Does EQ Matter in the Workplace?

November 9, 2020

[This is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is available for purchase on Amazon.]

The burly, barrel-chested vice president of operations entered the meeting room and the mood quickly dropped from jovial to somber. Earlier in the week Jonathon had reprimanded two meeting attendees, lashed out at a third, and mocked another. His frequent use of sarcasm, although greeted encouragingly by one team member, made him hard to read. No one knew exactly what they were going to get in their interactions with Jonathon, but they were always on guard. Though he was respected due to his subject matter expertise and his executive position, Jonathon’s peers, direct-reports, and external vendors all found it difficult to work with him effectively.

Jonathon had little self-awareness, an inability to control his reactions, was unable to read or care about what others were feeling, and had lost the trust of those he worked with. Jonathon had very low emotional intelligence, and this was undermining his effectiveness and would ultimately jeopardize his career.

All humans are emotional beings, and emotions are not something you can ignore or leave at home when you go to work. Feeling emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love, surprise, disgust, and shame provides you with valuable information. As with any other data, your emotions can enable you to make better decisions in how you work and how you live.

The information emotions provide can be appreciated or discounted, but emotions cannot be ignored. When emotions are ignored, they can show up negatively within your behavior. These behaviors show up in your interactions with others where they can undermine your intentions and result in friction. Such behaviors could include overreacting to feedback or an offhand comment, “flying off the handle,” or becoming unhinged. You may be unable to control your anger, disappointment, or jealousy and have it show up as rage, defensiveness, or spite. Emotions can be revealed in less dramatic ways such as in passive-aggressive behavior, where the external expression is not consistent with the underlying emotion. Passive-aggressive behavior can result when you avoid responsibility or refuse to directly express your concerns or needs. Emotions can also be suppressed or not intentionally expressed, but this often leads to them leaking out in unintended and potentially consequential ways. Your emotions have great power to help or hurt you. The good news is that you can choose how to harness that power.

Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, a great deal of energy and excitement has been generated around understanding emotional intelligence. Individuals and organizations around the world have sought to learn and embrace ways of improving emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” It has also become a major component of many leadership development programs and an important part of executive coaching. In the workplace, it is critical to be aware of your emotions because they are revealed in your behavior. This behavior can either support or undermine your overall effectiveness.

Not long ago, 30 percent of all work was collaborative and 70 percent was the result of individual contributions. That has since been reversed as the majority of work now requires collaboration and effective interaction with other people. Even when jobs are conducted remotely, it has become increasingly common for them to be performed in teams. When such interaction is face-to-face, it’s critical that you are in touch with your emotions and are able to read the emotions of others. When the interaction is compromised because it is done via phone calls, video conferences, email, Slack messages, or text, it is even more critical that you are able to effectively connect because you are missing the essential nonverbal feedback of being in another person’s physical presence. And although some jobs require little interaction with other people, all of us will need to interact with others—even if it is only our direct supervisor. Managing that relationship effectively is extremely important. In most organizations, your advancement opportunities typically require not only working with others, but often supervising others as a manager or director. In fact, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you will be interacting with others rather than primarily staring at a spreadsheet or writing emails. Working effectively with others requires EQ.

Emotional intelligence is an excellent indicator of success in the workplace and is often used to identify team players and good leaders as well as people who are better suited to working alone. Increasingly, when it comes to gauging job candidates, companies are viewing emotional intelligence as an integral factor, once technical skills and work experience are considered.

Daniel Goleman makes a strong case for a direct link between emotional intelligence and workplace performance in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Goleman presents data showing that 67 percent of competencies deemed as essential for high performance within one’s work career are grounded in one’s emotional intelligence. In fact, one’s emotional intelligence is believed to matter nearly twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ, where high performance within one’s career is concerned. Perhaps not surprisingly, EQ was also found to be of the greatest advantage at the highest levels of leadership.

[Learn more about Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace.]

Meetings Rule our World

October 28, 2019

As a coach and consultant, I regularly meet with clients challenged to find time due to other meetings crowding their calendars. Meetings rule many of our working lives and this requires we push back to make the best use of our time and to make meetings better.

If you find most of your workday is simply moving from one meeting to the next, you are not alone. Collectively, we attend some 11 million meetings each business day in America. Many of these meetings have no clear agenda, may not require our attendance, and some may not be necessary in the first place.

There’s no doubt some meetings are very important and need to take place with you in attendance. Your challenge is to ensure you participate only in those and find ways to avoid meetings that don’t make the best use of your time.

The higher you rise in an organization, the more your day will be filled with meetings. Therefore, you need to be selective by understanding the meeting’s purpose, determining whether you are the right person to attend, and ultimately whether this meeting is a priority for you right now given your role.

You may find it difficult to push back when you’re invited to attend a meeting, but it’s important that you do this.

When to Decline a Meeting:

  • You should decline when the purpose for the meeting isn’t clear well in advance. The meaning should make it clear why your attendance is necessary. That’s not to imply that what is discussed or decided is not important, but this information can be communicated back to you in the minutes after the meeting.  
  • You should decline when an agenda is not available ahead of time and it’s clear that one will not be used. An agenda helps you best prepare for what will be discussed. It also demonstrates that the meeting organizer has a plan and respects your time and attention.
  • You should decline if you’ve attended a similar meeting in the past from this organizer and found that your participation was not the best use of your time. This may require that you find or appoint someone to attend in your place.
  • You should decline if the meeting is likely to serve as primarily a data dump of information rather than a discussion. Insist that meetings be used for discussion and decision-making, so that you and other attendees stay engaged and feel valued.
  • You should decline when your attendance is not a priority for you in your role. This means you decline due to conflicting priorities. This is not saying the meeting is not important, only that it is not as important as your other priorities.

It should go without saying that how you decline a meeting will influence the reputation you’ll leave with the organizer. There’s obviously a polite way to say “no” and it is important to learn how to politely decline.

Ultimately, if you are able to decline effectively, you may help influence organizers to ensure that future meetings are conducted more thoughtfully. These meetings would include providing agendas in advance, carefully selecting the right people, using the time most effectively, and providing minutes following the meeting. Your ability to decline effectively may then lead to helping to improve meetings organization-wide.  

Building Self-Awareness in Teams

August 9, 2019

Qualities critical for workplace success include emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication and collaboration. All of which stem from self-awareness. And self-awareness in teams can make them more efficient, effective, innovative and rewarding to be a part of.

As I’ve written previously, this highly developable skill is perhaps the most important element for leadership. Research has shown that knowing who we are and how others see us is foundational to strong leadership, smart decisions and lasting relationships. However, it seems the higher one rises in leadership, the less likely they are to be self-aware.

And becoming self-aware yourself is essential before you can build self-awareness in your team.

“If being individually self-aware means understanding who you are and how others see you, a self-aware team commits to that same understanding at a collective level,” says Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist and author of the excellent book Insight: the surprising truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“With the right approach and a true ongoing commitment, you can foster a culture that encourages communication and feedback at all levels,” says Eurich. “One where honesty trumps hierarchy and even the lowest-ranking member feels safe putting problems on the table.”

To build self-awareness in your team, Eurich points to what she calls the three building blocks a leader must put in place. Prior to this, the team must already have a clear and compelling direction. “If a team doesn’t know where it’s headed, they are missing the ‘because’ of self-awareness,” explains Eurich.

The three building blocks are:

A Leader Who Models the Way

  • Make a commitment to your team’s self-awareness by starting with your own. When you as a leader demonstrate authenticity, team members learn to follow along in their interactions as well.
  • Engage in a leader feedback process to provide insight into your leadership, communication and well-being. This vulnerable exercise truly demonstrates to the team your commitment to transparency and own growth.

The Safety and Expectation to Tell the Truth

  • Provide the psychological safety to enable everyone the acceptance to ask one another for help, admit mistakes and raise tough issues. This requires not only trust, but also vulnerability.
  • Create clear set of norms. For example: What behaviors will help you achieve your strategy? What do you need to do to make this a safe and supportive team?

An Ongoing Commitment and Process to Stay Self-Aware

  • Candor challenge. Begin with team feedback exchange where every member gives and gets peer feedback. This is done by providing strictly behavioral feedback based on what they said, how they said it, or what they did. The kicker is that it is done publicly in front of the entire group.
  • Accountability conversations. This process assists the team in remaining self-aware by deliberately re-evaluating and regular intervals to ensure team members remain accountable for their commitments.

Teams are capable of doing great things. In fact, the most important developments throughout history have been accomplished not by individuals by people in groups. People working together effectively can be truly greater than those of individuals working independently.

In the same way self-aware leaders are more effective, so too are self-aware teams. Using the three building blocks as a model for how to strengthen the self-awareness of your team can lead to a stronger, more effective and more fulfilling group to be a part of.  

Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

Psychological Safety in Workgroups & Teams

October 25, 2018

Most of the important things accomplished in the workplace as well as society are done not by individuals but by groups of people. Workgroups and teams at their best are able to accomplish far more than a collection of individuals on their own. Effective collaboration is essential and this begins with psychological safety.

Feeling psychologically safe in our environment is a basic requirement, yet all too often we may take this for granted. Think about the last time you joined a new team or workgroup. How long before you felt comfortable speaking up, challenging assumptions, and making mistakes? Maybe you still feel uncomfortable doing so.

When you feel unsafe due to negative or disrespectful behaviors in the group, you are unlikely to contribute effectively. On the other hand, when you do feel safe and comfortable to deliver your best self in a group setting, you are more likely to make contributions that benefit the group as a whole.

Group Norms Determine Performance

As I wrote about previously, researchers from Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were key to improving Google teams. They determined that the right norms can raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms can hobble a team—even if all the individual members are exceptionally bright.

Specifically, the researchers at Google found that group norms of 1) taking turns speaking and 2) listening with empathy were the most important factors for improving team outcomes.

Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Teaming, Amy Edmondson, found that when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other—what she terms psychological safety—this was by far the most important of five dynamics that set successful teams apart.

“Psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth,” says Edmondson. “In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize or think less of them for it.”

Psychologically Safe in Your Workgroup or Team

To determine the level of psychological safety in workgroups or teams in your workplace, look for signs of judgment, unsolicited advice giving, interrupting, or sharing outside the meetings. These things get in the way of psychological safety, according to researcher and author Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead.

To counteract those behaviors and provide psychological safety, Brown suggests initiating and modeling behaviors that include listening, staying curious, being honest, and keeping confidences. Then and only then will all members of the group feel confident to speak up, offer new ideas, and challenge potential groupthink.

Highly effective workgroups and teams require trust, respect, cooperation and commitment. When people are able to take turns speaking and listening to each other with empathy, these group norms can bring about greater outcomes. First establishing psychological safety as a foundation to build upon is critical. Think safety first.

Collaborative Culture of the Coworking Contingent

March 30, 2012

The American workforce is going through a sea change with regard to how and where we work. The workplace of the future may no longer include nearly as many fulltime workers in cubicles, but instead provide only a gathering place for many contingent workers to collaborate on specific projects.

Contingent workers—including freelancers, temps, part-time workers, contractors and other specialists—today make up 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. By the end of the decade, they will make up more than 40 percent, according to the Intuit 2020 Report.

The report also states that “more than 80 percent of large corporations plan to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce in the coming years.”

Our knowledge-driven economy contributes to this rise in contingent workers because organizations rely more on specific knowledge and expertise.As demand increases for highly-skilled and knowledgeable people, the expertise of contract workers becomes more attractive.

This can save the organization money as there is no longer the need to pay the fully burdened costs of fulltime employees as well as the real estate to accommodate them.

So what does this mean to the contingent worker? Greater freedom? Yes. Less job security? Maybe. Greater work/life balance? Possibly. Less compensation? Perhaps, but not necessarily.

One thing is for certain: the contingent worker will need to be a lot more intentional and active in finding opportunities, and also in collaborating from outside the organization.

A lot of contingent workers want to get out of Starbucks and other coffee shops, but they don’t want to be at home alone says Ryan Coonerty, co-founder and chief strategist of NextSpace in Santa Cruz, California.

“People like being around other people,” he says. “While they don’t miss some of the traditional office culture—like cubicles and set work schedules—holiday parties matter.”

NextSpace is one of a growing number of coworking spaces with locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and Santa Cruz. Coonerty says he plans to open another four to six locations by the end of the year.

Contingent workers are moving to these coworking spaces because they can find more quiet, fewer distractions, shared office resources, and collaboration opportunities. These coworking spaces can also be a lot cheaper than renting a traditional office.

According to Deskmag’s Second Global Coworking Survey completed last fall by more than 1500 people from 52 countries, “individuals increase their productivity and networks by joining a coworking space.”

The survey found there are now more than 1,100 coworking facilities worldwide, and that number is likely to increase dramatically.

It’s not entirely clear how an increase in these independent workers will change an organization’s culture. Contingent workers could help make companies more responsive to customers and market trends by bringing in a fresh perspective.

And just as outside consultants can often ask the hard or sensitive questions internal employees may not, contingent workers can focus on the objective at hand rather than let the internal politics get in the way of meeting those objectives.

My concern is how well these contingent workers will be able to effectively collaborate with fulltime employees. How quickly can rapport be established if the interaction is primarily via email and phone calls? How can trust be developed when there isn’t the time to regularly work side by side?

These contingent coworking professionals will definitely change the culture of organizations. And how organizations adapt to this less tangential and potentially more collaborative culture will determine whether this transition is successful or not.

Five Major Pitfalls for Leading Effective Work Groups

May 18, 2009

Building high performing work groups is important for all organizations, but achieving them is easier said than done. For the sake of this discussion, an effective work group depends upon whether the output meets the quantity, quality and timeliness established, how well the process of the work can be carried out by the individuals interdependently in the future, and whether the group experience contributes to the growth and well-being of the individual members.

To be an effective work group leader involves creating favorable performance conditions for the group (either on one’s own authority or by exercising influence upward or laterally with colleagues), building and maintaining the work group as a performing unit, and coaching the group as it evolves.

Work groups can be ineffective for many reasons, and it’s important for a leader to first recognize the nature of the problem. For instance, is the difficulty due to a lack of effort, inappropriate talent or a flawed strategy? Each of these areas would require a different intervention in order to make the team more effective.

The best way to keep a group from becoming ineffective in the first place is to avoid these five major pitfalls:

1. Work group in name only. When people are told they are a team but treated as individual performers, this sends a mixed message. This is also untenable as individual goals are likely to trump group goals. The team’s very existence is to achieve group goals, and it is therefore vital to emphasize that there is no “I” in the word team. Make it clear that all individuals will prosper only when the team prospers. Encourage team building activities that build trust and open communication between every member. Acknowledge and reward team achievements as well as encourage collaboration among individuals.

2. Lack of authority, responsibility and accountability. Managers should insist on exercising their authority with regard to the direction and constraints on group behavior. With clear direction, the team can align their efforts with the objectives of the larger organization. Ideally, group leaders should define the outcomes they are looking for and then give the team the flexibility to accomplish them on their own. By providing clear direction, the team can then choose the appropriate performance strategies. This can often generate and sustain energy within the team.

3. Inappropriate structure. Groups that have appropriate structures tend to develop healthy internal processes, whereas groups with inappropriate structures tend to have process problems. It is crucial to have the right people in the right roles, but without the right structure around these roles, the process breaks down. A leader should assemble a group of people in the correct roles and provide a structure that is suitable to contributing to them accomplishing the work at hand.

4. Inadequate support. If you specify challenging team objectives but skimp on organizational support, the team is bound to fail. The full potential of work teams can be realized only when organizational structures and systems actively support competent teamwork. And this must be done in deeds as well as words. The potential of a well-directed, well-structured, well-supported team is tremendous.

5. Limited training and coaching. It is helpful for leaders and managers to provide some hands-on training and coaching as group members develop the skills they need to work well on a team. Favorable times for this intervention include when a group is first launched, when it reaches a natural break in its work, and when it has completed its product or reached the end of a performance period. Providing adequate training and development ensures the continuation of the team’s performance.

Being an effective group leader involves (1) creating favorable performance conditions for the group with appropriate structure, accountability, and support, (2) building and maintaining the team as a performing unit by encouraging collaboration, open communication, and trust, and (3) coaching and helping the team in real time with appropriate training and development.

When all three areas are focused on, a group leader can help avoid the five major pitfalls and help their work group prosper.

Mark Craemer       www.craemerconsulting.com