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Developing emotional intelligence

In the last few weeks I’ve introduced some of the concepts behind emotional intelligence coaching.  The key idea is that we should begin to think of emotions as packets of information which in conjunction with out intelligence, experience and personality enable us to make great decisions.  I’m going to introduce a four step approach for getting the most out of the information that comes with emotions

Recognising emotions

Emotions have a physiological response.  The first step in harnessing the power of emotional information is therefore to recognise how we are feeling inside and how others appear (for example through their tone of voice and body language).  In order to do this it’s useful to imagine that you are a third party observing yourself.  Get into the habit of doing this in a non judgmental way.  There is no goal, no perfect emotional state.  Just observe how you are now without forming a view of how you should be or someone else should be.

To observe you need to step back from for a moment and breathe.

Using emotions

Recognising the emotional state that you or a colleague is in is a product of a complex series of preceding events.  You also recognise that this state is a rich source of information about how we and others perceive the world.  You may feel miserable because the weather is poor or your football team has lost.  Or it may relate to a deeper sense of frustration about work or home life.  At this stage it may be useful to park this emotion and your thoughts about the underlying cause/causes.  Parking it does not mean suppression or ignoring the reality of an emotional state.  It means noting it and dealing with it an appropriate point in a mindful manner in a measured way.

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.” Aristotle

 Acting as though you are a third party observer allows you to take the time to act in a measured way.  It doesn’t mean not living the emotion or becoming emotionless it means to allow the emotion to flow through you without destroying your positive inner sense of self

Armed with the tool of awareness it’s then possible to identify what emotion best suits the task at hand.  For example upbeat and positive to facilitate creativity OR serious and focussed when fine attention to detail is required.  The key is to find a way to tune into the emotion in the room and some how flick a switch to help build a new theme of emotions appropriate to the task at hand.  The challenge is to blend the existing emotions in the room with the emotion that you feel best suits the style of thinking that’s required.  We need to find a way to evolve into a new emotional state with a smooth transition.  For example it may be appropriate to identify the problem behind the current emotional state and discuss whether its appropriate to deal with now or better suited to deal with at a later stage.

It’s important to continue to observe the emotional state of yourself and others as you explore the using emotions stage.  If messages are confusing seek confirmation about how people are feeling.  We often get emotional signals wrong and by gently asking our colleagues and friends about how they feel we do an important reality check on the situation.

Understanding emotions

Having the self awareness to step back and observe how you and others act in the world allows calm contemplation of some the factors behind the emotional state.  It is always a complex web of causes however calm reflection sometimes allows us to pick out major factors.  It also allows us to weed out background noise and underlying mood. There may be deep causes such as the illness of a loved one over which we have none or little control.  In these (and in fact in all circumstances) the only thing that we can control is how we choose to react to events that swirl around us.  Part of understanding emotions is to understand that there is often little we can control.  This awareness can be a surprising source of comfort. Ultimately we are all in the same boat.

As with recognising emotions it’s useful to do a reality check with others before you assume the reason you’ve assigned to the emotional state to be the truth. As we’ve discussed in the last four newsletters truth can only evolve from dialogue between people with different perspectives.  Without this third party discussion we can make mistakes when managing our own and other peoples emotions.

Managing emotions

This is a vital bit of the emotional intelligence change model.  Without it useful emotional intelligence information is lost and there is a lack of growth in decision making patterns and behaviours.  Quite often once we have parked emotional information, in order to get on with the task at hand, we don’t return to it and the opportunity for change is lost.

The key here is to cultivate positive intention for yourself, others and the wider community.  The challenge is to marry this positive intention with accurate knowledge.  This is why its so important to do the reality check and discuss with others what their understanding of underlying causes may be.  Misdirected positive intention is not necessarily a source of positive change.

A summary

The next time you have an important moment or event at work practice being the observer of emotions and use the Recognising, Using, Understanding and Managing 4 step approach to enable positive change and growth.  Observe how the model works and observe what the change is.

The 4 facets of emotional intelligence can be measured using an online psychometric tool.  You get an overall score and a score for each area. To learn how to do the emotional intelligence test drop me a mail.  The good news about emotional intelligence is that its not a personality test.  Once we know how good we are at it we can practice being the observer and making more informed decisions from the emotional states around us and within.



How emotions spread at work

Emotions at work
In a recent study by Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School it was concluded that there was a positive link between workers happiness and productivity. The team conducted a range of exercises in their research. In one, students were asked to add a series of two digit numbers in ten minutes. The subjects were paid an attendance fee, and a performance fee based on how they performed. Some were then shown a ten minute film based on comedy routines. The film apparently led to an increase in the self reported happiness levels of participants compared to those who did not see it or who watched placebo film clips.

For those that reported higher levels of happiness, after seeing the film, productivity in a subsequent test was significantly higher. They noted, “happier workers were 12% more productive”. They also noted that those participants who watched the film but did not feel any happier did not demonstrate improved productivity. They also concluded that if happiness in the workplace was associated with increased productivity then the human resource departments would need to consider these implications.
This was reported in the media as groundbreaking research, however it merely adds to the body of findings from the field of Positive Psychology, which has a far more nuanced understanding of the role of emotions in the workplace. Emotions, both “negative” and “positive” have a vital role at work. They are a call to action to help change behaviours. There is a danger in that this type of research might suggest that positive emotions are appropriate in all workplace settings. One of the major points of Emotional intelligence training is to impress on people that different situations, tasks at work and types of thinking require different types of emotions to be generated. For example, research indicates that where fine attention to detail is required, eg when studying the findings of a report, it’s more useful to foster serious, almost downbeat emotions. Where creative, blue sky thinking is required it’s more useful to engender a fun, light hearted approach. So clearly before HR departments rush out and hire comedians its worthwhile understanding that context and task are at least as important as creating a fun place to work.
However most of the research to date suggests that happier, more engaged staff perform better overall. We need to learn skills to help us switch between emotions in a calm manner and have the ability to return to the default position, within the organization, of happy and upbeat.

Contagious emotions
I am fascinated by the research about how we transfer emotions between each other. For example Ebling & Levenson, in their 2003 study, suggest that people have a simplistic system of attract vs. repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces. When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both display cabinet and creator of authentic emotions.

In Mullen’s 1986 study of the influential effects of Newscaster expressions on presidential elections, the conclusion is that, micro facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted that this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. As far back as 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside in as an inside out mechanism.

In 2005 Losada studied a number of management teams formulating business plans. He observed the relationship between the volume of positive expressions to negative expressions between team members (both verbal and non verbal). He then looked at the performance of the teams in the following period and found that the transmission of positive and negative energy, through words and non verbal expression, was shown to lead to a state of flourishing, if the ratio was greater than 2.9. In that study flourishing was defined as the profitability of the team as well as customer and staff satisfaction. In a 2004 study Shelly found that when there is a supportive network of people, to share positive events with, it is the sharing and rejoicing of an event that leads to greater wellbeing than the event itself. The degree to which positive, affirming words and body language are used in relation to sharing an event predicts the level to which wellbeing is raised.
Barbara Fredrickson has spent many years investigating the effects of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment and love and has concluded the following:
– They allow us to think in a broad expansive manner
– They undo the effects of negative emotions on physiology, the way you think and the way you act
– They build intellectual, physical, social and psychological resources; and
– They create a virtuous spiral of emotions leading to increasing levels of wellbeing.

The Losada research also looked at teams where there was a ratio of positive to negative expressions in excess of 8 to 1 and found that these teams were also languishing rather than flourishing. This points to the obvious conclusion that we need some bite in the workplace as well as nurturing.  I think that the key points that HR departments need to draw from this research are as follows:
– Ensure that staff have a clear understanding of how to use emotions at work, in particular how to match the appropriate emotion to the task in hand
– Be aware that because emotions are easily transferable and escalate its easy for the mood of an organization to tilt into a downward spiral (below the magic number of 2.9)
– Get into the habit of celebrating the strengths and achievements of individuals and teams
– Find authentic, fun ways to raise the overall mood of the organization
If you are interested in how we measure happiness and engagement at work, or to find out more about our Emotional Intelligence courses and Positive Psychology at work programs go

Also use the Mayers Salovey model to measure your emotional intelligence