With the COVID-19 pandemic possibly downshifting to an endemic, managers and people leaders across industries are challenged with navigating the hybrid workplace — especially considering seismic shifts in U.S. culture that have added diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) to the list of goals and competencies for managers.

How can today’s managers negotiate hybrid work arrangements (against the backdrop of the pandemic) and incorporate DEI and belonging into the day-to-day function of their teams?

This may not be something managers can “think” their way out of. In fact, the answer may lie in the heart — not the mind.

Emotional quotient (EQ), or emotional intelligence, is one of the pillars of inclusive leadership, especially during uncertain times. Being able to “read” and sit comfortably with emotion helps to create trust and empathy. These, in turn, can help employees feel valued and like they belong.

Here are three EQ practices to help deepen inclusiveness leadership skills:

1. Be Present and Listen

When employees talk, managers listen for lots of different things. Perhaps some managers are guilty of listening to solve the problem or for their turn to respond. However, when managers listen for an employee’s strengths, values and needs, they can:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of what drives their employees.
  • Contribute the employee’s sense of belonging.

Moreover, this kind of listening (i.e., active listening) can lead to deeper trust and a stronger relationship. To master active listening, managers first need to be present. In a virtual environment, that means turning off notifications and turning on your camera. In person, it means putting down your phone, turning away from your computer and facing the person you’re speaking with. Or better yet, consider a walking meeting in the fresh air.

2. Adopt an Audience-centered Mindset

With all the competing demands on managers’ time, it’s easy to get lost in achieving objectives instead of considering the objectives of the audience. Before a one-on-one or team meeting, take two minutes to consider the audience. Be curious about them. Take a deep breath and answer these questions about the audience:

  • What’s their No. 1 goal or priority at work right now?
  • What’s their biggest obstacle?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • What books are they reading, or what TV shows are they watching?
  • What’s going well in their personal life? What’s not going so well?

Answering these questions will help managers shift their mindset. Instead of being focused exclusively on their own goals and priorities, managers will now have some awareness of and appreciation for their audiences’ goals, challenges and motivations. The results will be greater empathy for employees, more productive discussions and disagreements and that deeper sense on the part of the team member that they belong.

3. Be Authentic

Finally, managers can flex their EQ muscles and build an inclusive climate on their team by modeling authenticity — showing who they are to their employees. Yes, sometimes this feels risky. It feels risky because it’s vulnerable. The payoff for that vulnerability is an atmosphere where team members feel like they can bring their true selves to work. That sense of safety and belonging leads to deeper engagement and commitment, increased productivity, stronger morale, more innovation and, of course, higher retention.

Start small by sharing something personal about your weekend. Everyone loves a story from funny misadventures to frustrating mishaps. Next, seek out common ground. Connect with something a team member shared or comment on how two team members have a hobby in common. Ask questions and listen fully. Be willing to share past failures with the team and have the courage to truly celebrate their successes with them.

In Conclusion

Managers play a vital role in shaping the climate in the workplace — whether that’s in the office or online. Part of that climate is the sense of belonging each employee feels. Do they feel seen and valued by management? Do they feel heard and included in conversations and activities? By getting present and listening, focusing on the audiences’ needs and concerns and by modeling being authentic, managers can leverage their EQ to create an inclusive space for their employees.