We all know knowledgeable and skillful colleagues, friends, or family members who sabotage their success by allowing self-doubt, emotions, snap judgments, or conflict to dominate their actions. Such behaviors demonstrate a failure in one or more dimensions of emotional intelligence (EI).
For instance, think of a time when you have seen the following behaviors result in failure:
- A team leader permits emotions to flare when criticized about missed milestones
- A colleague allows pride to overrule judgment, failing to ask for help when needed
- A manager lets egotism override seeking input from others
- A director uses people-pleasing behaviors that tolerate bad performance or behaviors
Many studies support that it is not skill or knowledge that separates effective from nominal performance. Instead, it is low EI that separates the unsuccessful from the highly successful.1
For each of the above situations, the good news is that failure can be turned into success with a shot of EI.
EI can be cultivated and improved by anyone. Its development requires a focus on behaviors consistent with:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
Notice how the five components are interconnected and depend on each other (Figure 1). A high degree of EI relies upon applying the elements in the right combination for a given situation. For instance, in the first example above, all EI parts are necessary to remedy the situation. In the second example, mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-management are required.
Figure 1: Model of Emotional Intelligence
Mindfulness behaviors are the heart of EI. Without mindfulness, success in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management is not possible.
Mindfulness is the art of conscious living and being in the present. It includes attentiveness, noticing and being open and curious about new things, refraining from making snap judgments, and having self-compassion.
The following examples show what mindfulness might look like in the workplace.2
Bernard is the director of health information management (HIM) at a small community hospital. During a privacy committee meeting, a suggestion is made to allow the emergency department physicians of another hospital access to the patient portal where Bernard works. Bernard’s first response is to judge the proposal as ridiculous and reject the idea outright. But Bernard stops and recognizes this is a snap decision. He changes from judging to being curious and asks committee attendees questions about how such a policy could be implemented and comply with privacy regulations.
Lettie is the manager of clinical documentation integrity (CDI). During a staff meeting, she notices she is thinking about her next meeting instead of focusing on the current discussion. Aware that her wandering mind is not focused on the present, Lettie practices self-regulation and brings her attention back to the current conversation.
Self-awareness is the capacity to have a deep understanding of your emotions, strengths, drives, and purpose. Those who are self-aware know their strengths and limitations and what affects them positively or negatively and what makes them comfortable or uneasy.3
The following scenario shows how a self-aware person positions himself or herself for success.
Magali knows that one of her top strengths is creativity—thinking about productive ways to conceptualize things to solve problems. She is tapped by her manager to lead a six-member team to recommend new policies for data management. Megali knows that her strength lies in coming up with new ideas and not in doing or organizing. Before Megali agrees to take on the team leadership role, she asks that a person with a track record in project management be assigned to her team. When the group is formed, Megali uses this team member’s expertise to identify, develop, and monitor team tasks to keep the team on schedule and within budget.
In this example, by being self-aware of her strengths and limitations, Megali has positioned herself and her team for success.
People with self-management function as their own emotional boss. People with good self-management know what triggers their emotional responses and develop controls to responsibly manage these.4 They can control the fight or flight natural inclination. During conflict, they step back, look at the situation reasonably, and make decisions based on information, not emotion.
The following example shows an individual with good self-awareness and self-management.5
Betty is a high achiever whose strength is achieving excellence in whatever work she performs. Because Betty is self-aware, she knows that less than quality work triggers her frustration and annoyance with others when her standards are not met. During a staff meeting, one of her teams reports that a project is running over budget and beyond its scope. Instead of allowing her emotions to rule her by lashing out at her team, Betty reigns in her emotions. She lowers her frustration and annoyance by being curious, asking a set of rational questions to determine the cause of her team’s problems, and gets the team back on track with a set of solutions. In this case, Betty, the team, and the organization are better positioned for success.
We appreciate people who are socially aware because they are adept at perceiving and empathizing with our emotions. They pick up on subtle clues about others’ feelings and needs and take an interest in these. Before making decisions, they listen to and consider other people’s perspectives.
The following scenario shows how people with social awareness are positioned for success.6
Lydia’s workstation was at the front of a corporate office where there was a lot of activity. She was energized by the continual hustle and bustle. Due to reorganization, Lydia’s workstation was moved to the rear of the corporate office. Lydia’s manager notices that Lydia’s mood seems subdued since the move and wonders if the new space contributes to Lydia’s temperament change. Instead of ignoring the behavior change or making a judgment that Lydia is acting out because of the new arrangement, Lydia’s manager asks her how her new work arrangements are going. After a few probing questions, the manager realizes Lydia’s mood change is due to family concerns, not her workstation change. The manager empathizes and acknowledges Lydia’s feelings, telling Lydia she will support her in any way she can during this challenging time.
Situations like Lydia’s occur every day. But how often do we stop, observe, and pick up on others’ emotions and go to the next level of an active interest? Had the manager assumed Lydia’s change in behavior was acting out, imagine the potential repercussions.
People who are mindful, self-aware, good at managing their emotions, and are sensitive to others’ feelings and needs position themselves for positive relationships. People who have good relationships inspire and motivate others and work collaboratively with them. Because they practice the other EI behaviors, they are good at communicating and handling conflict.
The best manager you have had in the past probably had all the hallmarks of good relationship management. The following scenario shows how good relationship management positions a person for success.7
Melanie is the vice president of a long-term care corporation. One of her hallmarks is that she is not afraid of healthy conflict. Her peers often ask her to help them in managing potential conflict. Melanie handles conflict by listening carefully, asking probing questions, and taking a nonjudgmental position during discussions. She uses these techniques to coach the parties involved in reaching a consensus. Melanie is committed to helping all of her team members fulfill their potential. She supports their development by working with them to identify their strengths and ensuring that their job functions coincide with these and their interests and values. As a result, Melanie is seen by executive management and her team as a go-to resource. Through her elevated EI, Melanie has positioned herself, her team, and her organization for success.
Putting EI into Action
In reevaluating the four scenarios at the beginning of this article, how easy would it be to turn each of those into success stories with the application of a little emotional intelligence?
Being successful is not complicated, but it does require a shot of emotional intelligence.
- Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” in HBRs 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Company, 2015.
- Johns, Merida L. Leadership Development for Healthcare A Pathway, Process, and Workbook. Chicago: AHIMA Press, 2017, p. 95.
- Johns, Leadership, 27.
- Johns, Leadership, 28.
- Johns, Leadership, 28.
- Johns, Leadership, 29.
- Johns, Leadership, 32.
Merida Johns (firstname.lastname@example.org)is the founder and director of The Monarch for Women’s Leadership Development. Johns is also the founder of Coffee Cup Press, where she writes fictional stories about women’s journeys toward a more fulfilled self.