4 key emotional intelligence skills

No doubt you will have heard about EQ. There are many studies that demonstrate the link between emotional intelligence skills and success, both in business and in life.

So how does it work?

  • Emotions are information. They are telling us about how we and others are feeling about a situation. To ignore them is to miss out on useful information. Emotions make us human and underpin our thought processes, by taking emotion out, we are ignoring the values-driven, people-centric side of the decision-making process.
  • We can try to ignore emotions, but it doesn’t work. As human beings we are hard-wired to have emotions, they help us survive. Social psychologists have found that when people work at suppressing emotion they remember less. The energy taken to suppress emotion is energy diverted away from listening and processing. So suppressing emotions actually makes us less effective at work.
  • We can try and hide emotions, but we are not as good at is as we think. Studies on facial expressions have shown that many people are very good at picking up on nonverbal cues and they KNOW when someone is covering up. That undermines trust in leaders and organisations.

Emotional Intelligence is… a basic tool that, deployed with finesse, is key to professional success

Harvard Business Review 2003

How do we get better at EI? The Mayer Salovey Caruso model has four skills:

1. Identify emotions:

This helps us get complete and accurate data. People who are skilled at this have a great “read” on people and situations. Have you ever finished a meeting with the feeling that something wasn’t said? Or that people were agreeing, but were not really convinced? As a leader, developing your “read” of yourself and others provides data for your decision-making process.

Listen, ask questions, check-in with yourself and others. Start paying attention to people’s faces and body language. Babies are amazing people, readers – their very survival depends on it. Somewhere in the process of growing up, many people lose that ability and it is often because we have forgotten to look. I find with many people I coach that once they start to pay attention, they have access to that emotional data again.

2. Use emotions:

Figure out how feelings will impact and influence your thinking and that of others. People who do this well are good at feeling what others are feeling, they can generate emotions and use them to help the thinking process. They understand how moods influence thinking. A positive mood helps creative thinking and a neutral or negative mood helps accurate diagnosis.

As a leader, you can influence the mood of the room by what you say, how you say it and how you act. If you need the team to think creatively, get yourself into a positive mood first, then bring that mood to the meeting with your team. Consider your first words, people classify everything as positive or negative based on first impressions. Use the environment to help; a bright sun-filled room creates a positive feeling while your boardroom might create a sombre mood.

I worked with an internal communications team once who asked me for advice on some staff meetings the CEO was holding. The message was very positive, but the staff were not buying in. I asked them to show me the room they were using and it was the company boardroom. It was timber panelled, dark, with high backed leather chairs and thick carpet. It was locked when the Board or Executive were not using it. The set up screamed “formal and scary”! I suggested they move the meetings to the staff café which was casual, sunny and open. I was told that the meetings were completely different! People were engaged, they asked lots of questions and the mood was positive.

3. Understand emotions:

Evaluate the possible scenarios – what are the causes of these feelings? If they continue, what might happen next? Will they escalate, or diminish? How might they play out? People with this skill have a rich emotional vocabulary, they understand how people can feel mixed emotions about something and they are really good at knowing the right things to say when someone is emotional.

Imagine that you have a situation where you have to downsize your team. Your organisation is offering voluntary redundancies and one of your team applies. She says to you “It’s a lot of money and I’d like to take it up”. You agree. As she presented a logical reason to leave, you assume she is happy. Let’s imagine what she might be feeling. She might be sad about leaving the team, they have been together for years. She might be feeling devalued because you agreed so readily.  Maybe she is anxious about the future. Perhaps she is thrilled about the opportunity. Or curiously enough, she might be feeling all of these emotions all at once! Emotional Intelligence Skills are complex.

A leader who understands emotional intelligence skills would have a chat with the person about how they are feeling. They might prompt a bit with something like “If I was leaving, I’d be a bit sad to leave my team”. Expressing empathy and understanding is a powerful tool.

4. Manage emotions:

The ability to manage emotions doesn’t mean putting emotions on hold, ignoring them or never acting emotionally. What it does mean is that you integrate emotions into your decision making and behaviour in a way that is constructive and enhancing. People who are good at this are able to think clearly when experiencing strong emotions. Their emotions are inputs to decisions and behaviours, not drivers. They value emotions without overvaluing them.

Long-term emotional management takes three things:

    • Be open to emotion – even when it is uncomfortable.
    • Develop a meta-view of emotions – they pass, they are transient, they are useful and they don’t define you.
    • Develop an active management strategy directed at the actual issue and that is workable. What do I do with this feeling? What do I want to happen?

Emotional Intelligence skills provide the basis for the competencies that are drivers of success in almost any job. As the world of work becomes more complex and the demands on our personal resources grow, this skill set will become increasingly important.

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and leadership coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, emotional intelligence, organisational behaviour, employee engagement, strategic direction and management.
Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) and a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT). She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.