I work with senior managers helping them to become more emotionally intelligent leaders. In this and subsequent articles I will explore some of the themes that come up in this work. We start at the beginning, with the case for understanding emotions in business.
It is sometimes said that emotions are a liability or irrelevant and don’t have a place in business. I disagree. I think we should embrace emotions. Far from being irrelevant they hold vital information that is essential to basic business functions such as problem solving and decision making.
Being able to recognise and understand emotions in yourself and others are key competencies of Emotional Intelligence (EI), along with the ability to regulate and manage your own emotional reactions.
All decisions have a cognitive and an emotional element. No matter how much we like to think we make purely rational business decisions – we are consciously or unconsciously influenced by emotion. Understanding this is important for two reasons.
- Firstly, so that we don’t ignore vital information that this emotional response can provide.
- Secondly, so that we don’t get hijacked or biased by emotions that are not really related to the decision at hand (incidental emotions).
Our most primitive systems are designed to be on the alert to potential danger and ready to inform our actions to avoid harm. It’s a visceral response that is much quicker than our cognitive response. But like many systems it can set off false alarms, so it needs to be tempered by analysis and judgement. But we should not ignore our intuition as common phrases like; ‘I just went with my gut’ or ‘it just didn’t feel right’ show us.
We also ignore emotions at our peril because they tell us what we value. We have a strong emotional response to things we care about – the passion aroused by supporting a favourite team, the injustice we feel when we see unfairness. If a situation is evoking a strong emotion in you or other people, it’s helpful to ask what that says about the values that might be in play.
Not all emotions are related to the situation or decision we are making, but can still influence them. Imagine you are on your way to an important meeting and the train is late. As you arrive you are still feeling anxious and frustrated and you carry this into the meeting. Many studies have shown that these incidental emotions can influence or bias our actions and decisions. On a good day, when we are feeling happy we are more likely to trust people. Anxiety or excitement (not related to the task) is more likely to lead to taking higher levels of risk. There is no ideal frame of mind – all emotions and moods have the ability to influence or bias our thoughts and actions, so it is important to be able to recognise and identify the cause-effect of emotions.
Emotionally intelligent leaders recognise that this emotion-understanding ability is vital to business success. The good news is that unlike IQ, emotional intelligence competencies can be developed, to enable you to use the vital information that emotions bring to making key business decisions and interactions.
The next article is based on another common theme – the difficulty many managers find in ‘dealing with people’.