It’s probably been a number of years since your mother turned to you from the front seat of the car on a family road trip and told you to pipe down commenting, “You just don’t know when enough is enough. Read the signs.” Now one could have interpreted that to mean stare out the window and silently read the road signs along the side of the road, but what she was really asking you to do was exercise some social cueing and recognize that laughing uncontrollably about the silly joke your sister told was funny for the first 10 seconds, good for the next 30 seconds, and downright annoying at the 10 minute mark.
You probably didn’t know it at the time, but what your mother was asking you to practice back then would come to be defined in the early 1990s as emotional intelligence. And over the past 30 years in the business community, it has become one of the most sought after traits in employees and leaders. It’s especially important now, as businesses struggle to adapt and survive during the coronavirus pandemic. Leadership will continue to be one of the most critically tested skills required to lead teams through change — and a cornerstone to survival will be emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage your personal emotions and the emotions of others. If you’re aware of how you’d feel in a certain situation, it can help you gauge how others will feel in a similar environment and enable positive social interactions and reactions from others.
It may sound simple — but for most, mastering emotional intelligence doesn’t come naturally. It’s not just about being likable, kind and respectful. Emotional intelligence often requires behavioral change and practice. As we all know, behavioral change is hard, but in this case, it’s well worth it. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that emotional intelligence accounts for almost 90% of what sets high performers apart from others with similar skills and knowledge.
As the lines between work and personal life become increasingly blurred and as rates of loneliness, depression and mental health issues continue to rise, it’s criticality important to build emotional intelligence into your work environment.
Here are three things you can do to get started:
Emotional intelligence starts with self-awareness. To hone this skill, spend a minute of each day writing down how you’re feeling. Are you worried? Fearful? Anxious? Hopeful? Grateful? You don’t have to solve anything as you write these feelings down. Just practice making yourself aware of how you’re feeling.
The next thing you can do is practice empathy with those on your team.When someone shares something with you, imagine that you are that person, become aware of what you say and how you say it, and notice the tone or physical gestures the person is using. Really take the time to listen to what the person is saying. You might even try writing down what you imagine the person is thinking or feeling. Emotional intelligence requires that in addition to understanding your own emotions, you perceive the emotions of others.
Share real stories from your own emotional experiences.. Maybe you’re feeling stressed with your spouse working from home with you or you’re concerned for an aging relative — or even for yourself. According to Google’s Project Aristotle (their quest to build the perfect team), a high-performing team needs “psychological safety where everyone feels safe to show and employ themselves without fear of negative consequences.” If you share real stories from your own experiences, your team will be more likely to do the same.
Emotional intelligence is no longer the “touchy-feely” soft skill that some once thought it was. It’s an increasingly important differentiator for leaders and teams that can help you manage difficult situations successfully, enable your team to work calmly under pressure, help you earn the respect of your team members, and create loyalty. There’s really no downside to emotional intelligence.
So, the next time you’re in the car with your kids or grandkids and you want to give them a leg up on their next team, their classroom group project, or their entrepreneurial pitch at work practice modeling emotional intelligence with a well-timed story about riding in the car with your parents when you were young and how understanding the mood in the car helps the family love a road trip.