The importance of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace

Tuesday, 5 October 2010 22:37 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Emotional Intelligence (EI) refers to how we handle ourselves. It is neither knowledge nor technical skills or intelligence. It is our ability to identify and manage our emotions and the emotions of others.

This is a vital ability that people have to develop if one wants to solve personal, business and social issues in a more effective way. In improving our emotional intelligence we should first develop self awareness by identifying our own emotions as anger, resentment, elation, etc., and then we become more conscious about ourselves and have a better control of our actions and reactions. Do we let things interrupt our ability to focus and individuality or do we manage them?

Reluctance to change

But since most people don’t have an idea of their character flaws, they think that they are the way they are and there is no way to change. Most of us are reluctant to change our ways and behaviours. Thus we hardly direct our actions and behaviours in an effective way especially when it comes to solving issues and problems.

During the recession period of 2008/2009, some big businesses in Sri Lanka ran into the problem where their senior managers did not have the courage to declare business realities to their subordinates and inform of management decisions to discontinue poor performers. This, in turn, created high stress among the senior managers to the extent that some of them required counselling.

I had the opportunity to run workshops on EI for some managers, building skills and confidence to convey bad news in a positive manner that will have the least negative impact on the other person. So, emotional stability and independent thinking combined with the understanding of the other person are all critical to handle these types of people related problems.

Are the top managers fearful of change? Are they comfortable with change? Are they confident in handling the communication of ‘bad’ news? How can they then, expect change in the thinking patterns of people at lower levels?

Openness in PMS

Take the Performance Management System (PMS) in your own organisation. Do all appraisers give open and honest feedback based upon the upsides and downsides of the appraisee’s performances? I wonder! The problem lies in the lack of EI.

The lack of EI, in several cases, renders the PMS invalid… why? It is because the annual appraisal system is merely a process and not a dynamic tool to leverage individual development, performance and contribution enhancements.

Researched definition

Researchers and psychologists have defined emotional intelligence as a social intelligence which monitor, analyse feelings and emotions of people. They have identified four main areas in EI:

  •  Awareness of the self
  •  Empathy
  •  Happiness
  • Problem solving

Recruiting staff

Recruitment and selection are the corner stone of an organisation’s success or failure. It is the process through which the company decides on the capacity to retain and perform proactively to achieve company objectives.

Researchers have proved that individuals with high emotional intelligence are able to perceive, understand and manage emotions, enhancing their personal effectiveness, decision-making, confidence and motivation than the individuals with low EI.

Thus, it is believed that we need a standard selection processes which will determine levels of emotional intelligence in prospective candidates, as they could be a reliable predictor of success. Understanding a candidate’s EI enables managers to assess quickly the key behavioural competencies that predict success in the job role they are recruiting for.

The four factors mentioned above plays a major role in selecting. For instance, empathy allows managers or the members of the interview panel to read candidates’ emotions and adjust the appropriately. Self awareness, knowing our own feelings, is the foundation for empathy because understanding what others are feeling is partly accomplished by comparing others’ experience with our own.

Happiness matters because people are drawn to happy people and are more likely to listen to their message. Problem solving is a basic requirement as it shows the capacity of the employee in decision making, creativity, his/her analytical skills, the ability to work effectively in teams, the ability to recognise and respond appropriately to one’s own and others’ feelings and the ability to motivate oneself and others, etc.

Managers and EI

EI is an important skill a manger or a leader should have as they lead employees of an organisation. This is a key factor which marks out individuals as leaders and effective managers. They should be able to understand and gain an accurate insight of an individual’s personality, their requirements, factors that would motivate individuals, etc.

This includes why people behave the way they do, and how to maximise one’s performance. For example if there is a conflict among employees, how would you react as a manger, what would your feelings and emotions would be? How would you analyse the situation?

Messing up on a job assignment or reacting inappropriately to co-workers is very common in Sri Lankan managers today. The real reason for this is that most of our managers are bothered to find out how something happens rather than thinking of how to respond in such a situation.  There are very few proactive managers in the cooperate world. But be careful, your attempts of changing your behaviour in such situations will hardly be encouraged by the subordinates if you messed up on one occasion.

Further, as managers or leaders of organisations, you should be able to look at the situations from the eyes of the employees as well. When managers don’t demonstrate enough empathy, especially in times of uncertainty or crisis, they will likely be seen as indifferent, uncaring and less cooperative and less communicative. Cynthia Kivland, an expert in career counselling, says, “Empathy is career currency. It allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our ‘people acumen’ and informs our decisions.” Happiness and humour is the next most important thing that a manger or a group leader in a company should have in their lives. If one can use humour to diffuse a situation that would normally make you angry or frustrate that will improve your personality, and your subordinates will like you immediately.

They will leave the right impression with employees while influencing them to perform well. I use humour and simple jokes when my subordinates make blunt mistakes which could make an average manger angry. Since it is easy to turn humour into sarcasm make sure you use the humour and not the sarcasm.

If a manager is low in their ability to make sound decisions this will only be highlighted in a period of great uncertainty and turmoil. Managers’ who are not competent in this area may spend more time than they can afford to in analysis, may not have the courage to make choices, may act irresponsibly and may lack the commitment to execute a decision fully.

But a real manger with EI will always find a silver line in every dark could that covers the bright sun. They will create new avenues by turning all the threats and weaknesses in to opportunities.

Emotionally intelligent managers make better decisions by using emotions to improve thinking, see things clearly even when feelings are overpowering, make good, solid decisions even when angry, do not react out of anger, balance their thoughts and their feelings, make decisions based on their head and their heart and do not let strong emotions blind them.

Managers who are emotionally intelligent use their emotions to adapt their plans. They do not ignore uncomfortable facts. Emotionally intelligent behaviour helps managers plan better in many ways: they are ready to change plans to meet the need of the moment, adapt to different situations, look for options, are always armed with a plan ‘B,’ try new things and do innovations.

Emotionally intelligent managers are able to understand their emotions and those of others, in order to help them motivate their staff and themselves. They, give strength for people to get going even through the hardest periods, encourage employees to do new things by empowering them, motivate others/ self and get things done.

When working in a team environment, the skill of emotional intelligence becomes even more important to the job. The key is to work efficiently with others. Emotional intelligence also helps in generating new and creative ideas and solutions to problems. That helps to view problems from multiple perspectives, be inventive and see new solutions, generate original ideas and solutions.

Career development

Emotional intelligence may be just the thing that sets you apart from your colleagues and leads you to success in the workplace. Without this emotional intelligence management skill, the executives or managers are more likely to spoil the career and on the other hand they will receive performance based bonuses, promotions, higher salaries overall, and experience greater job security.

My experience

To state my own experience, I had joined Sterling Winthrop (Mackwoods Winthrop as known in the Sri Lankan operation) on 1 July of the year I joined. I worked hard to stabilise my acceptance among my colleagues in the local operation whilst generating visibility and vibration in the region through consistency, hard work and creative value addition to both the local and regional businesses.

One such value addition was the ‘Inter-Departmental Value Perception Survey and Action Planning Tool,’ which not only enhanced the business realities in the local scene, but was used by Regional Head Office for implementation in countries coming under the region. This region was known as MEEASC, which covered Middle East, East Africa, South Asia and East Europe.

Another value addition I developed was the ‘HR Competency Model’ endemic to the pharmaceutical/healthcare business. This too was applied with open arms to other countries within the region.

My probation in the position on HR Director ended December in the same year. In January the next year I was appointed Acting Regional HR Director for East Africa sub-region and headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya; the businesses in this region consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Ruwanda and Mauritius. I also was responsible for HR in the Sri Lanka operation as well. Hence my travel between Kenya and Sri Lanka was frequent.

The analysis

Now, how was all this possible? What did EI got to do with it? Well, producing a value adding process/system or technique is one thing. Getting buy-in through reaching the mind (that thinks) and the heart (that feels) is something else.

The final push for acceptance comes from how well you have combined the strategies to approach the hearts and minds of your customer audience, be it your boss, regional director or president. Having confidence with EI helps a person to be able to convey business news, without letting emotions deflate or diffuse the intended impact. Above all, you will gain the respect of those you work with or work for.

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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