How to build an emotionally intelligent team

  • DeakinCo.
  • 18 October 2018

Emotional intelligence is what takes a group of individuals and turns them a collaborative and effective team. We explore a number of ways you can improve the emotional intelligence of your staff. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence has been a buzz word in the workplace since the 1990s. Researchers John Mayer and Peter Salavoy define emotional intelligence as the ability to ‘recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others’. So what exactly does this mean? In practical terms, it means to be aware that emotions can influence behaviour and learning how to control and manage these emotions, both in ourselves and others. An emotionally intelligent employee is one that can communicate and empathise well with others, think analytically and adapt quickly to change.

Why you need emotionally intelligent staff

Emotional intelligence is a desirable quality in employees for a number of reasons:

1.  Improved communication

Tone and body language are a significant part of communication. An emotionally intelligent employee will be able to both read the tone and body language of others, and adapt theirs to what is needed in the circumstance before them. It’s also easy for emotionally intelligent people to make social connections with their co-works.

The benefit of good communication in the workplace is increased productivity for your business. If your staff are able to communicate comfortably and effectively with one another, you’ll be able to get the best ideas out of them.

2. Productivity

As analytical thinkers, emotionally intelligent employees are able to predict behaviours and understand the strengths and weaknesses of others. An emotionally intelligent leader will be able to divide work among co-workers based on the strengths of team members to get the job down as efficiently as possible.

3. Client-focus

Some clients aren’t able to effectively explain their wants and needs and this can often lead to  relationship breakdown. An emotionally intelligent employee will be able to read into a client’s behaviour and language to understand what they want, even if they aren’t able to verbalise it.

Signs of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence isn’t hard to spot if you know what to look for. Emotionally intelligent people will generally possess these key qualities:

1.  Controlled reactions: Someone who is not emotionally intelligent will react immediately, without taking the time to weight up the positives and negatives of the situation before them. 

2. Empathy: this is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. An emotionally intelligent person will be able to feel what another person is experiencing.

3. Self-awareness: being able to understand yourself, recognise what stimuli you’re facing, and prepare to manage it in a proactive manner, is a sign of self-awareness.

4. Analytical thinking: people who are able think deeply and analyse all new information that comes their way are considered to be analytical thinkers and highly emotionally intelligent.

5. Adaptability: an emotionally intelligent person will be able to adapt quickly to change, whether that means continuing on the same course, or making a change.

When hiring new staff it can often be a challenge to find people who fit your company culture. Here’s what to look out for when interviewing for emotionally intelligent people:

  • Ask them to provide examples: when interviewing potential candidates, make sure to ask about how they’ve managed relationships with co-workers in the past. Did they have good relationships? How did they manage difficult people? Their reactions to others is a good indicator of their emotional intelligence.
  • Scenario-based questions: you should also include some hypothetical scenarios such as ‘how would you deal with a client who’s upset with a mistake made by the company?’. An emotionally intelligent person will be able to formulate a calm response and will talk time to empathise with and understand the client’s perspective.

Ways to build an emotionally intelligent team

Your workforce will be made up of many different personalities, and not everyone will posses natural emotional intelligent. However, it is something that can be fostered. Setting out to create a positive, open and collaborative office is a great place to start and here’s how:

1. Team-building exercises

Team building exercises are a really fun way to develop emotional intelligence within your team members. Team-building helps to break down emotional barriers between employees, encourage empathy by better understanding each other, and leads to better communication and collaboration. There are a number of improvisation games and exercises you can research online.

2. Encourage feedback

Giving feedback to your employees is a definite way to improve their emotional intelligence as it teaches them to accept criticism and encourages confidence when receiving positive feedback. But encouraging your staff to also give feedback to their leaders is equally beneficial to your business. 

Performance feedback can be a daunting thing for many people and can cause them to become defensive. But the more frequently employees challenge each other and receive feedback, the quicker it becomes a normal part of the workplace. When feedback and ideas are regularly and openly bounced around in the office, it gives people the confidence to share their ideas, which will greatly benefit your business in the long run.

3. Reward initiative 

Employees can feel isolated and emotionally closed off with each other if there is a fear of taking risks and failing. If this fear exists in your business, there will never be new ideas and your company risks stagnating. To increase the emotional intelligence in your team, try rewarding and acknowledging your staff whenever they try something new or different. 

By creating a culture where taking initiative and thinking outside the box is rewarded (even if it is not successful), your employees will become more comfortable with one another and great ideas will start flowing.

4. Foster accountability

An emotionally intelligent person is self-aware and therefore able to take ownership of their actions - both when things go right, and when they go wrong. Companies with a strict top-down management structure fail to encourage accountability as the leader is blamed for all failures. In a flatter hierarchy, leaders encourage sharing of credit, decisions and responsibility, which helps build self-awareness in people.

5. Develop interpersonal understanding

Everyone is different. Your company will be made up of all types of personalities and learning to understand the different ways people operate is crucial for teamwork and communication. Introverts, for example, may not feel comfortable voicing their opinion in a group environment. Being an emotionally intelligent person means empathising with others. In this scenario, an emotionally intelligent person would make a conscious effort to make introverts feel comfortable voicing their opinion. 

6. Choose the right leader

Creating a team where employees are able to empathise with each other and communicate well is greatly influenced by the leader they follow.  It’s important to choose a leader who exhibits emotional intelligence to ensure it flows down through the team. Emotionally intelligent leaders can cultivate the same quality in their direct reports by being able to clearly express their thoughts, being aware of what’s going on around them, and being able to handle conflicts.

7. Empower your people

Workplaces are becoming increasingly interdependent. So many of our jobs are dependent on the help of other people. An easy way to empower your employees is to delegate authority. This demonstrates to your employees that you have confidence in them. When people feel empowered, they’ll be motivated to strive for excellence and develop their emotional intelligence will develop as a result.

Is your team emotionally intelligent?

Encouraging and developing emotional intelligence in your business will take your employees from a group of individuals working together, to a collaborative, innovative and driven team.

If your business needs help enhancing the performance of employees, contact DeakinCo.