A recognised requirement for leaders is a high level of emotional intelligence – but what does that actually mean? Asking the question gets a range of responses: “being able to control my emotions” or “knowing about myself” for example. These are useful outcomes but consider the person in isolation. For emotional intelligence to be of value to leaders, it should include an awareness of both self and others and especially how they relate to each other.
Building Emotional Intelligence
We can think of emotional intelligence as a series of stages, each building on the previous one but becoming part of a virtuous self-reinforcing circle. The first stage is knowing about oneself, particularly about the underlying emotional landscape that impacts on our thoughts and behaviours and which in turn is affected by them. Understanding this can be a long journey, as many of us are not naturally in touch with our feelings – and need to be able to identify and explore them rather than prefer that they did not exist. Understanding better the emotions we are feeling and how they are impacting our thoughts and behaviours also enables us to develop a different perspective on other people, realising that they may also act as a result of emotions and not how we might have otherwise predicted.
Theory of Mind
Psychologists have defined a “Theory of Mind” which suggests that from the age of four or so we are able to recognise that others may have a different knowledge of the world, which may result in different outcomes to those we would have chosen. Studies have suggested that there are 5 stages we go through as we develop, from the realisation that people have different desires (I want the blue one) through to different beliefs about the same situation (blue is nicer), to different knowledge of a situation (there are also red ones in the box) to holding incorrect beliefs about the world (boys always choose blue). The final stage is the knowledge that people can hide emotions – or that they can act one way while feeling differently. That final stage can take more time to develop and even as adults we may not be well attuned to the hidden emotions in other people.
Other People Have Emotions Too…
The second stage therefore is the realisation that, like ourselves, other people can be very influenced by how they feel – but that this may not be visible on the surface. They may not be aware of their feelings – or they may have chosen to hide them. Understanding this helps us to be sensitive to the possibility of a different emotional state in others and to make better predictions about how they might react.
Turning Up – Body Language, Tone, Message, Attitude
Our interaction may itself be impacting on their emotions in some way – and so the third stage is to look back at oneself to explore what our impact may be on other people. How do I “turn up” in a particular situation – and how might this drive particular thoughts and emotions in others? How might the way in which my body language, my tone, my message, or my attitude be perceived by them given their perspective of the situation and the way in which they regard me?
Why Does This Person Upset Me?
The final stage is to realise that we are also reacting to other people – sometimes in a way in which we do not understand. Why does this person always upset me? What is it about them that makes me angry / defensive / afraid / unworthy? Does this tell me something about my own beliefs that is triggering an emotional reaction? How might the way I am reacting internally impact on my behaviour around this person?
Developing this awareness of ourselves and others is fundamental to becoming an effective leader. We also need to become comfortable with the idea that is an “awareness” as opposed to “knowledge” as it may not always be “known” cognitively. We should be able to “see” it though even if we are not able to fully define it in words. Seeing also suggests the ability to step back and look at a situation, perhaps from different angles in order to get a fuller picture.
A simple of way of thinking about this might be to define our emotional intelligence as “Seeing me – seeing you – seeing you seeing me – seeing me seeing you”.
How conscious are you of each of these four stages when you interact with other people?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Calum Byers is an Aziz executive coach with an excellent perspective on varying cultural and leadership styles in different countries drawn from years of working in C-Suite roles in operations, sales and leadership (Europe, the Middle East and Asia).
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