Assessing and implementing emotional intelligence in the workplace
By Dr. Jarik Conrad
You are the vice president at a successful hotel chain. You have just arrived at the office Monday morning faced with a difficult dilemma. You need to decide what to do about Peter, the director of sales at one of your locations. Peter began his career as an associate in the hotel’s customer relations department 12 years ago, and worked his way up through the ranks. He is a smart, dedicated employee who often works long hours – and it shows in the company’s results. The hotel is enjoying a record year and is top in sales among the chain in the state; but there is one problem. Peter has trouble controlling his emotions. He has frequent outbursts and often times talks down to people. His peers hate working with him and one of his promising direct reports has threatened to quit – again. What should you do?
If you are like many people in your position, you try to ignore the issue because Peter has had such a positive impact on the bottom line. The problem with that course of action, or inaction, is that the problem rarely goes away, and it generally gets worse. If you do not deal with this right away, you may be unable to attract top talent. You may lose several high potential employees. Customers could decide to do business with someone else. People might hold back their creativity for fear of being humiliated. There could be disputes that result in costly litigation.
This is a common challenge in corporate America because individuals are routinely promoted for their technical skills with little regard for their ability to work with and through people. Such individuals describe themselves as logical and objective. They are often proud of their ability to get things done without paying too much attention to people’s feelings.
For many business leaders dealing with this issue, once the behavior becomes too obvious to be ignored, it comes down to an ultimatum… the troubled employee must shape up, or be terminated. Well, it does not have to be this way. There are other options and tactics to prevent these problems from occurring.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions, while simultaneously recognizing and effectively responding to the emotions of others. Imagine a leader without EI – cold, disrespectful, rigid, unforgiving, and unpredictable. Who would want to work for or live with that person?
EI has been criticized because people fell into the “either/or” trap, which questioned whether EI or IQ was the key to success. Too many people have discussed these constructs as though they are mutually exclusive. From a practical perspective, the recipe for success includes significant amounts of both ingredients. In fact, EI better enables people to take advantage of their IQ. Imagine an individual with high levels of both—intelligent, optimistic, flexible, respectful and caring. Who would not want to work for or live with a person like that?
One of the greatest aspects of EI is that it can be learned. Your employees who want to improve their EI skills can do so, and you can help. Here are some ways to improve emotional intelligence in your organization:
- Incorporate EI into your hiring processes. The first step to implement emotional intelligence in your organization is to develop interview questions designed to assess self-awareness, interpersonal skills, stress management, adaptability, optimism and level of happiness. This is important because it is better and cheaper to be proactive on the front end than reactive once an individual with attitude problems is hired. These questions will also help you to set appropriate behavioral expectations for any aspiring candidate. Some examples include:
- What has been your most stressful work experience? How did you manage your stress?
- Tell me about a time when your ability to empathize with customer or co-worker enabled you to solve a challenging problem.
- Assess the emotional intelligence of your leaders, and future leaders. Since everybody is different with a unique set of challenges, an assessment would be ideal to pinpoint specific areas of opportunity for leaders and aspiring leaders.
- Ensure your performance appraisals consider how the job gets done. Reinforce to employees, especially leaders, the importance of interacting with others effectively. Help them to understand how to maximize their contributions without minimizing the contributions of others. This can be accomplished through ensuring a significant weight is attributed to items like communication, teamwork and flexibility.
- Make emotional intelligence a cornerstone of your succession planning process. Along with the standard technical and educational requirements, document the “soft” criteria necessary for effective performance in each key position in your organization. You can accomplish this through asking job incumbents what it takes to be effective in their jobs; the skills not included on the job descriptions.
You no longer have to ignore behavioral issues in your organization for fear of losing highly skilled employees. Infusing all levels of your organization with emotional intelligence will dramatically increase the likelihood of having a great combination—people who do the right things, while doing things right.