In our lives, we encounter two types of relationships: those we choose and those we inherit. The friends we hold dear and the romantic partner we spend time with are examples of the former. On the other hand, family members and coworkers are relationships we inherit. And skillfully managing these diverse relationships often calls upon the use of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
Dr. John Gottman dedicated over 40 years to studying relationships, and his research unveiled a striking statistic: 69% of the issues that arise in intimate relationships are unsolvable. These are challenges deeply rooted in differences in personality or lifestyle needs, and they won’t simply vanish over time.
Yet Gottman’s findings shed light on what makes successful relationships endure. He deduced that individuals with high EQ possessed a remarkable ability to address problems with affection, humour, and even amusement. In these cases, positive interactions outnumbered negative interactions by a staggering five-to-one ratio.
This principle extends beyond our personal lives and into the workplace.. In the workplace, we collaborate with diverse individuals who bring their unique working styles, learning preferences and approaches to tasks. Leaders with high EQ excel in resolving conflicts between competing personality styles while influencing people to follow them – even under high levels of stress.
In the workplace, people want to feel positivity. Yet an often-heard complaint in my coaching sessions is the lack of feedback from managers when things go well, compared to how quickly managers respond when there are problems or mistakes.
In my years of coaching leaders, hosting leadership programmes and consulting with organisations, there are a few key EQ truisms that reappear time and time again.
#1: No one leaves their emotions at the door
There’s the old maxim that, when entering a workplace, you should ‘leave your emotions at the door’. However, the reality is quite different.
Our emotions are always with us, and they manifest themselves vividly. If an emotion is a psychological response to stimuli, brain imaging scans reveal a great deal. At the slightest provocation, our brains light up like a Christmas tree. Neurons fire, ‘data’ passes in milliseconds, and psychological responses are triggered.
Emotions drive our behaviour. When we feel safe in the presence of others, we are more likely to take interpersonal risks, such as admitting mistakes, acknowledging our lack of understanding, or expressing differing viewpoints. This openness fosters an environment of learning and innovation. Conversely, when fear takes hold, we may hide our mistakes, suppress questions and stifle our ideas.
Rather than promoting a culture of emotional suppression, leaders have the opportunity to cultivate an emotionally safe climate where people feel encouraged to share openly. This in turn creates an environment conducive to learning and growth.
#2: Leaders with high EQ can influence others
Imagine you’re sick in the traditional sense. In such a case, you reveal your symptoms to a doctor and a suitable medication is prescribed. The same goes for EQ: by being specific – and honest about your feelings – you can reach a solution. And being honest with yourself makes it easier to connect with others.
In fact, this sort of openness is a key step in becoming an effective leader. Many managers get to where they are because they’re competent, not because they’re good with people. Yet, a study published in Harvard Business Review entitled ‘Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Network,’ revealed that people prefer working for someone who is both competent and has high EQ. And when faced with a choice between the two, they would rather work with someone possessing higher EQ and lowercompetence than the reverse. This demonstrates the significant impact of EQ.
#3: Effective listening allows you to understand others and assist them in solving their own problems
Listening is a valuable relationship skill that requires willingness and practice. You can listen with the intent to reply or argue, or you can listen with the intent to understand. How do you achieve the latter? It starts with giving your full, undivided attention to the other person and refraining from interrupting when they speak. This means setting aside distractions and dedicating yourself entirely to the person speaking, while allowing them the space to express themselves. While you listen, it’s crucial to suspend judgement, and if something is unclear, you can ask for clarification. This transforms the interaction into a dialogue rather than a monologue.
When people come to you with challenges, you can assist them in finding solutions by asking questions, and then attentively listening to their responses, before providing suggestions.
Giving people the time and space to think and discover solutions is a mark of respect, and it also helps you understand their needs, work style and preferences – which might be different to your own. Recognising people’s needs, work styles and preferences enables you to lead them effectively.
Developing effective listening skills subtly conveys to the other person that they matter to you. Research conducted by Gallup shows that when individuals feel that someone at work genuinely cares about them, they become more engaged, which, in turn, motivates them to go the extra mile.
Developing EQ: How do you do it?
EQ training has four constituent parts:
- The first is self awareness: you’re aware of your own emotional state, whether driven by your internal world or the external. When you’re self-aware, you acknowledge how you’re feeling and how you might be impacting others. It’s important to ask people for feedback, as they’re the ones experiencing you. And when you solicit feedback, it has to be close to the event for you to connect the dots and improve.
- The second is self management, which is the ability to regulate yourself. We all know someone who is really up and then really down, and who always wants people to know how they’re feeling. These people struggle with self management.
- The third is empathy. Are you willing to step into someone else’s shoes, read their body language, and make them feel understood? Sometimes we develop empathy because there’s no other way: we’ve failed at manipulating, coercing or cajoling people. And sometimes we’re naturally interested in others, and empathy comes naturally.
- The fourth is relationship management. Here, you take the previous three principles and apply them to build relationships that are productive.
Developing EQ will allow you to, in the words of Dale Carnegie, win friends and influence people. But it will also make you a better decision-maker in the heat of the moment. EQ training turns down the noise and gives you the necessary perspective to get things right the first time of asking. Along the way, it makes you a better leader as well.
Julia is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant. She’s the founder at 54twentyfour, an organisation that partners with business leaders to help them design their organisation’s inclusive employee experience. Julia has extensive experience in leadership development, team development and culture transformation, and is passionate about creating organisations that are inclusive, equitable and good for human beings.