“Slam!” Her handbag hit the desk with the loudest bang possible and everyone in the office jumped. Today was going to be one of those days, or I should say, ANOTHER of those days.
It was bizarre, whenever our manager came into the office in a foul mood, it was like there was this forcefield around her that nothing and no one could penetrate. Yet she somehow managed to infect us all with her bad mood and, on those days, the office was not a nice place to be.
This experience of my then manager’s lack of emotional intelligence was a long time ago now, but the negative feelings it gave rise to stuck with me for years. How could one person have such an adverse effect on a whole office of people?
Well firstly, she didn’t seem to have any awareness of the fact she was in this horrible mood. Between leaving work with a fairly positive outlook the evening before, and arriving in that morning, something had acted as a trigger, in the same way clicking a kettle on makes the water boil. Maybe she knew what that trigger was, or maybe she had no idea, either way I really wished she had avoided it. Her behaviour truly reflected her obvious mood; snapping at people, ignoring others, raising her voice in an aggressive tone and complaining about minor things, the list went on. Yet it seemed she was doing absolutely nothing to manage her negative behaviour; if anything, it appeared to get progressively worse as the day went on. Now personally, I’d have felt embarrassed for others to see me ‘lose it’ in this way, but she either just didn’t realise how she came across or simply didn’t care.
Those who were brave enough to approach “The Grouch”, as she was aptly nicknamed, were either left offended, hurt or, I think, shocked by her less than positive responses. I still struggle to believe that she couldn’t tell that the people she was so rude to were upset and uncomfortable in her presence, yet the fact she didn’t adjust her approach despite visible indications of this discomfort would suggest this was the case. Needless to say, she struggled to maintain steady and positive working relationships with her colleagues and team.
At the time, I didn’t think too much about what it was that meant my manager behaved the way she did, nor why I knew I didn’t want to work for her, or someone like her, ever again; and, by the way, that is still true to this day. However, what I do now know is that my manager back then really needed to develop her emotional intelligence. She lacked the self awareness to understand her triggers and how others saw her, she couldn’t manage her emotional reactions and behaviour, she was missing the social awareness to notice how people squirmed around her, and she also struggled to manage her relationships with others. Yet she was in a senior position.
My subsequent knowledge and experience in developing emotional intelligence tells me that a lack of EI among senior managers and leaders is, unfortunately, not that unusual. Granted, there will be varying degrees of ‘gaps’ in their EI, but I bet each and every one of you can think of someone who manages or leads others, and has some glaringly obvious development needs within their emotional intelligence. In fact, research shows that 64% of people can’t recognise and instantly manage their emotional state, and are unaware of how their emotions drive their behaviour. They could be fantastic at what they do, but if they lack self awareness, self management, social awareness or cannot manage relationships effectively, they will never reach their full potential. EI is so important that it accounts for around 85% of your daily success at work, is twice as important as IQ in determining future career success, and software developers with high levels of emotional intelligence can develop effective software three times faster than others. Emotionally intelligent leaders add 127% more value to a business than their ‘average’ colleagues, yet there’s a tendency for EI to actually decrease as a person progresses in seniority.
Now before you write-off your manager, partner, or even yourself as having a low EQ, I have good news. Unlike your IQ or personality preferences, emotional intelligence can be developed. In fact, it tends to increase slightly as we age, peaking in our 70s. However sometimes, this gradual development just doesn’t cut it, and we have to actively work at developing our EI. The manager I talked about above certainly needed to!
There are some really great tools available to measure your emotional intelligence so you can clearly identify your strengths and development areas. Generally though, I find the following are some quick and easy ways to start to developing your EI:
1) Know your hot spots
What are your triggers? Try to identify all of the things that set you off into an emotional incline so you can either avoid them in future or be prepared for them so you react differently.
2) Oxygenate your brain
When we’re in situations that evoke an emotional response, a part of the brain called the amygdala sends chemicals shooting around the body that are designed to protect you from threats to your life (fight or flight response). In doing this, it unfortunately shuts down the neo cortex part of your brain, which is where all rational thought and decision making comes from. So when your emotions kick in, take some really deep breaths; this will flood the brain with oxygen and help the neo cortex to kick back in and allow you to have rational thoughts once again.
3) Notice your thoughts
Sometimes, all we need to do is start to notice something and we suddenly find we deal with it far more effectively. When you start to react emotionally, notice what it is you’re thinking. We often have thoughts of jealousy, insecurity and bitterness, but we sometimes don’t notice that we’re thinking in this way. By recognising it, you can manage those negative thoughts by questioning why you’re having them, what the consequences of those thoughts are and whether they are helping you or anyone else. This simple practice takes a bit of getting used to but is brilliant for stopping negativity in its tracks.
4) Observe others
Start to pick up on other people’s behaviour and practice reading their emotions. See if you can sense something is worrying them or upsetting them before they tell you that it is, and notice how other people behave when their amygdala is in full swing. You will notice elements of their behaviour that you too demonstrate; seeing it in other people is often enough for us to realise we do not want to behave in that way again!
5) Give meditation a go
If you don’t already practice meditation, have a go! Meditation is a fantastic way of clearing the mind and refocusing on the things that matter. If you’re unsure where to start, there are some brilliant guided meditation apps out there that will help you to have a go.
So start developing your emotional intelligence today and share this with “The Grouch” in your life so they can start developing theirs too!