How Emotional Intelligence Helps Your Organization Navigate Change
Change of any kind can send waves through your organization. A new employee can disrupt workflow, a new tool can make employees feel threatened, and even a change in the office layout can lead to gossip and speculation.
It’s the role of leaders to take responsibility for change and guide employees through the process until the company reaches its new status quo. However, the smoothness of the transition and the success of the change depends on the emotional intelligence of both leadership and staff.
Here’s how emotional intelligence determines the success of change within your company and pushes you forward through challenging times.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence entered the public spotlight a few years ago and has quickly become a favorite trait of executives across the modern economy. However, its popularity has led to confusion about what emotional intelligence (EQ) is, and how it can be fostered.
“Some people think of emotional intelligence as a soft skill or the ability or the tendency to be nice,” Robin Stern, associate director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, tells CNN. “It's really about understanding what is going on for you in the moment so that you can make conscious choices about how you want to use your emotions and how you want to manage yourself and how you want to be seen in the world.”
Emotional intelligence helps leaders when employees are difficult and refuse to accept change. It also helps leaders who have received bad news (or have to give bad news) and need to react to it professionally.
Psychologist and change management coach Mark Connelly highlighted four key aspects of emotional intelligence:
Self-awareness: the ability to understand your feelings and how you react emotionally to the actions of others.
Self-management: the ability to choose how you react in highly-emotional situations.
Social awareness: the ability to recognize the emotions and body language of others.
Relationship management: the ability to communicate with others based on their mental state and emotional needs.
Each of these abilities is important to develop high emotional intelligence levels. If one is missing, then it’s hard for a leader or even an employee to cope with their emotions and work with others.
For example, someone might be able to recognize the emotions and feelings of others, but if they push down their own feeling and refuse to work through them, then they will be held back and unable to navigate change.
“No one adapts to change and uncertainty by trying to ignore how it makes them feel,” emotional intelligence expert and author of The Other Kind of Smart Harvey Deutschendorf writes. “Recognizing your negative emotions is the prerequisite to managing and moving through them successfully.”
As you can see, emotional intelligence is important for both managers and employees. Leaders need to guide their teams effectively and employees need to respond in kind.
EQ Affects An Employee’s Ability to Handle Change Effectively
There are multiple benefits to growing the emotional intelligence levels of your employees. To start, employees with high emotional intelligence are typically more positive than those with lower EQ levels, Barry Chignell writes at HR software provider CIPHR.
Employees with high EQs are also better when it comes to solving conflicts. They can understand where their co-workers are coming from and frame their messages in a way that both parties can understand. Breaking down these communication barriers is just one step toward reaching a resolution to the conflict.
Your Employees Have Varying Levels of Emotional Intelligence
Most workplaces grow increasingly less homogeneous each year. Along with demographic diversity, modern employees work with people from different personal backgrounds and experiences. Employees who are able to empathize with different groups and navigate cultural differences are essential to creating a successful organization.
"If you can handle people's diversity — people of a different age, different personalities, or educational backgrounds, for example — and you can handle the conflict that comes with that," author, speaker and founder of Tradeconductor, a marketing consultancy, Soulaima Gourani says. “You will be the highest paid, most valuable employee in the company."
Conversely, no one wants to promote (or work for) someone who stereotypes employees or demands everyone they work with conform to their world views.
Managers Can Predict Resistance to Change by Evaluating EQ Levels
Your organization’s collective EQ will determine how your employees respond to change. Elise Olding, Vice President at Gartner, a research and advisory company, highlights four groups that you are likely to encounter during the change process. Identifying who is in these groups can help you determine how change will go in your company. They are:
Runners. These are early adopters who immediately embrace change and actively take steps to move forward with the new ideas or plans.
Joggers. These employees aren’t comfortable leading change. They will watch the runners go first, and the join in when they feel safe.
Walkers. These employees need to fully understand the expectations and potential results before they take action. They won’t follow the early adopters, but rather the group as a whole when it moves toward change.
Sitters. These employees want to maintain the status quo, view change negatively, and will need extra attention to move them forward.
Every company needs runners and joggers to pave the way and assure walkers that they will be safe. Almost every company has to contend with sitters who want nothing to do with change. If your company has more sitters than runners (or even walkers), then you will likely face resistance to even the smallest changes.
EQ Also Affects How Managers Lead Change
It’s unfair to put the entire burden of change on employees. Even the most resilient employees will resist change if their managers don’t handle it well or if they don’t have faith in their leadership. It’s up to management to guide team members through these adjustments.
Ekta Vyas, Ph.D., explains how change is an emotional and psychological process that triggers biological fears and concerns in employees. Historically, leaders would follow a set of guidelines through the change process and follow a set of “politically correct” rules to reduce friction.
However, modern leaders are changing this. They are learning to approach employees with honesty, clarity, and empathy to guide them through the change process.
“Change communication works when it is relevant, aligned and consistent—and people in organizations will be highly alert to inconsistencies between actions and words,” Marjorie Derven, director of Valeocon Management Consulting, writes. “Messaging has to flow from the top, but it is in the one-to-one conversations and team meetings where the overarching themes about change can best be translated into personal meaning.”
More leaders are developing strategies to guide their teams through change, especially if it means delivering bad news. They may even receive training on working with emotional employees and guiding them through difficult times.
Effective Managers Support Their Staff
In the same way that you can identify employees with high EQs, leaders can identify managers that have high potential to handle changes.
Barnaby Smith at Korn Ferry Consulting explores some features of emotionally intelligent leaders and how they benefit their teams or departments. For example:
Emotionally intelligent leaders explain why employees should do something instead of just giving orders.
They emphasize their employees’ contributions and give them credit for their hard work.
They resolve disagreements openly and aren’t afraid of conflict.
They understand what energizes and engages employees, and work to create an environment that fosters that.
Listening to employees is another feature of an emotionally intelligent leader. The experts at The EI Advantage say employers who sit down with their employees one-on-one to discuss their concerns and address their questions can gain insight as to how those employees are handling the changes and take steps to make the process easier. This allows team members to put more faith in their employers during uncertain times.
Even if your organization is stable now, executive leadership can take steps to hire managers with high EQs, who will become valuable assets during inevitable periods of change.
The best time to foster emotional intelligence in your staff isn’t during tumultuous changes, but rather when everything in your organization is stable. There are a few steps you can take to build the EQ of both employees and leaders to make them more resilient.
Work on Providing and Receiving Feedback
Justin Bariso, author of EQ Applied, says one example of emotional intelligence at work is giving and receiving feedback.
It’s natural to feel sensitive when someone provides feedback about your performance. Some people get defensive or feel attacked when their employer reviews how employees can improve. However, employees with high emotional intelligence will understand that this feedback is meant to make them stronger. Instead of defending their behavior, they will take steps to improve it.
One way you can improve your feedback is to review how it is delivered. Your managers might not be providing constructive tips for employees and instead focusing on what they are doing wrong. Consider bringing in an outside consultant to review your feedback process and provide suggestions on how you can improve it.
Getting feedback is also great place to start with improving your our emotional intelligence. Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, says we rarely see ourselves accurately. We tend to be either too critical or unrealistically optimistic. He encourages people to talk to several co-workers, managers, and peers to learn where they can improve.
With a clear pictures of your personality, you can take steps to strengthen your emotional intelligence around others.
Identify Negative Emotional Patterns
Another way your team can tap into their internal EQ levels is with pattern identification.
Joshua Freedman, CEO at the emotional intelligence network, Six Seconds, says this takes a fair amount of retrospection, but when you start to notice patterns, you can take steps to change your behavior. Pattern identification is as simple as “When [insert stimulus] occurs, I [insert typical reaction].”
From there, you can learn to avoid those stimuli or prepare for them so you can respond better.
Develop Team Social Skills
Social skills and emotional intelligence often go hand-in-hand. While you can’t improve your emotional intelligence overnight, you can take steps to improve your social skills which can help your EQ.
Kendra Cherry, author of Everything Psychology, encourages people to practice their social skills in the workplace by listening more, testing positive conflict strategies, noticing the body language of others and improving communication. All of these tactics work together to make a better workplace with more in-tune employees.
Acknowledge Employees With High EQ Reactions
When you see team members reacting positively and using emotional intelligence, let them know that you notice the behavior. This might mean complimenting them on handling a difficult situation or noticing how they navigate change well. Small positive reinforcement can have a big impact.
“If you start to pay attention, there are examples of emotional intelligence all around us,” Molly Moseley at LinkUp writes. “It's your friend who always is tuned in to how others feel. It's your colleague who never seems to get rattled...Use examples like these as inspiration.”
Once you start to look for signs of emotional intelligence in people, you will see it everywhere and can start to mimic it in your own life.
Leaders who foster emotional intelligence in employees can develop a resilient company culture that is open to change. Even when a few employees leave, the company EQ as a whole will be high enough to help the new team members adapt to uncertain times.