Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the new miracle ingredient for corporate culture. Too bad it doesn’t come in pill form! While there is more and more written on the benefits of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace every day, the general lack of it in many work environments can make it hard to spot. And how can you improve something you can’t find in the first place?
EQ isn’t a new thing, of course; people with EQ are basically what most of think of as well-adjusted human beings. As the research rolls in showing strong correlations between EQ, performance and employee morale, however, it’s worth learning to look at your organization—and yourself—through its lens.
To help you find emotional intelligence operating in your workplace, I thought it would be useful to describe a few habits of an organization that has integrated some key aspects of emotional intelligence into its corporate culture. There are many more of course, but these three patterns may help you come to appreciate emotional intelligence in new ways, and find even more patterns at work, too!
How to Spot Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in Action
When we want more of something, we have to name it and communicate about it. We have to point at it and say, “more of that, please!” or the corporate culture can’t learn how to value it if it doesn’t already. Here are a few examples of emotionally healthy cultural habits and patterns you can look for in your own organization to highlight and encourage people to emulate.
Petty Disagreements Don’t Make It to the Boss
What’s petty in this context? Anything that distracts people’s attention from the business at hand for narrow personal reasons. If you’re human resources or executive management, you’ll know EQ is at work if you don’t see petty disagreements; they get resolved before you have to get involved. Instead, the issues that land on your desk are important and worthy of the organization investing your time to address. But don’t get too cocky if you don’t see petty issues come to you; maybe you’re part of the problem; maybe people think you’ll shoot the messenger (even if you’re “sure” they’d never think such a thing!). Go talk to employees up and down and all around the jungle gym. Ask them how they observe petty personal issues managed.
If you’re an employee in an organization that has EQ, you’ll experience petty issues managed between the individuals involved. You’ll be able to take an unresolved personal issue to your boss and get their support in helping it get resolved so everyone can get back to work. You won’t have to spend crazy amounts of unproductive energy gossiping or listening to gossip as everyone processes the unresolved issues.
WARNING: There can be a fine line between a petty distraction (e.g., how many ceiling tiles the boss has in her office) and important one (e.g., a sick child), but you’ll know where the threshold is if you look at the patterns. And distractions that appear petty on the surface often indicate deeper issues (e.g., when people feel valued based on the number of ceiling tiles they have over their cube, you’ve got a bigger problem.) If you’re going to explore this issue, look deeply for patterns that are important enough to spend your energy on.
Decisions Are Made as Low down in the Organization as Possible
Another indicator of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace is when you see decisions being made at all levels. This is an indicator of empowerment and trust within teams, and trust only happens when the people involved are emotionally sensitive to themselves and each other; and they are aligned and able to adjust and respond to change. When even the smallest decisions have to roll to the top, there can be several things going on: insecure bosses that don’t trust themselves to manage others as they learn to make good decisions; insecure employees who are afraid (justifiably or not) of retribution for mistakes and missteps; and/or an organization that is constantly changing the goal-posts so that no one on the team knows how a decision today will look in light of a new objective tomorrow.
Look at the decision-making patterns in your organizations and see what it tells you about the EQ of the people in it.
Leaders at Every Level Are Engaged with Employees and Themselves
Leadership is hard work from the standpoint that it takes effort to stay engaged with those being lead. It takes effort to manage employees as whole human beings, complete with flaws and idiosyncrasies. An organization that doesn’t value engagement can also be a breeding ground for low EQ/high toxicity. Low EQ corporate cultures breed lazy leadership from the standpoint that the low EQ leaders “get away with” bad behavior and this fact reinforces their belief that low EQ is actually the reason for their success! It reinforces their belief that they don’t need to grow themselves as emotionally intelligent human beings, which is the greatest gift the workplace has to give it’s employees.
Combating lazy leadership isn’t an issue you can address head-on. Emotional intelligence informs us that telling people they’re lazy doesn’t spur them to action. After all, from their perspective they’re not lazy; they’re focused on results, client issues and other problems that need fixing. To combat lazy leadership, you can’t be a lazy leader yourself. You have to polish up your own EQ skills by learning what motivates others and how to help them see their own opportunities for personal growth in the workplace.
Remember, the real power of emotional intelligence is not that it fixes every problem between human beings. Its real power is that it gives human beings the tools to see problems and find situationally appropriate solutions in the context of their daily work.