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Executive Corner – Being Nice Doesn’t Mean You Have Emotional Intelligence

Michael Clegg | 03/02/2022

 Pandemic – Coronavirus – Covid 19 – Delta Variant – Masks – Omicron – Depression – Vaccination -Mandates – Inflation – Ukraine – The Great Resignation – The Great Reshuffle etc. There are many emotional responses that come with some, most or all these words. Mental Health is a big challenge today. Especially given that many of our “social norms” are being challenged daily. The only constant has been change. Leaders need to adapt to these changes. Our level of Emotional Intelligence plays a larger role than ever before. If you have been hiding under a rock for the past 25 years, Emotional Intelligence, also the title of the book written by Daniel Goleman and is published in 40 different languages around the world, is the ability to perceive, manage and regulate emotions. 

The book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, shares that there is a link between every point of increase in Emotional Quotient (EQ) and adding $1,300 to an annual salary. Those with higher EQs make an average of $29,000 per year more than people with low EQs. There are so many things in life we cannot change. For example, we cannot read more books to increase our IQ. We are born with our IQ. Not only can you increase your EQ, but it has been shown that EQ can increase with age and experience. 

So how do we lead people that are experiencing so many emotional challenges in the world today? I often ask myself that as a Professional Coach that works with leaders and employees alike. Compassion and perseverance are a couple of terms that come to mind thinking about the 2020s. We don’t have to be nice. We need to be empathetic. There’s a big difference.

Our ability to recognize and understand our own feelings and the feelings of others and influence them to gain a positive outcome is what leadership is about today. We must expect our teams to have emotional baggage coming out of the past two years.  Leadership playbooks are still being written for these times. However, we already have playbooks that many are not using, and it can begin with Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence has 4 primary areas and none of these areas necessarily scream “NICE”:

1.     Self-Awareness: The ability to understand your own feelings and behaviors.

2.     Self-Management: Keeping yourself in situations in which you know you’ll be able to behave correctly.

3.     Social-Awareness: Your ability to read the emotions of others. You understand what makes people feel angry, sad, or excited and recognize their body language with these emotions.

4.     Relationship Management: Building stronger relationships with the important people in your life. If you know that one of your co-workers gets upset when he’s criticized, you’ll know how to better provide feedback in the future where he can respond more effectively.

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Empathy is NOT just relating to someone else and what they have gone through. Something like, “I was fired before too.” doesn’t incite deep conversation. Finding personal areas of someone that you don’t know and are not alike is going to bring more meaningful dialogue. It’s more about “what we DON’T know” then what we determine we do know. Empathy is pushing us to friction. Find areas where there are differences. Being nice to people, therefore I have high emotional intelligence is blatantly false. We need to get to the conflict. Get to discomfort. You need to have a commitment to helping your employee get better. It’s your JOB. When you can engage with an employee, it helps them feel like part of a great community. 

The data shows that over 95% of leaders believe they have high self-awareness, which is a key part of Emotional Intelligence. Unfortunately, the data also shows that belief and reality are two different things. In fact, less than 15% have any level of self-awareness. Finding the time to coach and lead around Emotional Intelligence is critical. If you think you have great emotional intelligence and don’t explore it, the chances are you are not great at it. However, I have never met someone that said, “I suck at Emotional Intelligence”. Why is that?

There are 3 different kinds of empathy residing in different parts of the brain:

1.     Cognitive: I know how you think.

2.     Emotional: I know how you feel.

3.     Empathetic concern: I care about you.

It is easy for a boss to manipulate others if they have Cognitive and Emotional empathy but lack Empathetic Concern. They can overuse the two they have to influence others regardless of the emotional cost to the employee. Another example, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence wrote in a 2020 Harvard Business Review article; “Many overachieving bosses in command and control cultures: they tend to be pacesetters who get promoted because they have very high personal standards of excellence. They are great at pushing people to meet short term targets – they communicate well because of their cognitive empathy and know their words will carry weight with their employees because of their emotional empathy – but because of their lack of empathetic concern they don’t care what the cost is to the person.”

These manipulations over time impact the leader’s ability to have deep meaningful relationships that will engage people to follow them to the ends of the earth. Like anything else, use in moderation. Manipulating others erodes trust.

Counter to popular opinion, the famous Professor and Clinical Psychologist, Jordan B. Peterson says that there is no such thing as EQ. He says it’s a fad, a convenient bandwagon, and a marketing scheme. Interestingly enough, this fad has lasted over 25 years. However, he also says there is no such thing as “GRIT”. Even to Angela Duckworth’s dismay. However, Adam Grant, Wharton Business’ top-rated professor and best-selling author, states in his book “Think Again” that Goleman and Peterson, who hold doctorates in psychology, should’ve dug deeper. Had Peterson read the meta-analyses of studies spanning nearly two hundred jobs, he’d have discovered that – contrary to his claims – emotional intelligence is real, and it does matter.

Finally, I think it’s fair to appreciate the complexity of human emotions and it reminds us that no behavior is ALWAYS effective, and all cures have unintended consequences. If you asked one simple question to any employee, what makes a good boss vs. a bad boss, you will likely find that many of the good qualities stem from high emotional intelligence.

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