Internationally renowned neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, tells the story of one patient known as Elliot. He was a successful manager in a large corporation, married with a family. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor which was successfully removed with surgery. However, afterwards he was a completely changed man. His ability to make decisions was so dramatically impacted that he lost both his job and his wife, suffering financial ruin.
Yet his IQ, which was prior to the operation well above average, remained the same. Similarly, no pathology could be found on standard neurophysiological tests, to the extent that he was refused disability because he couldn’t prove his brain was not normal.
Damasio conducted a series of further tests on Elliot which seemed to demonstrate that while his cognition and intelligence was completely intact, his ability to feel and respond emotionally had become severely stunted.
The impact of this was that he became unable to make even the simplest of decisions and manage himself and his relationships with others.
Damasio’s research demonstrates the central role emotions play in learning, memory, decision-making and social cognition. In the past thirty years, a substantial body of research attests to the significance of emotions and the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ at work.
What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is about how people and relationships function. Experts identify four key domains of EQ: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationships management. In particular for leaders and managers, fostering well-developed skills and abilities in these four key areas is crucial.
This is the ability to be able to tune into, identify and hold in your awareness your own emotions as they arise. It also implies having a positive regard for oneself tempered by an accurate and realistic inner picture of your own strengths and limitations.
- Develop a conscious awareness when something triggers you that you are now annoyed, upset or frustrated.
- Practice tuning into your own physical and emotional reaction as it is happening in the moment.
- Explore to what extent this negative event causes a greater earthquake in your self-confidence and self-belief. (‘I realise that what John said about my report is making me question my report-writing skills in general’)
This is the next stage in effective emotional processing – what actions or behaviours you now reach for, on foot of having had some sort of internal emotional reactivity to an event or person. At a neurological level, we are hardwired to react defensively rather logically to events that trigger negative emotions.
For some people, their reaction is ‘hot’ – they engage in actively destructive behaviours such as displaying anger or anxiety, which can appear aggressive or overwhelming to people around them. Others stress reaction is to reach for ‘cold’ or passive destructive behaviours like disengaging or removing themselves either emotionally or physically and present as cold or aloof to observers.
- A key skill is to be able to slow down and not react to the fight or flight urge when you feel angry or upset.
- Effective self-management means being able to ‘talk yourself down’ or self-soothe, when something isn’t going your way.
- Rather than trying to suppress or ignore emotions, think instead about having a dialogue with them. They are important and relevant signals that something is not in order for you. Acknowledge and accept them as messengers and then take the time think clearly about what’s most important so you make conscious choices about how to respond to the event.
This refers to your ability to tune into others and to have an interest and concern for what might be prompting their behaviour or actions.
- We are all programmed to focus on observable behaviours in the workplace. We also need to learn to focus on discerning the often unspoken needs and resulting emotions that might underpin these behaviours.
- Develop your empathy skills, being able to ‘walk in the shoes’ of other people, particularly, if they have done something to annoy or upset you.
- Rather than automatically making negative assumptions about people’s intent or motives when they do something you don’t like, practice giving them the benefit of the doubt.
This encompasses skills in collaboration, co-operation and influencing others with integrity. When powerful emotions overtake us in interpersonal reactions, it refers to our ability to keep focused on the bigger picture of the long-term relationship.
- When you are triggered by someone else’s behaviour, as well as considering what you want from them, reflect also on what you want for your long-term relationship with that person.
- Consciously devote time and energy to nurturing trusting and collaborative relationships with others. Foster your interest in sensing the needs of others and your motivation to help and support them.
- When you are communicating with others, take time to shape your message in a way will be clearly and constructively understood by the other.
Contrary to the mindset that emotions have no place in the workplace, an ability to negotiate both one’s own and others emotional troughs and peaks in the workplace is a must.