Understanding the emotional states of yourself and your colleagues, and how to deal with them, will help you make better decisions. By Leon Gettler
Being a manager requires people to be in control of their emotions, so understanding the way emotions work is critical for managers.
Emotional intelligence means the ability to identify your emotions and those of others. People with emotional intelligence know how to harness emotions and apply them to tasks such as thinking and problem solving. They have the know-how of regulating their own emotions, which gives them the ability to cheer up or calm down another person and connect with them.
In an often-cited article, Peter Salovey from Yale University and John D. Mayer from the University of New Hampshire have described emotional intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions”.
Needless to say, emotional intelligence is now regarded as a core skill for managers who have to get the best out of their teams. Psychologists say there are five categories of emotional intelligence.
The first is self-awareness, the ability to recognise an emotion when it happens. Self-awareness allows people to tune into their feelings. This involves recognising one’s own emotions and their effects, and also having the self-confidence about one’s self-worth and capabilities.
The second is self-control, maintaining standards of honesty and integrity, taking responsibility for one’s behaviour, and being adaptable, innovative and open to new ideas in the face of change. All this requires a certain level of self-regulation.
The third trait is having a high level of motivation. Your passion for work should not just be about money and status. This means having a drive towards achievement, an ability to align with the goals of the group or organisation, having the initiative to take opportunities, and pursuing goals persistently despite obstacles and setbacks.
The fourth trait, and probably one of the most important, is the ability to empathise. The more you are able to pick up signals when people are responding, the greater your ability to control the signals you send them.
These sorts of managers have tremendous skills. They can read an organisation’s power dynamics, emotional currents and power relationships; sense what people working for them need to progress careers and what they are looking out for; know how to recognise, anticipate and meet client needs; know how to work with a diverse group of people and get the most out of them; and understand the feelings and needs of others.
The final trait is great interpersonal skills. This means effective persuasion tactics; the ability to communicate clearly and unambiguously; great leadership skills to guide and influence people; how to negotiate and resolve conflicts; how to collaborate and co-operate and work towards shared goals; and how to create group synergy in pursuing collective goals.
Psychologists agree that for managers, EQ (emotional quotient) is more important than IQ. They say it all starts with self-awareness.
For example, observe how you react to people. Do you rush to judgment before you know all the facts? Do you stereotype?
Then look at your work environment. Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Do you give others a chance to shine?
Do a self-evaluation. What are your weaknesses? Are you willing to accept you’re not perfect and that you could work on things to make yourself better? How do you handle stress? Do you get upset when things are delayed? Are you quick to blame others when things go wrong?
You need to take responsibility for your behaviour. If you have hurt someone’s feelings, apologise. Think about how your actions will affect others before you do anything. Sounds like common sense? Maybe, but sense isn’t always so common.
Managers with emotional intelligence are a special breed. Any manager wanting to know more about emotional intelligence should start with Daniel Goleman’s best-seller Emotional Intelligence and The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace, which he co-edited with Warren Bennis and Cary Cherniss.
Goleman concedes that emotions cannot be measured with the same degree of accuracy as an IQ, but so what. “You can measure it enough to know what needs changing,” Goleman says. “It’s not a quotient and I don’t know whether it ought to be. IQ doesn’t change too much. If you have an IQ of 140 as a kid, you’ll basically be in that range for life. Emotional intelligence is learned and learnable, it’s fluid.”
In other words, it’s a skill that managers can pick up.
Joanne Marriott, an emotional intelligence facilitator for the Australian Institute of Management, says emotional intelligence (EI) is something that was called “soft skills” in the ’90s. “It’s not always about facts and figures, although they are part of making a decision,’’ Marriott says.
“Sometimes you have to think about emotional reasoning and how that will play a role in the decisions you make. It’s about getting comfortable with the words and people talking about their feelings and helping managers understand that if they have good EI, they have to use it. And if they don’t, we show them how to develop it. A lot of managers have taken a lead from their managers, so you talk to people about what you do and don’t do.”
Marriott says it’s not uncommon to find companies now profiling managers to see how good they are on emotional intelligence. Those who are struggling with it need some extra work.
“If someone isn’t good on that skill, then it’s a case of trying to up-skill them. If you’re a manager or people leader, you need to be in tune with the emotions of the people that you’re leading,” she says. “You may have to do some coaching; specific tasks to work on. So, for example, it could be about ensuring that 25 per cent of their time is spent talking about how the person is doing – not how the project is going, but the person – or getting them to talk about how people are feeling.
“You could give them specific tools, like questions to ask. If someone is not great at expressing emotion or they express too much emotion, there might be other things – would it be better, for example, to keep a journal?
Sometimes I say to managers, ‘Things are going on and you’re frustrated. It might be better to have the conversation with someone not on your team’. “For some people, it could be just thinking about how aware they are of their own emotions. I tell them, at the end of the week, or the day, give it a colour. Was it a red flaming week or was it a black week? That way, you keep track of your emotion, aware of how you operate.
“Or if you’re feeling frustrated, rather than going out and yelling at a client, write an email and then delete it, or send it to yourself. Sometimes you just need to discharge the emotion.”
Marriott says research shows managers with good emotional intelligence get higher engagement scores from staff, making them better managers, which is good for their careers.
“If you have engaged team members, they will be more productive,” Marriott says. “It makes you look better; they’re more productive and more engaged, and less likely to leave.”
Five traits of emotional intelligence
- Self-awareness: understanding one’s emotions and not letting feelings rule you
- Self-regulation: being able to control feelings and impulses
- Motivation: being highly productive and relishing a challenge
- Empathy: identifying with and understanding wants, needs and viewpoints of those around you
- Social skills: being an excellent communicator and a master at building and maintaining relationships
This article appeared in the September 2014 edition of Management Today, AIM’s national monthly magazine.