By Nell Derick Debevoise, Founder & CEO of Inspiring Capital

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Emotional intelligence explains 58% of success across all jobs, making it the strongest predictor of performance at work. So it’s no surprise that the most thoughtful employers, like Google, are not only hiring for its component parts of social and personal skills, but also training their employees to get more emotionally intelligent. Forty four percent of US executives think that employees lack adequate communication and collaboration skills, core elements of emotional intelligence. Particularly in an age of rapidly increasing automation, the ‘soft skills’ that compose emotional intelligence are critical success factors for employees across industries and levels and by extension, their employers.

Emotional Intelligence

However, the status quo workplace that evolved through the Industrial Revolution is intentionally un-emotional. Production, efficiency and profit margins are the indicators of success, and so employees and managers focus on those aspects of their work. If 58% of employees’ success in achieving these goals is linked to their emotional intelligence, employers need to focus on cultivating those social and personal skills to drive growth.

 

 

But social skills don’t grow in narrowly professional interactions. Employees won’t develop empathy, self-awareness or a positive outlook, all components of EQ, while they optimize processes for profitability. Employers have to build emotional intelligence into their workplaces if they want to foster that quality in employees. The good news (bad news for some?!) is that emotional intelligence can’t be bought, but it can be learned and taught.

Our consulting and training experience with over 250 professionals of all ages from almost as many firms, ranging in size, stage and tax status, has shown us that one of the simplest, and most powerful tools is simply to talk about emotional issues at work. While this may seem exceedingly basic, research published by Harvard showed that 69% of managers are uncomfortable “communicating in general” with their employees.

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Given this nearly universal discomfort, here are a few specific tools to use, or offer to your managers to use, to broach more personal topics with colleagues.

Personality Inventories

While personality types are no proxy for emotional intelligence, personality inventories (like this derivative of the Myers-Briggs test) can provide a shared language for personal traits and make personal conversations less scary. We have candidates share their results from this test during final stages of the recruiting process, and then share the whole team’s results as part of onboarding. This transparency improves each of our self-awareness and builds empathy for others’ styles, facilitating teamwork and conflict management.

User Manuals

Another exercise we’ve added to our onboarding and ongoing team-building work is writing User Manuals for ourselves. Building on the personality surveys, as well as StrengthsFinder and our own knowledge of our styles, we followed this template to codify some basics about how we work best. We shared highlights from our own Manuals and saved the full documents on our team Dropbox for future reference.

Informal Chats

Finally, start one-on-ones, whether formal or informal, with an earnest, “How are you?” And don’t settle for “fine” or “great,” our collective cop-out default replies. Before you dive into your agenda, or your direct reports’ points for approval, use this open-ended question, and a follow-up if necessary to make room for them to share something more personal. Then – and this can be the tough part – listen. Make time for another follow-up question – you never know what that might reveal about a hobby, current personal life challenge or long-term goal. This simple opportunity for you and your direct report to “bring your human to work,” in strategist Erica Keswin’s words, will build the empathy that drives commitment and loyalty at work. 

As with so many things, perfect is the enemy of the good. And when it comes to personal and social dynamics, no person or relationship is ever perfect. So with emotional intelligence more than anything, don’t strive for a perfect way to build emotional intelligence on your team, just start with a good old, How are you? Remember, 58% of your performance depends on it.

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Banner image: Alamy Stock Photo; Text image: Jesse Orrico