The business value of emotional intelligence
Does emotional intelligence ever seem wishy washy to you? Do you ever think “I should focus on the important things like actually getting my tasks done rather than spending time on this elusive emotional intelligence.”?
What I would like to submit here, is that your emotional intelligence helps and supports you in getting those tasks done. Not only that, but it can help you (and any team you’re working with) get them done more efficiently. It also creates an environment in which mistakes are less likely to happen, therefore less time needs to be spent on fixing something.
The airline pilot
An illustration of the importance of emotional intelligence occurred when an airline pilot noticed something was wrong with the landing gear. In order to give himself the time to fix it, he circled the plane over the landing runway in a holding pattern. While he was doing this he didn’t notice that the plane was running out of fuel. Although his co-pilots became aware of this, they did not bring it up because they were afraid of the pilot. He was known for having a temper and intimidating others.
The result of this was that the plane crashed and ten people died.
Was this the mistake of the pilot for being too aggressive? Was it the fault of the co-pilots for being too timid? I think it’s both. Either way, this case history has been used when training airline pilots, as it’s been discovered that about 80% of crashes occur due to errors that could have been avoided (especially if the crew had worked together more harmoniously).
You may not be a pilot or work in a job where the stakes can be so high, yet the principles are still the same. Being able to communicate, listen, cooperate etc, are vital skills for avoiding pitfalls and helping operations run smoothly. Little nuances such as communicating kindly rather than from a place of cold discipline, can make a big difference in how well things run.
The level of emotional intelligence within ourselves and those around us seems to play a far greater role in how things run in the workplace than we realise.
Is a mistake just a mistake?
Very often, there is a greater underlying cause for the little mistakes and mishaps we see on the surface. Is a mistake just a mistake or could it have something to do with poor communication in the team? Is a missed deadline just about someone not working hard enough or could it have something to do with that person not feeling safe bringing up the fact that they’ve been given too much work? Those little mistakes or problems could be an indication that something deeper needs to be addressed.
Taking care of yourself and others is a big enough reason to invest in emotional intelligence, but it is by no means the only benefit. Poor emotional intelligence in the workplace has a very real and measurable impact on a company's net profit.
Poor emotional intelligence costs dollars.
When we try to remove emotions from the workplace, when we only accept “positive” emotions, when we try to motivate people extrinsically instead of seeing how someone is doing from a place of compassion, when we try to try to make everything clinical and at right angles, we’re removing the human element. This makes work less enjoyable, less genuine and less inspiring. And seeing as a workplace is made up of people, it means that the work being done won’t be of the same quality.
It is no mystery that we have more sustained energy, better focus, better ideas and a stronger drive when we feel heard and seen, when we enjoy what we’re doing, when we’re valued beyond our ability to “push through” and “close the deal”.
You have to be somewhere on the scale of emotional intelligence.
So where on that scale would you like to be?
Here’s the thing: problems come up, disagreements happen, unexpected things blind side us and feedback needs to be given to help us adapt, improve and adjust to the ever changing nature of the world. If we try to ignore the human element, if we do away with compassion and empathy, problems are less likely to get solved, disagreements are more likely to wear and tear on the very fabric of working relationships and feedback becomes criticism that makes people stressed, resentful, angry and shamed (amongst many other things).
But as we become more emotionally intelligent, these situations can be doorways to better things. Problems can be solved into greater solutions, disagreements can forge stronger bonds between people and feedback can turn into better performance and a sense of being seen and cared for.
If feedback is poorly given (or simply given without a certain level of emotional intelligence) someone who is highly valuable (or someone who will become highly valuable) might quit because they don’t feel appreciated or needed. It can mean a high turnover rate which is neither effective nor efficient. It can mean that the person doesn’t try as much or engages less because the sense of safety and being valued has been weakened just a little bit. The short term “solutions” of focusing on the “important things” like just getting the job done and ignoring the “less important things” like human connection, can sometimes be the cause of the problems we face.
Each person has their own wounds, their own difficulties, their own problems. We’re all flawed. Bringing this into awareness and allowing it to inform how we communicate with people can create the space for better communication. It means our feedback, advice, questions, instructions etc come from a place of compassion. This is not easy, in fact it can be really freakin hard when we’re working under insane conditions. But perhaps it can be a guiding star.
When it comes from a place of compassion, people are less likely to go into a fight-or-flight response, instructions are more likely to get accurately followed, mistakes are less likely to happen.
Again, this shows emotional intelligence isn't just a feel good thing that is good for the people working. Emotional intelligence is vital for long term financial success of a business. And seeing as you have to be somewhere on the scale of emotional intelligence, why not be on the upper end?
Some practical steps on feedback and criticism
Give feedback compassionately, give it precisely, give it in a way that focuses on the problem that needs to be fixed, the things that have been/need to be done rather than the person being wrong. Give it in a way that allows the person to respond and seek clarification.
If you notice that despite your best efforts, your criticism has caused them to get stressed/shut down/angry/helpless etc, give them time to assimilate what you’ve said. In other words - be human.
When criticism comes as an attack on the person (eg: “you screwed up”) rather than on the object (eg: “a legal form wasn’t filled out in time”) people naturally try to avoid that criticism. Put yourself in the former situation and think about how you would genuinely respond. If you’re like most people, there will probably be at least some part of you that tries to make excuses, avoid the responsibility and avoid or limit further contact with the person who gave the criticism.
But if we aren’t conscious of these subtle details of giving criticism and how people respond, it can lead to getting more annoyed because not only did the person make a mistake, but now they’re avoiding us. This has a downward spiral effect until it explodes.
Knowing how to bring up criticism in the early stages, as you see the problem cropping up (rather than waiting till you can wait no more) is also important. And the better you can give criticism from a humane place, a place where you acknowledge that it’s not easy for you, that it’s not easy for them, but that it’s ultimately useful and you’ll do your best to do it kindly, cleanly and directly… the better it’s received and thus the less you’ll put it off next time and now you’re moving towards an upward spiral, a positive feedback loop rather than those negative feedback loops you hear at concerts when a mic makes that horrible sound.
Good criticism can actually make us feel good giving it and create a stronger bond between the two parties. And if we are the one receiving it, we may think “hey, someone actually notices what I’m doing, and cares enough to help me do it better in a way that makes me feel seen and valued”.
And don’t forget praise
Praise is important. If you criticise well but never praise, all they ever hear from you is what they’re doing wrong. Even if someone is not doing particularly well in some areas, if you can acknowledge where they are doing well, that puts them in a better state, a state where they’re more conscious, a state where they feel more alive and cared for. This sets them up to adapt and do better in the things that aren’t going so well.
Working in groups
We need other people. You might be the best designer, but you need someone to make that design real. You can’t be the best at everything all the time. We need to work with each other harmoniously. Just like in nature, diversity creates a more resilient system. But when there’s diversity and many moving parts, communication is essential.
When research was done to look at what made a group effective, the determining factor wasn’t the IQ of the individuals in the group (though of course, that played some part). Rather it was the groups that were able to work well together. This is called group intelligence. They discovered that in the setting of a group, if someone is very eager, that could actually damage the group intelligence. This is counter to what is often espoused when people demand that everyone be “motivated!”. A group is a dynamic entity, simply putting in more force/eagerness or more IQ, doesn’t necessarily work well. Instead, it’s about balance and harmony (just like in nature). It’s in that environment that talents naturally spring forth.
Further research has found that having good connections with people outside your immediate group is highly beneficial. You may not need help from them right now, but it creates a greater support network, it creates greater resilience, and that’s what’s needed when the hard times come. Yet to develop those we need heart, we need emotional intelligence, we need those things that can’t be easily measured, that can’t be boasted about like we might boast about how much we got done today, but are vitally important nonetheless. Spending time doing this can be more effective than trying to be the best and going it alone.
It’s about connection, communication, developing relationships. it’s being there for other people, supporting them as they support us. It’s being effective at asking for what is needed and being understood (and vice-versa). And yet it is these very human qualities that are often pushed to the side at work in favour of more tangible tasks. Hopefully this has made you reconsider that way of viewing things.
A very useful tool that you can use to apply this knowledge and get results is called “Tapping”. If you’ve never heard of it before, you can learn the basics below. If you’re already familiar with it, feel free to jump to the next section in this blog where you’ll get some tapping prompts and ideas.
“Tapping” (EFT) is a scientifically proven, mind-body connection method. It allows you to rapidly reduce the emotional intensity of situations in your life. Science shows that when you reduce that intensity, you are more intelligent, resourceful and resilient.
Worried about giving that piece of feedback? Try tapping before giving it. Find you keep getting triggered when you have to communicate with someone? Try tapping. Unsure how to say something directly but also kindly? Try tapping to release some of the stress so that you can think more clearly (this works seriously well for problem solving when there’s stress involved or a limit that just seems impossible to budge). You can even offer this to people on your team when they receive criticism so that they can regulate their system if something is triggering.
Although this can clear much of the stress, worry, resentment, anger etc, part of emotional intelligence is being able to sit with unpleasant feelings (because they don’t always all go away). Being able to practice self compassion when things don’t go well or when you’re afraid of something, is a very useful and practical skill.
While knowing what to do is powerful, we can often have resistance to doing the things we know. With Tapping you can reduce and sometimes completely eliminate that resistance. This isn’t just a mental hack, this is something that has profound effects at the level of your nervous system, your biology, and your subconscious mind.
Tapping involves lightly tapping on acupressure points on your body while focusing on a specific problem. This physical action of tapping sends a calming signal to your brain and body. The result is that the problem that once caused you distress, now has little or no power over you. In other words, you’re removing what’s in the way rather than using more force.
Remember to take responsibility for your own wellbeing.
Tapping: how to do the basics
1) Identify a specific negative experience (past, present or future) to work on.
2) See if you can feel any emotion or physical sensation when you focus on this. (eg: feeling stressed, angry, tightness in your chest, pit in your stomach etc). Identify the level of intensity for you right now on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity, 10 being maximum intensity).
3) Tap the side of hand point continuously while saying the following 3 times:
“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.
eg: “Even though I’m stressed by this project, I deeply and completely accept myself”.
(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).
4) Gently tap the 8 points about 7 times each with your fingertips while repeating a brief phrase at each point, that reminds you of the problem. eg: “feeling stressed”, “this project”.
5) Test to see if there has been any change on the 0-10 scale of intensity or a change in emotion/physical sensation.
6) Repeat until intensity is 0, adjusting statements to reflect any changes you experience.
keep in mind that these are just the basics of one method. If you don’t get the expected results, you may need the help of a trained practitioner or a different method.
You can also read these blog posts where I cover the most crucial information when it comes to getting better results with “Tapping”:
How to get real lasting results with “Tapping”
How to change the subconscious beliefs that limit you
You will get the best results with Tapping when you focus on your specific situation and use your own words to accurately describe it. However, having some prompts can be helpful to get you started. I encourage you to use the following as starting points rather than strict rules to follow. Use what resonates with you and discard what doesn't:
Even though I’m worried about giving this piece of feedback to Jesse, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though I feel an empty pit in my stomach just imagining giving this criticism, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though I’m worried about starting a network of people outside my team, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though I’m worried I’ll get rejected if I try to cultivate a network with John, I deeply and completely accept myself
Even though Josh just gave me feedback and said “_____________” (insert what was said), I accept myself
Even though what Josh was really saying was “_____________” (insert what you believe was truly meant), I accept myself
Resources / references
Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman
Side of hand photo adapted from Andrik Langfield on Unsplash
Tapping points photo adapted from Albert Dera on Unsplash