Updated on August 25, 2020.
Part 2: Working Virtually Requires Even Higher Levels of Emotional Intelligence
With more people working virtually, successful leaders and high powered individual contributors need both high IQ and high Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Working from different locations and time zones has heightened the need, not diminished it. The second major crises of 2020—the growing concern for the lack of social justice—has created another very critical need for a high EQ—at work and in everyday life. If there were times where one could get away with average emotional intelligence, it is not now. These crises compound each other making appreciating, understanding, and communicating with emotional intelligence a necessary baseline skill for management and leadership success.
Most organizations know this and the good ones provide support to help people measure, develop, and strengthen their emotional intelligence and associated skills including self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management, and communication.
This topic is part 2 in our 6-part series on working virtually. In this series, we explore the workplace as it experiences the Pandemic of 2020, recovers from it, and use “lessons learned” to suggest new ways to innovate going forward. We’ll share our concerns and insights and discuss actions we can take now to support the workplace as opportunities for working virtually become even more commonplace.
6-Part Series on Working Virtually
- Part 1: The Virtual Workplace – Overview of the emerging virtual workplace.
- Part 2: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? – The need for Emotional Intelligence (EQ)—now more than ever.
- Part 3: Moving Beyond Fear – Why and how to deal with fear and anxiety in the workplace.
- Part 4: Reimagining the Role of Managers & Leaders – How current challenges have led to a distinct reimagining of roles at work—especially for managers and leaders.
- Part 5: Leadership and organizational strategies —where to focus and invest now.
- Part 6: Successfully dealing with today’s multiple crises: What to do now.
Leading organizations are more tightly focused helping people improve their social skills and abilities to engage in self-regulation, leverage an increasingly important set of interpersonal skills, and appreciate the emotions of others. As a result they are working to make certain that as many leaders and individual contributors as possible have them and use them consistently. Their agile performance management systems make certain that people are evaluated and given useful feedback on how well they use their emotional intelligence so they can continue to improve in these critically important areas.
With the current onslaught of crises—and the prospect of similar concerns on-going—every leader must ask these questions, know the answers, and be prepared to support follow-on activities:
- When working remotely, is high Emotional Intelligence as necessary as when people are working from the same location?
- When listening and speaking about changes needed for social justice is there a role for EQ?
- How does the lack of EQ affect decision-making, self-confidence, and an individual’s overall well-being, mental health, and job performance?
- Why does working virtually and handling complex issues like getting along with others require even higher levels of EQ?
- What specific tips are there for those working remotely to actually enhance their EQ?
Here’s our take in a nutshell.
- Yes, having high levels of EQ (emotional quotient) is necessary and we would argue even more important now. Separation puts additional “stress” on people and working virtually increases the need for EQ to effectively understand and react to the emotional states of others and connect with and relate to others.
- When deeply personal and emotional issues related to social justice are brought into the workplace—where they were earlier often ignored or minimized—leaders have no choice but to increase their level of EQ.
- When people are working remotely, they naturally feel less connected with colleagues and team members. They are. There’s no stopping by the break room to catch up on the latest developments; there’s no passing in hallway and having a chance to read someone’s face (expressions can be very telling); and there’s no chance to engage in the daily banter that helps form relationships – and cement them.
- What we gain when co-located in terms of intellectual and emotion support – people are social by nature – we need to make up for by having even higher levels of emotional intelligence. The ability to relate to others—to “read them,” appreciate their point of view, and respond appropriately in a variety of different and often complex situations—is made all the more complicated and important when separated by distance.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Before we get into the specific tips we have for helping people improve their EQ, let’s begin with this question: What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence, also referred to as EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) refers to the ability to perceive, evaluate, and control emotions.
Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened. Most, if not all, companies involved with leadership development today, also believe this to be true.
The 4 Areas of Emotional Intelligence
In the workplace, four areas related to Emotional Intelligence have been identified as critical for successful performance and are often a focus for developing high EQ—especially when it comes to leadership.
- Relationship Management
The source for these definitions is Daniel Goleman’s 1998 seminal work, Working with Emotional Intelligence.
The tips that follow are designed to help you strengthen your ability to master the concept of emotional intelligence, and improve your emotional intelligence skills. We’ve placed a special emphasis on working from home, but you’ll get important insights for working virtually no matter where you are.
- You know which emotions you are feeling and why.
- You realize the links between your feelings and what you think, do, and say.
- You recognize how your feelings affect your performance.
- You have a guiding awareness of your values and goals.
Tips to strengthen this area
- Get more feedback from others and listen to it.
- Pay more attention to your feelings and observe outcomes of having various emotions.
- Get in touch with yourself and start understanding your own emotions more fully.
- Get in touch with your own feelings on social justice issues so you can be more real and genuine when interacting with others.
Specific issues when working from home
- You may have emotions—especially negative emotions—going on that typically do not come up at work. Do not ignore these emotions and realize they are going to impact your performance. Give some thought to this before getting on calls and participating from home.
- Assume everyone at home has unique situations and yet universally understood situations. Children may be present. Pets are around and vocal. Home noises can sometimes not be completely muted. Kitchens are often messy and so on. The point is not to apologize or over explain your own situation because everyone is in the same boat. Everyone understands the awkwardness you are feeling because they feel it too. Build a workplace culture of shared empathy and even stronger collaboration.
Remember: Being self-aware is also vital because the better you know yourself the stronger your ability to know and understand and appreciate the feelings of others and acquire what many also refer to as “social intelligence.” For more ideas on self-awareness, check out our post, Want to lead others! Learn to “lead yourself” first.
Learn more about self-awareness and self-regulation in our post,
- You manage your impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well.
- You stay composed, positive, and unflappable even in trying moments.
- You think clearly and stay focused under pressure.
Tips to strengthen this area:
- Raise your awareness of when and how you lose your temper—or to put it another way know your “hot buttons.”
- Reflect upon your form of “flipping out”—maybe shouting or going silent and withdrawing (which can upset people as much as shouting and is often called the silent treatment) or cursing or being defensive.
Specific issues when working from home:
- It is sometimes more difficult to effectively manage your impulsive feelings and distressing emotions because they are connected in some ways to actually being at home. Be aware of that and work to keep your mood, voice, and tone as positive as you can even when it’s difficult.
- Realize—especially when you first begin working from home—that people need to give each other a break. If you have a bad moment due to a disruption at home, apologize promptly and let it go. If you see others having a “bad moment” help them through it. Again these mutual acts of respect and good will contribute to a better workplace culture.
Remember: Awareness is the first step to more self-control. Look at improving your self-control as part of what will make you a leader worth following. If you often struggle with managing your emotions at work, you can also try the suggestions in our post on how to stay cool and self-regulate.
- You are attentive to emotional cues and listen well.
- You show sensibility and understand the perspectives of others.
- You help out based on a deep understanding of the needs and feelings other people have.
Tips to strengthen this area:
Commit to becoming more empathetic. Try this:
- Make a list of 5 key colleagues and your boss. Also make a list of the 5 most important family or friends you have.
- Next to each of these 10 names, write down their “burning issue”—what the most important issue/concern for them is right now. It might be “saving money,” “looking good to our boss” for a colleague, and “football” and “shoes” for one of your children.
- Note the amount of time it takes to create the list for each person.
Here’s the point: The longer it takes to create your lists, the more likely it is that you may be lacking sufficient levels of understanding and empathy. The more empathetic you are the more you pick up and pay attention to the clues that others send to you. Continually seek to improve your knowledge of others and consider how this knowledge will strengthen your relationships professionally and personally.
Specific issues when working from home:
- Look carefully at monitors or screens that show the faces of your co-workers and try to determine minute to minute how they are reacting and responding to what you or others may be saying or doing.
- Ask questions if you are confused by what is going on with others. For instance someone may start making an angry face but you can’t figure out why. Keep it light and say something like this:
- Ken, you look a little upset. Can we assume that it has nothing to do with us here or does it? Meaning you let Ken off the hook if he is looking mad and what is happening is something at home that isn’t connected to the conversation. If it is something related to work, he can respond honestly.
For more ideas on how to improve your social awareness and how to easily develop a better understanding of team members, check out our post on social styles.
- You balance a people-oriented personal style with a decisive command role.
- You take charge, are purposeful, assertive, and businesslike but also understand that superior leaders have a more positive, outgoing, and emotionally expressive style.
- You are more trustful and appreciative of those who work with you and for you.
Tips to strengthen this area:
- You don’t confuse being the boss with being bossy or authoritarian.
- You work with an understanding that good leaders show leadership and make decisions and act forcefully, but they also act with respect toward others and come across as decent people.
- You understand the simplest way to strengthen your relationship management skills is to ask yourself this often: How would I feel if my boss acted the way I am about to act? Doing this all the time will quickly help you know instinctively how to keep the right balance.
Specific issues when working from home:
- Even though you may be surrounded by personal things going on that are by nature annoying or silly or just life, try to maintain a mood that demonstrates to others on a call that you are focused on the business at hand and attending to it
- At the same time let others off the hook easily if you see them having a rough time staying above the chaos. Again, keep it light and say something like this:
- Jan, I can tell a lot is going on now. Should we take a 5 minute break and go off line? Then come back to this issue? We can even reschedule our meeting if that works for you?
- Remember, be toughest on yourself, not others. But when working from home, give yourself a break too.
For more ideas on relationship management and working well with others, check out our post on behaviors of successful teams.
Emotional Intelligence & Teamwork
Is being a great collaborator and working well on teams—as a leader or a team member—also related to developing and having a high EQ?
Absolutely! The interconnected world of work and teamwork requires strong collaboration skills and those with high EQ tend to have them.
Developing high EQ begins with self-awareness—knowing yourself, how you feel, how you think, and how you manage yourself—are all part of having a high EQ and being a great team player. As you begin to explore this area, if you have doubts about your EQ try taking an emotional intelligence test – you may get some valuable insights. Here’s one from MindTools. Also check out this article from Harvard Business Review.
Further, the issue of empathy is extremely relevant. With high degrees of empathy you can become a stronger team player –understanding others and how best to work with them based on their comfort zones and burning issues.
Daniel Goleman talks about “building bonds” and nurturing instrumental relationships as key to collaboration. You can do that by:
- Cultivating and maintaining an extensive informal network.
- Seeking out relationships that are mutually beneficial.
- Building rapport and keeping others in the loop.
- Developing and maintaining personal friendships among associates at work.
Being “smart” and having “know-how” is absolutely necessary for success. Research consistently shows that high level positions require at least more than average IQ. But once people are in a role—be it an engineer, lawyer, executive, or physician—the skill sets and competence that separate the best from average have more to do with EQ. Entry to a position takes IQ but truly excelling at it, well, that takes a good dose of Emotional Intelligence. Make sure you develop yours!
Thanks for reading! If you liked this topic, check out part 3 of this series on working virtually here: Moving Beyond Fear.
Resources for Continued Education
- Emotional Intelligence, a talk by Daniel Goleman
- Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee
- Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
- Ten Top BlindSpots for Today’s Leaders, an article by Steve Jacobs