Emotional intelligence (EQ), though widely accepted as important, is hardly lauded as the most valuable tool for change management efforts. EQ falls in the range of “soft skills” seen as worth growing, but later. Often, more pressing hard skills are considered priority in developing a change strategy; items like budget, staffing numbers and technical skills are the focus. And yet, for all the attention paid to physical preparedness, 75 percent of change efforts fail, and Emergent Performance Solutions research has found that misaligned expectations and underestimation of complexity are two of the biggest factors resulting in failure. Failure to see another’s perspective was reported in the Harvard Business Review as the number-one fault in human interaction.

In the wake of these statistics, research in recent years has turned toward the role of EQ as a determinant for business and change success. Investing in EQ training can be a critical missing component of many organizations’ training portfolio. Unlike technical or career-related skills, EQ can be taught out of sync of promotion cycles, project starts and major change. In fact, organizations that have invested in EQ training as part of their quarterly or repeated annual offerings have seen an increase in profits, overall engagement and productivity. EQ training can be designed in smaller segments with key focus areas that result in more awareness, appreciation and overall connection in the workplace. Below are a number of key topics of focus around which to design “coffee break” or “brown bag sessions” for leaders:

Listening Skills

Did you know that it takes almost two minutes for someone to fully articulate a complete train of thought? Often, we do not give people the necessary time to verbalize their thoughts before we start offering solutions or steal the focus by making the conversation about our own experiences. Practicing listening can be one of the most valuable investments leaders can make.

Try this: Set up two-minute drills where partners practice conversations without interrupting each other. Give one person a topic to discuss while the other person listens silently. The key for the listener is to demonstrate attentiveness and engagement without saying anything. Nodding, eye contact and leaning in can make the other person feel listened to while still allowing him or her to convey the information. After two minutes, partners should switch. This exercise encourages active global listening and attentiveness.

Personal Management Skills

If you’ve ever felt frustrated by a situation or staff member and proceeded to lash out in stress, you understand the difficulty of personal management. Understanding one’s emotions is a useful skill to have, but learning to control them is invaluable. By taking the time to reflect before they react, leaders can prevent unnecessary setbacks and minimize resentment (from themselves or others).

Try this: Give leaders the tools to manage their emotions. The next time they feel frustrated by a change or conversation, they can respond with, “Help me understand…” or “Tell me more…” These phrases invite dialogue and sidestep miscommunication. Help them remember that dialogue is seeking to understand another’s point of view, not a discussion where the intent is to get their own point of view across.

Empathizing With Co-Workers and Employees

The goal of empathizing isn’t to be soft or try to be friends but to recognize and understand the perspective of the other person. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own perspectives and forget that another viewpoint may be different but is no less valid than our own. The inability to empathize is often the root of workplace politics and drama and an unhealthy culture.

Try this: When they’re struggling to grasp why someone has said or done something that they can’t relate to, leaders can ask themselves, “What is their motivation?” and, “Do they have good intentions?” More often than not, they’ll recognize that the other person is trying to do good and be effective but coming at it from a different angle.

Relationship Management Skills

Once leaders can manage their own behavior and empathize with others, they’re ready to start using their social skills to manage their team relationships. Team dynamics can make or break a change effort; it is the leader’s role to create an environment that promotes healthy communication. When the team hits a roadblock or is experiencing frustration, emotionally intelligent leaders can give them the tools to move forward.

Try this: Help leaders help their teams navigate change. The next time they hit a standstill on a project, leaders should discuss with the team the “why,” “what,” “who” and “when”: Why are they making this change? What are they working on now? Who is involved? When is the deadline? Often, when teams disconnect from the vision (the “why” behind the project), they lose the motivation to push through stress. Reinforcing this problem while actively pointing out these details will help leaders make sure their change effort priorities are clear.

EQ development does not need to be an expensive or overly time-consuming investment. Arranging situations where leaders can practice these skills regularly can greatly raise awareness, of both self and team, in order to provide an environment where appreciation, perspective and accountability can flourish.

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