Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

As I’ve noted in previous entries, I’m a rather emotional chap on occasion. My mentor D2 suggested a webinar on using emotional intelligence titled “How Emotional Intelligence Drives Candid Conversations and Improved Performance.” The presentation provided some useful insights on what the speaker, Denny Farote, called “radical candor.” The important thing I got from the talk is that the only way to have an office environment operating with true candor is to have people who have the emotional sensitivity to share their truths honestly but also in a caring manner. I’ll share some of my notes/observations from the talk below.

Why people avoid candor in the workplace

Faurote began by noting that people often avoid uncomfortable conversations in the workplace because they say they are worried about hurting others’ feelings. Others feel that emotions don’t belong in the office at all. Faurote, however, said that this was in fact a selfish attitude because a lack of candor in the workplace can result in low morale and can slow individuals’ paths to growth.

He next covered corporate cultures: cultures of compliance (“You must do X because it’s the law/rule here”), cultures of communication (ongoing talk, but not always effective), and cultures of candor (which he deems an open, honest, and ongoing activity).

One of the misperceptions of candor in the workplace, Faurote stated, is that “candid” automatically equals “cruel.” The purpose of candor, however, is to help others be successful.

Getting to radical candor

Radical candor, according to Faurote, occurs in conditions where there is high level of personal care among individuals and a high willingness to challenge others on their behavior. If you have a high level of care but a low level of willingness to challenge others, you are in a situation of ruinous empathy. Contrariwise, an environment where there is low care but a high willingness to challenge others, you see behavior that comes across as obnoxious aggression. The worst place to be is where there is a low level of care or willingness to challenge others–that’s where you get manipulative insincerity.

We are all familiar with the Intelligence Quotient (IQ), which is an intellectual and rational measure and mostly gauges our ability to learn. IQs are more or less fixed by the time we’re 17 or 18 years old. Our personalities–who we are and how react to others, what Faurote calls the Personality Quotient (PQ)–are fixed by age 6. Our EQ–Emotional Quotient–is not fixed, but something that can change over time. EQ is not the opposite of IQ so much as an intersection of both.

Emotional intelligence

This explanation led to Faurote to discuss what Daniel Goleman called Emotional Intelligence. (I read Goleman’s book back when I worked for Disney, but have pulled it back off the shelf for personal reference.) Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that establish how well we perceive and express ourselves; develop and maintain social relationships; cope with challenges; and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. There are multiple skills listed under EI, which Faurote broke down into five groups: self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal skills, decision making, and stress management, as shown in a wheel graphic that can be found here.

Faurote only covered a few of these skills just to get people thinking about how the various EI components can affect personal interactions. He started with emotional self-awareness, which includes understanding the cause(s) of your emotions; understanding how those feelings affect your behavior or alter your behavior in ways that affect others negatively; and recognizing how your emotions, thoughts, or actions can affect others. This is still a development opportunity for me, which is a polite way of saying I need to work on it.

Another behavior comprising EI is impulse control–your ability to resist or delay rash behaviors or decisions and putting the brakes on angry, aggressive, hostile, and irresponsible behavior. People without impulse control need a “surge suppressor” on their reactions so that when they feel themselves reacting impulsively, they can talk to (or otherwise restrain) themselves out of a knee-jerk, emotional reaction. The goal isn’t to suppress emotions but to listen to them and operate according to your own and others’ best interests when acting on them.

Reality testing is the ability to remain objective in emotional situations by seeing them as they really are by removing or being conscious of our emotional biases. This behavior can help us accurately size up a situation, not make mountains out of molehills, and not be overly optimistic or pessimistic in certain situations.

Empathy is the ability to recognize and appreciate how others feel (you don’t have to necessarily agree with them); be able to articulate another’s perspective; and respect others’ feelings. It includes refraining from belittling, rejecting, ignoring, diminishing, or judging others’ feelings just because they don’t match yours.

However, counterbalancing empathy is assertiveness: the willingness to stand up for yourself; express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs openly; and to stand up for your personal rights. Too much empathy and you might not be willing to express your own needs for fear of hurting others; too much assertiveness, and you run the risk of pushing your own needs or agenda without concern for others.

Bottom line

What does all this have to do with technical writing? Again, ideally you want to work in an environment where you and your coworkers have enough respect for each other to challenge ideas or behaviors. You also want the people around you to have the emotional intelligence to express their challenges in ways that demonstrate sensitivity to others’ emotional states and reactions. Fortunately, these are skills anyone (even your friendly neighborhood heroic technical writer) can learn.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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