Work on Responding, Not Reacting
When the office opened up after lock down, Sam, one of your high-performing workers, said he wanted to work in the office instead of at home. At first, that was fine. But over the past two weeks, he’s been arriving consistently late, which has resulted in delayed handoffs to internal team members. You were aware of one occasion, which you let go – everyone is late sometimes, especially during a pandemic.
It’s Monday morning. Your son didn’t want to eat the breakfast you made him (a hot one, too), and your teenage daughter isn’t speaking to you because you took her phone away. You also haven’t had your coffee yet, it’s raining, and you have a ton to do today. You wanted to arrive early to get a jump-start on the week, but all your extra time was eaten up by car trouble and traffic. You are frazzled.
As you’re taking off your coat, two employees walk into your office, clearly annoyed. They inform you that Sam is late. They tell you this has happened several times lately and they can’t do their work until he hands off his files. They are, therefore, wasting time, which will mean they might have to work late. They note that this has been a pattern and they are sick of it; they feel like they’re working hard and doing their part and he’s slacking off. They want you to do something.
What happens next? Well, that depends an awful lot on your emotional intelligence (EQ) — a concept you’ve definitely heard of, probably recognize, might not be able to articulate, but absolutely know it when you experience the lack of it. Let’s analyze two possible outcomes to our situation. First, The Reaction.
You snap at your employees for not giving you one second to get settled in, tell them you will deal with Sam when he arrives, and insist that they just chill out. You text Sam and tell him to see you as soon as he arrives. When he gets into your office, you unload on him for being late, explain how that impacts his peers, inform him he’s on probation, and tell him to hand off his work ASAP so as to not put the team even further behind.
The Reaction isn’t ideal (but you probably already know what). It’ll no doubt irritate everyone involved and not yield optimal results, but it was easy and probably felt good to you for a nano-second. You’ll spend a lot more time cleaning up the mess you made with your team. Knowing all of that, how many of you can see yourself in The Reaction — not because you would consciously choose that solution but because it just … happens? Be honest. We’ve all done this.
What’s a better solution? The Response.
You are irritated. You take a deep breath. You then let your team know you understand the urgency and ask them if there are other tasks they can do while they wait for Sam. If not, ask them to be patient. Assure them you will talk with Sam after he hands off the files and will work out a solution to minimize these delays in the future.
When you meet with Sam, you ask him why he was late and discuss that this is becoming a pattern. You then find out that Sam’s mother, who takes care of Sam’s son while he works, has the coronavirus so he’s been using a temporary daycare solution. They aren’t always open on time, so he’s been late because of it. When Sam’s finished talking, you consider that your spouse works from home, so your kids are taken care of, but you can absolutely imagine the stress of having a sick parent, trying to arrange daycare, and keeping up your job performance. Sam deserves a break. Together, you agree that he will email the files his teammates need before he leaves at night or, if he’s working at home in the evenings, before he logs off. This will ensure that the team can keep working even if Sam is delayed in the morning. You and Sam agree while he is using this short-term daycare solution, he can push out the start of his work day by a half-hour so he doesn’t need to rush. You tell him you’ll check in with him in a week to see how things are going.
The Response is harder. It’s clearly the compassionate, professional, mature option. It’s more likely to resolve the situation without adding more emotional garbage on top of it. It’s an emotionally intelligent response.
Emotional intelligence is both the ability to recognize your emotions and to make decisions about how much of a role in your response they should have. Emotionally intelligent people aren’t any less emotional; they’re just able to control and apply emotions more effectively to a given situation. They are, in essence, more self-aware and thus successful. Bradberry and Greaves write, “… 83 percent of people high in self-awareness are top performers, and just 2 percent of bottom performers are high in self-awareness.”¹
In the above example, the first reaction is irritation. Totally natural to most people. The key to this solution is the first step you take after that reaction: the pause. Taking a moment to calm down, asking yourself why you are so irritated, and recognizing that nothing that happened before you came into the office has to do with your team. It’s really not their problem.
The next emotionally intelligent action is recognizing the team’s emotions and helping them set their knee-jerk reactions aside so they can focus on a solution. This is social awareness. “To be socially aware, you have to spot and understand people’s emotions while you’re right in the middle of it.”² You don’t want to fuel the frustration fire in the team as they stand in their office. You want to help them get back to work while feeling heard, in turn trusting that you’ll take care of things.
Finally, you show empathy to Sam’s situation, to understand how he must be feeling, and collaborate to come up with a solution that enables him to perform well while giving him flexibility to address his parental and childcare needs.
Why does this matter? Well, emotionally intelligent people have the ability to get more out of both themselves and their teams. Because of this, more and more positions, especially those in leadership, require emotional intelligence to perform effectively. In fact, Daniel Goleman says, “Companies today are increasingly looking through the lens of emotional intelligence when hiring, promoting and developing their employees. Years of studies show that the more emotional intelligence someone has, the better their performance.”³
A deep breath can not only change your brain chemistry a bit, but it gives you a second to decide what to do next, instead of words or actions bursting out of you.
Much like empathy (which is a huge part of emotional intelligence), EQ is a skill you can develop if you work at it. Here are a few ways to do just that:
Click below to download a version of this list.
Being able to admit you got something wrong shows humility and builds a tremendous amount of trust.
Emotional intelligence involves the process of evolving. Some people innately have many of these skills, but for those who don’t, the skills are highly teachable and can be honed if practiced. In short, everyone can increase their emotional intelligence and thus their overall effectiveness and success.
*Look for next week's article about providing feedback.
¹ Bradberry, T. & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart. Page 26.
² Bradberry, T. & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart. Page 39.
³ Goleman, S. (2020, June 9). Harvard researcher says the most emotionally intelligent people have these 12 traits. Which do you have?. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/09/harvard-psychology-researcher-biggest-traits-of-emotional-intelligence-do-you-have-them.html
⁴ Bradberry, T. & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart. Page 21.
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