Posted: 21st January 2014

Sometimes mundane things become extraordinary when we make the most of them.

Take water, for instance. Aside from its many scientifically remarkable properties, prior to the industrial revolution water made industries move. Heating it, to produce steam, the industrial revolution developed at a far higher pace. Harnessed, water created unprecedented power, movement and flexibility in the economy.

It takes hard work to capture the things around us and use them to our advantage. The same can be said of emotional intelligence: we use it every day to communicate, judge decisions and work with others; it is everywhere. But are we making emotional intelligence work for us?

Expectations of emotion

We often expect our team members to bring technical expertise and success in past projects to the table; we try to test for this in interviews. We take for granted that employees can interact with others in an engaging, professional and balanced way under the pressure of delivery – and often over years.

We also take for granted that unconstructive tension, impulsiveness and over or under-empathising are a part of work life – yet these lead to obstructions for teams and firms on a daily basis. Given these problems, why not look afresh at our individual and team behaviours to harness them for our collective advantage?

Harnessing emotional intelligence

Many firms are serious about supporting every aspect of work life to help individuals, teams and firms overcome differences and perform at a higher level. Whilst personality profiling tools produce reactions of hesitation and distrust in some, we see these tools and their application in the context of work turn dysfunctional teams and team members into the highest performing.

Such tools are being used in consumer credit firms moving from Office of Fair Trading to Financial Conduct Authority’s (OFT to FCA) regulation. As new teams work together – regulatory “principles based” experts and “rules based” legal experts, for example – these firms recognise that there may clashes in approach.

In each firm we profile the compliance and legal team to understand where individual and team differences lie and also why and what impact that has. Empathy and sociability, for example, often fluctuates between individuals. Where those team members are open to change we provide tailored coaching to help them address challenging situations and people with new approaches.

We also provide these teams with surprises. The compliance and legal team, although seemingly different, have many traits in common. Collectively we identify where these similarities and differences can be used to good effect in the context of each team and their business goals.

People or employees?

We analyse the results of the assessment with each team member to build a picture of how this person sees him or herself across a number of different headings: self-control, well-being and sociability. Headings also include assertiveness, emotional perceptiveness, impulse control and happiness.

Each person will find positives and limitations in their styles of interacting emotionally with team members, colleagues, suppliers or even clients. There are no rights or wrongs; individuals and teams belong to the average, sit above or below that average. There are discussions about why that may be. What are the reasons? There are benefits and limitations to being average, above or below in each area.

It is sometimes hard to remember that each “colleague”, “boss” and “employee” around us has a full time life with goals, disappointments and responsibilities in and outside work. Some of the individual aspects of the emotional intelligence test can touch on these. Whilst we are organisational development experts, and not psychologists, we see your emotional intelligence at work in a necessarily broader context.

Full steam ahead

To return briefly to the water analogy, in the UK we are comfortable turning on a tap or a kettle. We use water simply in our daily tasks. But how many of us are ice sculptors or can move huge weights with steam alone? It was feat of great ingenuity and adaptability to fuel an economy through steam. Engineers became pioneers and experts in what they did. In the same way, we can master our emotions and differences in approach which flow about us every day. In order to do this, we must become aware of our own emotions and the emotions of those around us – this is where personality profiling assessments come in.

What does your team gain? By becoming self-aware and having a language to identify different emotional styles and behaviours within your team, this is an excellent foundation for overcoming emotional obstacles at work. With incremental change and determination thereafter we can work better together. Where we currently allow our teams to amble at their own pace, stumbling in foreseeably from time to time, we could be steaming ahead to the benefit of individuals, teams and firms alike.

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