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How To Increase Emotional Intelligence On Your Team

Companies place a lot of value on the abilities and skills employees bring to the workplace, but it’s important that we focus on being human as well. People naturally desire to connect and interact with other members of their teams, and successful businesses have figured out they must have employees who not only bring their intellect to the job, but also their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ultimate soft skill, encompassing everything from the way we listen, communicate and resolve conflict to how our teams work together and stay motivated. The term surged in popularity in the 1990s, and it continues to garner significant attention today. When used effectively, emotional intelligence can defuse emotional situations, find the middle ground when personalities clash, handle toxic employees, and help communicate with sensitivity and finesse. As unemployment rates remain steady and the competition for talent stays strong, organizations are looking beyond a job applicant’s traditional skill set to ensure the person is a good fit for the organization. Companies seek out managers and leaders who have high levels of empathy and emotional control and are adept at building trust, motivated and able to inspire employee loyalty.

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters Personality and emotions are hardwired in each of us. You can’t control how something makes you feel. However, emotionally intelligent people can choose how they react. They can learn to read and influence other people’s emotions and reactions. In the workplace, where relationships and interactions play a big role, helping employees develop this skill has big payoffs. Think back to a time when emotions affected your work. Maybe you received a hastily worded email that hit you the wrong way. Rather than get clarification, you wasted time fretting or fired back an equally insensitive response. Or a moody colleague held the missing information for a project, but rather than poke the bear, you proceeded without that information. Over time, these interactions lead to stress and disengagement. Emotions are not the problem. In fact, when channeled appropriately, strong emotions — even anger and frustration — can push us forward. Rather, the problem is our inability to manage emotions in the moment and know how to react to them in others. As you hire new team members, asking interview questions focused on how potential employees react to situations can help gauge their emotional intelligence:

• What was the last time you failed at something? • When was the last time you received negative feedback? How did you feel? • Have you ever been frustrated at work? If so, how did you resolve it? Listen for responses that include a job candidate’s ability to identify feelings. “I was angry at first, but when I gave it some thought, I realized I had an opportunity to grow. I don’t think my boss enjoyed giving me the feedback, but he was probably right that I could have done it better.” You’re also looking for signs that the person is accountable, notices other people’s feelings and doesn’t point a finger at teammates. It shows they can process emotions and then move on objectively.

How Managers Can Help Build Emotional Intelligence On Existing Teams • Make sure leaders model appropriate behaviors: When leaders show up well, you’ll see it in the team. Are you emotionally self-aware and in control? Sharpen this skill by first paying attention to the physical changes that accompany your emotions, such as a queasy stomach or quickening pulse when you’re angry. • Help employees learn to separate emotions from personality: Try this exercise: One leader puts a huge calendar on the wall, and team members marks the calendar with emojis signifying how they felt. Encouraging workers to say “I feel frustrated” rather than “I am frustrated” helps build emotional awareness. • Make sure employees feel valued: When an employee has a voice, he or she feels more connected. Talk with workers often to find out how they feel about a change or project, giving them an opportunity to speak and feel listened to. Make it OK for them to tell you they feel angry, frustrated or apprehensive. Also show people you value them by saying thank you. • Make feedback routine and fact-based: Giving (and receiving) negative and positive feedback helps everyone become a better employee. Questions are a great way to start. “How are you doing? What do you think?” If you’re giving negative feedback, don’t make it personal. Be open to hearing feedback from your team too. “If you were in my shoes, what would you change?” Be sure to control your reactions to what you hear. If you don’t like it, consider why, and pause before you respond. • Make assertiveness training available to all employees: Explosive anger, resentment and frustration are often products of pent-up emotions. Speaking up appropriately is difficult for many people. Teaching employees how and when to address difficult situations and people helps prevent emotional flare-ups. • Encourage stress management: Be aware of growing workloads, deadlines and stresses your workers are facing. When possible, lend support. Offer stress-reducing strategies and training to ensure fewer emotional ups and downs. Emotions can be a valuable tool, even at work. By learning to read and influence other people’s emotions and reactions, emotional intelligence can provide a big payoff in your business.

Business leaders are working hard to redesign, reorganize and rebuild office spaces and work processes to ensure safety and compliance once workers return to the office. But as organizations develop these comprehensive plans to make their office spaces work, questions linger: How likely is it that workers even want to return? What should business leaders expect? What does an optimal back-to-office experience look like? While organizations have been busily rethinking and rebuilding their workplaces, their recently displaced workforces have been rethinking and reworking where they get their work done and developing new routines and habits along the way—some which they may prefer to the old way of doing things. Current research suggests less than a third (32%) of workers are highly likely to return when their office reopens. Decisions about returning may be driven largely by perceptions of safety and trust—toward the employer, toward colleagues and toward others they are likely to interact with at the workplace. As organizations rethink and rebuild their office spaces, leaders should put the same level of effort into building or reestablishing trust with their workers.

Reentry strategies built on a foundation of trust: competence, care, calibration, communication and collaboration Given that workers are dealing with the pandemic in different ways and have different mindsets and challenges, how can organizations create both an environment of trust and provide a back-to-office experience that meets everyone’s needs? The key is to develop reentry strategies centered on the “5 C’s”—competence, care, calibration, communication and collaboration.

Competence While some things are out of businesses’ control, there are still many others that are in the control of leaders—providing a sanitized work environment, respecting employees’ different needs and concerns, communicating transparently and infusing their actions in these areas with purpose and integrity. Competence is a key component of trust, and organizations should communicate and demonstrate competence in areas they can control. One way organizations can highlight their competence is by crafting a COVID-19 response based on guidance from trusted authorities and emphasizing this in communications to customers, the workforce and partners.

Care Another critical dimension of building trust is proving to others that you have their best interest in mind. To demonstrate care and sincere intentions, businesses should lead with not just safety plans but also empathy. They should demonstrate an understanding of the struggle everyone is facing during reopening and take ownership of safety precautions. This will enable workers to relax and trust the business to honor and uphold their health needs.

Calibrate expectations Many people are unsure of what to expect when it comes time to return to the office. While it may be tempting for organizations to want to overpromise, this is not a good strategy. Overpromising on what to expect in the new office might entice workers to make at least one return visit, but not delivering on the promises could make subsequent future visits unlikely. Ultimately, overpromising and underdelivering may kindle not only a dislike for the work environment but, more importantly, a lack of trust.

Communicate clearly and transparently Deloitte’s recent consumer industry safety and cleanliness survey has revealed that to be more comfortable in a work environment, workers typically desire frequent and relevant communication, specifically around the precautions taken for their health. They want agency to access information and make decisions for themselves. It is also critical that leadership communicates with authenticity, transparency, and empathy to make sure employees understand the organizations’ commitment to their well-being and experience. Particularly in a time of heightened stress, you cannot overcommunicate. It is equally important to back up words with visible daily evidence that the organization is capable and executing against a plan to provide a safe work environment. For example, more than 80% of workers indicate visible cleaning in the workplace is very or somewhat important to them. This suggests that providing off-hours office-cleaning services, as in the past, may not be enough. Providing them during traditional office hours along with technology-based safety precautions such as pre-entry health screenings can help alleviate workers’ anxiety.

Collaboration Redesigning the workplace or at least the plans for worker return should be a collaborative cocreation between leaders and workers. This means giving workers agency to take safety actions themselves and decisions about when, for what reasons and how often to return to the workplace. Additionally, companies can work with employees to identify ways to provide more upside to the office experience. One key benefit to the office experience is the opportunity for human connection. In fact, over half of respondents to a recent Korn Ferry survey said that camaraderie with colleagues is what they are most looking forward to upon returning to the office. While the home environment has exceeded many expectations, our research, backed by other external studies, indicates that home doesn’t allow for the same office connections and video calls don’t always seem to fill the void. With this in mind, organizations can focus on how making a return to the office will be an opportunity to reestablish these all-important connections. For some, this may mean coming into the office periodically, but even infrequent visits may provide some benefits for workers and organizations.

Commit to earning and building trust Just as workplaces have evolved, so have workers. In many respects, we will never “return” to the office in which we worked. The exit in March could be compared to a revolution. The journey back will, in contrast, be more of an evolution. Even for those that return first, there will be a transition to acceptance and engagement. The pandemic has changed everyone in different ways based on the organization’s circumstances and their own. This opens opportunities for organizations and employees to work in new ways with the potential to be more effective than before. For that potential to be realized, organizations will need to engender trust among their workers, and workers will need to engender trust between each other. All who do make the journey back to the office, be it sooner or later, are placing their trust in their organization to make the work environment as safe as it can be. The good news is that there may be an existing wellspring of trust that leaders and close colleagues will do what they can to protect one another. Now is the time for organizations to commit to earn and build on that trust.


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