, in the correct way and in the right circumstances.
Note that humour in the workplace can be risky. Research from Gang Zhang, a doctoral candidate at LBS, found that, “Although employees admire and feel more motivated by leaders who use humour effectively, they have less respect for those who try to be funny and fail or who make fun of themselves.”
Here are 11 simple ways to be funnier (according to science) if this is something you want to improve on.
Here are 5 tips for good workplace humour, courtesy of a recent Harvard Business Review article:
- It’s not whether or not you’re funny, it’s what kind of funny you are. Be honest and authentic.
- If you can’t be “ha-ha” funny, at least be “aha!” funny. Cleverness is sometimes good enough.
- Good comedy is a conspiracy. Create an in-group.
- Don’t be afraid to chuckle at yourself. It signals everything is okay.
- Laughter is disarming. Poke fun at the stuff everyone’s worried about.
Develop your emotional intelligence by:
- Self-reflection – Here is a questionnaire you can take to aid your self-reflection and really understand where you are at right now.
- Self-management – What are my trigger points? TLC – Trigger for your emotions, listen to your emotions, consequence of your emotions. How can I change these habits and what positive impact will they have?
- Empathy – Step into someone else’s shoes. Strip away your opinions and views, validate other opinions and views, open them ears and listen, it takes time – keep going
- Conflict – Facts, ask and listen, choose your battles and understand social styles
- Humour – It can be great for inspiring your team and reducing stress – use it but be wise
Do you have any tips for developing emotional intelligence that you want to share? Do you have any experiences you can share that are relevant?