The Secret to Team Performance (And 5 Strategies to Achieve it Virtually)

When Google HR hired a group of psychologists and sociologists to look for patterns in their highest performing teams, they thought team success had something to do with the mixture of personalities, backgrounds, and motivations within the team. After almost 200 team interviews, they still hadn’t found any discernable patterns to confirm their theory. Instead, they found that successful teams all shared one thing in common: a high degree of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a sense of trust teams establish where people do not feel insecure or embarrassed by the possibility of failure. Studies show that on teams where people feel psychologically safe, people are more willing to share their perspective, take calculated risks, ask questions, admit mistakes, make jokes, challenge each other, and learn from one another.

Of course, developing this degree of trust within a team takes effort. With teams switching to virtual work, the effort to establish trust narrows to time spent on video calls, which can feel more convoluted and distant. To help get your virtual team moving in the right direction, we’ve compiled five concrete ways to build psychological safety in virtual meetings.

Recreate team chatter. Chatting around the table or in the hallway before a meeting doesn’t just pass the time as the group files in. Chatter actually quiets stress in the brain, relaxes people, and builds their courage to share later on during the meeting. To recapture your team’s lost chatter, manufacture it. Kick off meetings by having each person share something unrelated to work. Host a virtual happy hour or online game night. Close meetings by sharing weekend plans. The idea is to build group comfort and get people talking freely and just for fun. Then, when the discussion turns from light to consequential, people are already feeling more comfortable and therefore poised to contribute.

Break out in small groups. Who is quick to speak out among the 32 faces across two screens? No one, usually.People feel safer in small groups, and when people feel safe, they are more likely to open up. And this opening up in small groups actually translates back to the big group. When people report out to the big group, they tend to stand firmer with what they discussed in their breakout. That’s partially because the representative wants to stay true to their discussion group, and it’s also because they feel more supported by the group than they would feel speaking on their own behalf. Breakouts also prevent social loafing in bigger team meetings where many people feel that their individual contributions “aren’t worth the group’s time.”

Map the check-in process. Research shows that rules around communication reduce uncertainty and help build trust. Don’t just assign work vaguely with an arbitrary deadline. Agree to check-in points, check-in subgroups, and a process for completion. This helps hold people accountable as the task moves from hand to hand.

Reward people for risk-taking, candor, and feedback. Be sure to reinforce teammates who show vulnerability and risk-taking, even if you might not agree. Some teams even designate someone to “tell it like it is.” This person may call out things left unsaid, play “devil’s advocate,” and point out when other team members hog the stage, stay too quiet, or criticize unconstructively.

Break the meeting routine. Regularly scheduled meetings and check-ins can easily become routine, possibly becoming monotonous. To avoid people zoning out and counting the minutes, break the cycle: Cancel a meeting occasionally, hold an impromptu team meeting to celebrate a goal reached, call together a small group to devise a plan for a difficult problem, or even try scheduling monthly one-on-ones between randomly assigned team members to build internal relationships.

From Insights to Action. These strategies for creating team trust and safety may seem easy, but the challenge lies in upholding them over time. Commit to these strategies and give them time to grow into a natural part of how your team works together. Each one can make a big difference in your team dynamic and performance.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit

The Case for Team Emotional Intelligence (Team EQ)

As organizations increasingly invest in emotional intelligence (EQ) skills training, what should they do about this important fact? The bulk of work at organizations is done by teams, and teams are made up of people with varying levels of emotional intelligence. The answer is clear: Offer your teams the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence skills at the team level.

EQ at the team level means members of the group are able to interact well with each other, and cross-functionally with people in other departments, on other teams, and even outside the organization. Teams whose members recognize unproductive emotions when they surface and manage them constructively will overcome interpersonal and inter-team challenges to achieve peak performance. High EQ teams make better decisions, foster a positive working environment, and adapt better to unplanned surprises (i.e., work moves to virtual, people come and go, priorities change, or competition grows).

The 4 Core Team EQ Skills

The team that handles their emotions well and builds healthy relationships is tapping into four core team EQ skills: emotion awareness, emotion management, internal relationship management, and external relationship management.

On a high EQ team, better awareness of emotions (emotion awareness) opens doors for team members to respond better (emotion management). By fostering positive working relationships within the team (internal relationship management), team members are better equipped to influence others and build relationships outside the team (external relationship management).

Research shows that teams that continually hone these skills can increase their ability to achieve goals, collaborate cross-functionally, build trust, establish group cohesion, complete tasks quickly, and manage stress during emotionally charged situations.

Team EQ Skills in Action

On nursing teams, for example, a high degree of emotion awareness and management is necessary to navigate notoriously fast-paced, high-stress tasks and decisions without butting heads with one another (internal relationship management) or coming across as callous or uncaring to patients and their families (external relationship management). Nursing teams high in team EQ will be better equipped to support each other through an extended shift or an overflowing unit, and to effectively manage handoffs with other teams to work quickly and collaboratively toward positive results. A recent study found that teams of nurses higher in group emotion management were not only more cohesive, but also that their bottom line patient care ratings were higher.

Team EQ is the Foundation of Critical Skills
The reason team emotional intelligence is so crucial to a team’s success is that it supports the skills that are critical for success. For example, a team’s ability to recognize and understand what a teammate is feeling increases that team’s ability to listen, empathize, communicate, and influence that teammate. Similarly, building awareness of their emotional reactions to pressure will make it easier for a team to manage change flexibly and speedily while still showing respect and trust along the way.

From Insights to Action. Perhaps the most important finding in EQ research is that team EQ skills can be developed. With practice, teams who measure low in team EQ can work to improve their team EQ behaviors within six months to a year. These findings hold true for teams in various professions and across industries, all over the world.

To learn more about increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, and TalentSmart’s products and programs to facilitate team development, contact TalentSmart at 888-818-SMART or visit

3 Reasons Emotional Intelligence is More Critical Now than Ever

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is more in-demand than ever. In 2020 alone, EQ made the top 10 job skills on the World Economic Forum’s report, the top five on the LinkedIn skills report, and the top four training priorities on Udemy’s Workplace Learning Trends.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. One of the main reasons EQ is growing so quickly is that it’s foundational to developing a whole set of other critical skills. Here are three relevant skills fueled by emotional intelligence that are particularly helpful during challenging and uncertain times.

1. Change Management

The effects of big change at work are so extreme that experts frequently compare it to the five stages of grief. Change is uncomfortable, emotionally draining, stressful, and can cause burnout. Worst of all, change begins a wicked cycle where exhaustion from change makes people more resistant to change. People skilled in EQ are better prepared to break this cycle and manage change by recognizing and understanding how change affects them and then managing their feelings and reactions.

EQ Skills Help You Navigate Change: In-person marketing meetings on Guy’s team were always full of energized brainstorming and chatter. But, in the shift to remote meetings, they’ve lost their energy, and their usual surplus of ideas is running dry. Aside from going remote, Guy hasn’t changed anything. Each subgroup’s leader summarizes the work they’re doing (i.e., articles, videos, and podcasts), but people tune out instead of engaging with questions, challenges, thoughts, or ideas. Guy is worried about his team but feels paralyzed. He needs to get people engaged, or the whole team is going to suffer. After talking with his wife at dinner, he begins to recognize two key things: 1) this change to remote work isn’t going away anytime soon, and 2) he’s paralyzed because he’s afraid of making a big change to something they’ve done successfully for years. Once he recognizes this, he’s quick to change their format. He leverages the breakout room feature, mixing the breakouts intentionally for interaction. When they regroup from breakouts, each group shares highlights. Energy and engagement spikes right away. Now more information is synthesized than ever. Guy succeeded because he recognized his team’s disengagement (social awareness) and his own fear of change (self-awareness), and then he was able to move forward with a plan (self-management) and introduce a format encouraging interaction (relationship management).  

2. Stress Management

Dr. Moira Mikolajczak found that people with high EQ report better moods, less anxiety, and less worry during times of tension and stress than those who can’t identify and manage their emotions. This is because high EQ people have improved their ability to simultaneously engage their emotional and rational thinking. When confronted with stress, high EQ people can control what they do next. Instead of catastrophizing, casting blame or worrying, high EQ people find the silver lining, practice positive self-talk, and recall good memories. Once they get control of their reaction, they devise a plan of action.

EQ Skills Help You Tackle Your Stress: Right after the transition to remote work, Nitya couldn’t slip back into “family mode” the way she used to when she got home from the office. With her work computer just in the other room, she found herself thinking constantly about that next meeting, email, or client while her kids tried to tell her about their day. Only after she caught herself missing what her kids were saying and making mistakes on multiple late evening emails did she realize her stress was a problem. To get herself back on track, she first reminded herself that she balanced her work and family for years without a problem. Then, she put together a plan. Each day when she stopped working, she would slip out the side door to her espresso machine on the patio. She would make a latte, sit, and drink it. She wouldn’t check her phone or read. She would just sit and unwind. If something work-related came to mind, she would write it on a notepad as a to-do for tomorrow. The routine was simple, but it acted as the perfect mental transition between work and family. Post-latte, Nitya found she was able to turn off her work brain and turn on her family brain.

3. Effective Communication

The working world, and our lives, are made up of important conversations. At work, we give and receive feedback, deliver bad news, manage conflicts, and check-in with struggling coworkers…The list goes on. As different as each example seems, important conversations usually share three things in common: 1. opposing opinions, 2. strong emotions, and 3. pressure. Because developing EQ builds the connection between the emotional and rational parts of the brain, it equips people to manage their emotions under pressure and come up with an effective response in real time.

EQ Skills Help You Communicate Effectively: Dianne’s in her first week of work at the front desk of a hospital’s imaging department. Their appointments frequently run late, and she finds herself overwhelmed as she informs patients. When a patient begins to get upset, she boils over and snaps at him. He then complains, and her manager, who is displeased, has a long conversation with her at the end of the day. That night Dianne commits to adjusting her approach to these moments. The first thing she will do is take a deep breath and count to five before responding. Then, she will ask a question to learn why the patient is upset. Some people, she now finds, are quite nervous about the imaging procedure and their results (and she is able to talk them down). Others are anxious because they have somewhere to be (and she offers apologetically to reschedule). These small adjustments make a big difference in Dianne’s ability to uncover slight differences in patients’ needs and then address each accordingly.

From Insights to Action. The best thing about EQ skills is they can be developed with practice. Practicing any of above behaviors will build new habits for you too. The result is that when you’re faced with a similar situation in the future, you will respond with emotional intelligence.

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How to Increase Your Confidence, Connections, & Energy in Virtual Meetings

When we’re in a virtual meeting with someone who is fully engaged and using an array of expressions, we can easily forget we are sitting at a computer at all. Instead of getting bored, tired, or self-conscious, we connect and engage in the conversation the same way we might in an office or at a café. These kinds of calls don’t just feel better; they’re also more effective in accomplishing their purpose, whether that’s collaboration, productivity, or connection.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the virtual meetings that run less smoothly. In these meetings, we feel distracted, self-conscious, and antsy, and by the time we exit the virtual room, exhausted. This virtual fatigue is as real as it feels. A Microsoft study on the effects of virtual meetings found that the same brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork spike during virtual meetings. And on top of this stress and exhaustion, the study also found that sixty percent of surveyed people feel they are less connected to their colleagues now.

So what can we do to combat distraction and disconnection as we head into our new “normal” that includes more remote work and virtual meetings? Two of the biggest problems faced in virtual work right now are self-consciousness and a lack of human connection. Here are three body language strategies to help you improve your virtual approach.

Virtual Challenge #1: Self-consciousness. Dr Tara Well, a psychologist at Barnard College, draws the comparison between your box on a virtual call and a mirror, and points out that virtual calls can feel like going through an important meeting with a mirror sitting in front of you. The mirror shows your quirks, emotions, and reactions in real time and this is of course stressful, distracting, and unsettling. In fact, a survey found that 72% of employees reported feeling distracted by their own appearance during video calls, and 59% felt more self-conscious on screen than in-person.

Body language strategy #1: Get your set-up right. In an HBR interview, communication consultant Rachel Cossar breaks down the ideal computer set-up for virtual calls. She encourages people not to just open their laptops on a table or desk with the camera facing up at them, but to actually set up their computers so the camera is eye level and about three feet away. This set-up is ideal for communication because it exposes your whole upper torso. With your torso exposed people can really see your movements more clearly, and this frees you up to communicate more effectively while speaking the way you always have in the past.

Body language strategy #2: Direct your focus away from yourself. As Well said, your box is mirror-like and makes you self-conscious. The set-up in strategy #1 is a good first step because it distances your vision from your computer and from your own box. Also, when you’re speaking, focus on the camera lens in front of you. This looks the best to people listening because your attention will be directed toward them on the receiving end. When you’re not speaking, actively observe the person who is and the way other people react.

Virtual Challenge #2: Lack of human connection. An in-person meeting usually consists of a lot of shared context. People greet each other, shake hands and pat shoulders, they smell the same coffee, and are all situated around the same table. But online, we each exist in our own world and are trying to connect on common ground that’s entirely virtual and two-dimensional. Not to mention, we’re doing this from our own rooms with our own environment and potential distractions. All of this makes it more difficult to feel connected to another person, let alone an entire group.

Body language strategy #1: Compensate for absent emotions. Use body language to make up for emotions you might otherwise communicate verbally in a meeting. Twenty people can’t say “agreed” on Zoom, but they can all nod. You can’t all greet each other verbally or with handshakes, but you can smile, wave, or nod as new people join. When someone else speaks, try not to fidget, scowl, or roll your eyes (the kinds of things you avoid in-person too). Instead, show engaged posture and physically lean in a bit when you find something interesting. Getting your set-up right, like recommended above, will help you do all of these things more naturally.

From Insights to Action. The bottom line is that virtual meetings are affecting our self-confidence, our ability to connect, and our energy levels. If we want to maintain our connection and collaboration, we have to adapt our approach to meet the new environment. Remember that in the virtual environment where we are often muted, our body language frequently paints the full picture that is received on the other end.

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Developing Emotional Awareness: What We Can Learn from Children’s Instincts

When Kenneth Hill’s study on wilderness survival rates first came out, his discovery shocked people: Children aged six and under consistently survived more effectively than even trained demographics like experienced hunters, fit hikers, former members of the military, and skilled sailors.

How is this possible? Laurence Gonzales breaks down what children do differently from adults in survival situations in his book Deep Survival

“Small children do not create the same sort of mental maps that adults do. They don’t understand traveling to a particular place, so they don’t run to get somewhere beyond their field of vision. They also follow their instincts. If it gets cold, they crawl into a hollow tree to get warm. If they’re tired, they rest, so they don’t get fatigued. If they’re thirsty, they drink. They try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive. They do not yet have the sophisticated mental mapping ability that adults have, and so do not try to bend the map. They adapt to the world they’re in.”

In other words, the secret to children’s survival skill is that they act on their instincts. We have these same instincts, but we have learned not to act on them. Most of the time this is a necessary and good thing. When we feel tired during a work meeting, for example, we don’t wander into the corner, curl up, and fall asleep. However, in our effort to act according to a working world that doesn’t operate on a life-and-death, moment-to-moment basis, we’ve unlearned more than just acting on our emotions. We’ve actually unlearned how to pay attention to our emotions at all. The result is that when we feel stretched, frustrated, exhausted, stressed or mad, and we don’t stop to understand why we feel that way, these emotions can build or take over and compromise our work and our relationships. We may accidentally lash out at a colleague, lose our ability to focus on our work, or make a glaring mistake during a presentation.  

The good news is that we all have access to that same degree of emotional awareness children show in survival situations. We are simply out of practice. We just need to get practicing again. This means noticing what, when, why, and how emotions affect our well-being, and what to do to manage these emotions successfully. This may sound simple, but only a well-practiced person can do this proactively and in the moment when emotions grab ahold of them. Here are three strategies to help you practice getting back in touch with the self-awareness your brain is already wired to tap into:

Adapt to the world you’re in. At the end of each workday for a week, answer the following questions: What emotions affected my well-being today? They can be good or bad. When did they happen? Why did they happen? How did they affect my well-being? Did I attend to them in the way I needed to? What can I do next time? For example: After I finally ate lunch at 1:45pm I felt reenergized, less worn down, and more able to concentrate. I should be more disciplined about finishing lunch by 1:30.

Learn the subtleties of your emotions. Anxiety, apprehension, hesitation, and resistance can all feel somewhat similar, but by labeling each one, you take a big first step toward knowing their subtleties and how you need to react to take care of yourself, your relationship, or your work. For example, apprehension could mean worry about your preparation or skill level, but resistance might mean you really don’t like that type of work. Your next steps depend on your knowing the difference.

Feel your emotions in your body. Backaches, headaches, sweaty palms, general soreness, your hip tensing up, body odor…the list goes on. We all react to our emotions differently. By starting with your body, paying attention to how you physically feel, you can often catch emotions you didn’t realize you were suppressing or repressing. On challenging days at work, take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself, “What does my body feel right now and why?” For example, “I’m fidgeting more, opening new tabs, checking my email compulsively, and I’m making lots of typing mistakes.” Jot this down somewhere with a date and time. That evening think back and maybe add a word explaining your feeling. For example, Preoccupied by the deadline. This specificity helps you put together a plan of improvement: Next fidgeting spell I need to catch myself early, get up, and stretch or take a quick walk.

From Insights to Action. Children may have the upper hand in the sense that they haven’t spent years unlearning attention to emotions, but adults have the upper hand once they begin to practice. We have access to a more sophisticated vocabulary of emotions and a more nuanced perspective on where emotions come from, what they feel like, how they manifest, and how we can best manage them. Keen emotional awareness is also the first big step toward recognizing emotions in others, and in turn, managing your relationships. In other words, emotional awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ).

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3 Tips to Build Social Awareness

A front-line employee with masterful customer skills can seem like they’re performing an act of magic in mask-to-mask communication. How do they intuit what the customer is thinking in a matter of seconds? How is it that they know exactly what to do or say?

What seems like gut intuition or an innate ability is really a high degree of social awareness. Social awareness is your ability to observe, recognize, and understand the emotions, moods, and tendencies of other people. This awareness is necessary to control your reactions to others and manage relationships to the best of your ability.

Be reassured that social awareness is a skill you can grow to reap important benefits. Below are three recent accounts of people high in social awareness who succeed despite masks and new Covid-19 challenges. For each account, one social awareness strategy from our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is used to break down how to bring these strategies into your life and to help you implement them in your mask-to-mask interactions.

Kyle: Seeing problems ahead of time, de-escalation, and conflict diffusion.

The Account: “When we [lifeguards in San Diego, CA] assumed responsibility for shutting down beaches at the height of the social distancing, we found our job had quickly changed from something physical (rescues) to something social (law enforcement). Namely, we had to regularly navigate conflicts with people refusing to leave the beach. Kyle stepped naturally into the role of diffuser and compliance officer. He had a way of first striking up conversations, then managing the conflicts efficiently with minimal disagreement. When disagreement was necessary, he stepped up and made sure the person knew who was in charge of the situation.” 

The Strategy: Practice the art of listening. While it may have seemed like Kyle was “just more comfortable and confident with conflict,” he was actually more strategic. By approaching people and learning more before he took the role of enforcer, he bought himself time to get a more accurate read. The non-confrontational start to the conversation was the time period when he listened carefully to the person’s tone, noticed what they said and how they said it, and he even asked questions to get a sense for potential aggression, compliance, or ignorance. Then, he matched his approach accordingly. If he adopted a one-solution-fits-all approach, he would inevitably invite stronger reactions. 

Sohel: Being likeable and increasing customer satisfaction (and tips).

The Account: “When Sohel works the register, our tips are a full 25% higher. He has a knack for engaging people in conversation, for getting orders right the first time, and even asking clarifying questions when he feels the customer might not know what they asked for. When a regular customer recently entered the cafe mask-less, Sohel even managed to convince him to put one on. I couldn’t believe it, but the regular customer actually smiled, laughed with Sohel, put on a mask, and left a large tip.”

The Strategy: Seek the whole picture. What makes Sohel so likeable in a matter of seconds? It’s not the fact that people know much about him. In fact, most people coming through probably don’t even know his name. What he does well is understand how customers enter the room and how he fits into their bigger picture. Some customers may not appreciate small talk, but they will appreciate pleasantness, care, and attention to detail. By focusing on their order and listening carefully, he wins these one-time customers over. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sohel knows that most regulars want to be recognized and forge a deeper relationship. Over months and years, he spends time getting to know regulars and greeting them by name. It was because Sohel took the time to know this regular customer that they talked through a potential conflict quickly.  

Colleen: Creating a good atmosphere and reading people’s needs.

The Account: “Colleen made me realize how much a waiter can really make the whole feel of a restaurant. Despite masks and distancing requirements, she manages to still sense people’s needs in real time and adjust accordingly. She shortens her social approach to match an absorbed couple that wants to be left alone, and she expands her social approach, telling jokes or stories to chattier groups of friends or family members. She successfully creates an ideal environment while still following restaurant safety protocol.”

The Strategy: Catch the mood of the room. While much of emotional intelligence consists of managing our instincts (i.e., learning to slow down when feeling anxious or angry), it’s sometimes useful to let instinct take the driver’s seat. In this case, Colleen catches people’s moods, sociability levels, and comfort around distancing by trusting her instincts. Even though she can’t make out facial expressions, her instincts pick up on all kinds of other clues. From years of working as a waiter, her brain is used to pairing things like tone, posture, and gestures with facial expressions. As a result, when she trusts her initial reaction, it tends to be right.

From Insights to Action. Facemasks may feel like an insurmountable challenge to our social awareness because they’re so different from what we’re used to, but our mouths are one social awareness data point of many. If you think about it, there are a significant number of people high in social awareness who regularly don’t observe cues from the mouth—i.e., the population of people who wear veils, people who are blind, and surgical staff in operating rooms. These people succeed because they learn to compensate for facial expressions with other EQ strategies like practicing the art of listening, seeking the whole social picture, and trusting their emotional instincts to catch the mood in the room.

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Mask-to-Mask Communication: Know What You’re Missing

TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that the group of highest performers is filled with people who are high in emotional intelligence (90% of top performers, to be exact). Because these people know how much our facial expressions influence our ability to communicate, they pay close attention to the facial expressions of others and they match their own facial expressions to the messages they want to communicate.

With masks, even the most emotionally intelligent people face a big challenge: our facial expressions are blocked. And we rely on facial expressions to understand emotions when words are mismatched with tone even more than you might think. According to a UCLA study, facial expressions account for 55% of successful communication when words and tone sound inconsistent.

Perhaps the people most affected by masks are those working front-line jobs. In the world of physicians and nurses for example, studies show that nonverbal cues are linked to better patient care. In the past, healthcare professionals have relied on facial expressions to show their patients empathy, sincerity, competence, and focus. That’s why doctors treating Covid-19 patients in full protective gear have resorted to taping photos of themselves to their scrubs to help put a human face on a scary situation. Or, as another example, in the service industry, waiting staff, baristas, or people working registers rely on facial expressions to make customers feel welcome, to smoothly navigate problems or complaints, and to create a positive atmosphere.

Even people not working front-line jobs still interact with the front line. When we go to the grocery or the doctor, we rely on facial expressions for greetings, to show gratitude, and to connect.

To help you get through these expression-less times, here’s what you can do to communicate with high emotional intelligence skills from the nose up and from the neck down.

Catch what you can. According to Dr. David Matsumoto, a psychologist specializing in emotions and body language, it’s possible to identify each of the following facial signals from above a mask that covers everything below the nose:

  • Wrinkles of disgust in the nose, forehead, and eyes.
  • Lifting of eyelids and eyebrows in fear or surprise.
  • Movement of corners of eyebrows in sadness or distress.
  • What we call “twinkling of the eyes,” a happy smile that crinkles the corners of your eyes.

Know what you’re missing. There are facial expressions that happen only or primarily in the mouth region. For these facial expressions, the best we can do is know what we may not see. Pursed lips, neutrality of expression, and a small frown or smile can easily stay contained in a mask. Maybe the most missed expression during the mask era is the “social smile” which is when we smile in place of a greeting or verbal acknowledgement. Because the social smile is manufactured to show appreciation or recognition, it doesn’t activate the whole face. The microexpression in your eyes is not enough to reach the twinkle level of happiness. The result is that your usual social smile when a barista hands you a latte appears blank-faced and possibly ungrateful with a mask.

Catch yourself and compensate. To reveal your hidden facial expressions without unmasking, you first must catch yourself making them. Then, you can compensate with small changes in your expression. For example, to compensate for a social smile, you might fully nod your head, wave, or even say “Hi” or “thank you” out loud with the positive, grateful, or excited tone that you mean to get across. Here are a few other ways to compensate:

  • Face the person you’re speaking to.
  • Use hand gestures.
  • Use your body and head more.
  • Exaggerate a reaction so that it crosses the whole face.
  • Speak louder and slower. Enunciate.
  • Match your tone to your emotion.
  • Keep your posture upright to show you’re engaged.
  • Make sure you have their attention in the first place.

From Insights to Action. The bottom line is that communicating with masks will never quite reach our normal, nuanced levels of communication and may lower our EQ. However, we can do a lot to avoid communication breakdown and to still get our emotions and ideas successfully across. Here’s a hopeful solution to leave you with: Check out transparent masks. They’re designed for families and friends of hard-of-hearing people who need to read lips, but if more widely adopted, or at least used in more front-line positions, many more facial expressions would be noticeable.

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10 High EQ Ways to Check in on a Struggling Coworker

Jeannine notices her coworker Monty has seemed off the last two weeks. Monty’s known on the team for being especially stylish, organized, and loud in a fun way. Lately he’s a bit less put together. The left side of his hair appears disheveled, he arrives late, and he appears on Zoom in the same shirt across multiple days. Jeannine didn’t view this as particularly alarming at first considering the novelty in shifting to remote work, but this paired with the absence of his usual enthusiasm in meetings, concerns her. She knows she needs to check in with him to see how he’s doing.

The bad news about checking in remotely is that the environment is less under her control. When she calls Monty up, distractions are more likely, their usual shared meal or coffee is an impossibility, and a conversation-conducive location is no longer a given.

The good news is that these elements are all secondary to Jeannine’s approach, which is entirely within her control. Her approach consists of bigger things like knowing and managing their dynamic, listening carefully and asking good questions, and matching what she says and how she reacts to Monty sharing. In other words, a successful check-in with a struggling colleague is a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ). Below are ten emotionally intelligent strategies you can add to your EQ toolbox for more successful check-in conversations.

1. Make sure you can handle the conversation. Going deep with someone takes a toll on you too. Before you engage with a struggling friend, check in with yourself. By recognizing that you might not be ready, you could save both of you from a damaging conversation, where the other person doesn’t feel heard and you feel brought down.

2. Nail your timing. Remote check-ins may derail your ability to set a good atmosphere, but you can at least find a good time when your struggling coworker isn’t too busy or stressed and is at their most receptive. It should be a mutually agreed on moment.

3. Know your power dynamic. If you’re someone’s boss, be aware that you might not be the person they want to open up to. Worst case, your employee may even think a check-in indicates worry about performance. Leave discussion about work for other times. This conversation is only about how the person is doing. If the conversation doesn’t go further, you’ve reached out and that is enough for now.

4. Approach gently. A lighter entry to a deep conversation helps oil the hinges. You don’t have to perform a joke, and you probably shouldn’t. Start with small talk. Ask about something lightly work-related, and make the conversation a bit more organic and a bit less forced. Listen for any opening to use your check-in question. If nothing obvious arises, perhaps give it more time.

5. Be specific. One way to stay in your lane is to share exactly what you noticed about your coworker that concerns you. Point out to Monty that he’s been late to three meetings and much less talkative this week. By communicating what you observed, you act as a mirror. Then just stop talking. The silence will give them a chance to respond. Often, observations serve as a natural entry point because the person realizes how their behavior looks and wants to explain. The key to this approach is not to make any assumptions and not to come across as judgmental.

6. Be open-ended. On the opposite end of the spectrum from specificity, a simple “How are things?” can offer an entry point, especially for someone who likes to share. Open-ended questions are useful because they don’t show judgment or a desire to pry something loose.

7. “Do you want to talk or do you want some distraction?” Posing this question sounds blunt but can be a great check-in question for someone you’re close to. Sometimes people prefer your company to your counsel.

8. Don’t push. When it comes to someone’s feelings, being pushy can cause people to clamp up, lash out, or resent you. This is especially true when they’re in a vulnerable state.

9. Get vulnerable. Sharing about yourself opens a kind of exchange. Saying something as small as “It’s been tough for me during social distancing to concentrate on listening during the meetings with my kids being noisy in the background,” can soften the environment. Showing vulnerability is an especially good strategy for supervisors approaching employees because it temporarily levels the playing field.

10. Don’t waste time sweating your response. When your coworker does open up, don’t expend all your mental energy trying to solve their problem or devise the perfect response. It’s tempting to ask what you can do to help, lay out your advice, or share your similar experience from third grade. But, all of these things distract the point of the conversation and often make it about you.

From Insights to Action. You might notice that each of these strategies boil down to the same thing: Making the other person comfortable. That’s because honest and vulnerable conversations can only happen when people feel comfortable enough to share.

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Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The Bridge from Diversity to Inclusion

Andrea managed to find a new project management position at a large pharmaceutical company despite the challenging job environment of COVID-19. She had been laid off in March, and she wasn’t quite sure what to expect during an onboarding process. Turns out her new company takes onboarding seriously. They run an official process with a thick packet and formal classes. Andrea is delighted to discover the time and attention devoted to the company’s support of diverse minds, skills, and people, but privately she can’t help but wonder what the actual day-to-day will feel like for her as a woman and a person of color. Will she actually feel included?

Feeling included depends on whether her coworkers, direct reports, and the leaders around her do their part to implement inclusive practices, which are critical for building an inclusive culture and can only be experienced through the day-to-day life at the company.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) can provide employees, teams, and leaders with the awareness and behaviors needed to create a diverse and inclusive culture, one that is welcoming, curious, and supportive for everyone on the team. Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. It consists of four key skills: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. The highs and lows of Andrea’s onboarding experience illustrate three important ways EQ skills can help foster an inclusive environment:

1. EQ skills enable empathy for newcomers. From day one, Andrea’s team went above and beyond to get to know her. Within the first month, each team member met with her for a one-on-one lunch with a more informal agenda. As a result of getting to know each team member, Andrea felt more comfortable sooner, asserting herself when she had questions, suggestions, or concerns. Empathy necessitates a high degree of social awareness and relationship management. To be empathetic, team members have to proactively learn where new team members are coming from (their stories, culture, background, personality, etc.), acknowledge one another’s feelings, and make an effort to reach out or help. Empathy requires both understanding and action.

2. EQ skills deepen trust over time. Andrea was also pleased to see that as a group they prioritized trust. They used their self-management skills to listen longer and their relationship management skills to give trust (“Yasafar, I trust you. Thanks for working your magic”), rather than making people earn it (“Yasafar, let’s see if you have it in you”). They held everyone accountable for sharing their perspective by calling on quieter people to share and balancing the time taken by talkative people. On lesser teams, people can easily feel that they are outsiders and don’t have a voice at the table until invited, and studies show that individuals on these teams are much less likely to thrive. High EQ words and actions encourage performance and job satisfaction while low EQ words and actions create what are called micro-aggressions, leading newer team members to feel they don’t belong, or aren’t trusted.

3. EQ skills facilitate accountability and learning from mistakes. Even teams that practice trust and empathy can be prone to mistakes. When Andrea sat down to join her first monthly project management meeting, she listened as key players shared progress, numbers, and unique challenges and the next milestones. When the discussion got to the topic of mobilizing eight action teams and the need for recruiting more women, they began to direct questions to Andrea but none about the project content. Their intention was to learn from their newest player, but they really just made her feel singled out. They ignored her expertise, experience, and perspective, and assigned her the role of expert on recruiting women of color, which she had no background in. The team had built enough early trust with Andrea, that she felt comfortable calling out what just happened. She explained how they made her feel one-dimensional. One team member acknowledged she made a good point, apologized on behalf of the team, and another team member assured her they would work on being more aware and considerate. They moved on with the meeting. Working on being emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly all the time; it’s about continuous improvement through practice. The best thing Andrea’s team could have done would of course be to problem-solve the diversity recruitment challenge together, but once the mistake was made, they at least listened, could see how she felt, took accountability, apologized. and stated their effort not to repeat their mistake. Andrea’s courage to speak up, and the team’s vulnerability to own their mistake (instead of lashing back, joking it off, or withdrawing into awkward silence) are all examples of what being self-aware, socially aware, and able to self-manage can do for a team dynamic.

From Insights to Action. Just as humans aren’t perfect, Andrea’s onboarding experience was mostly good, but not perfect. The company really did value diversity and inclusion, so they had also invested in training people to develop their EQ skills. These combined efforts increased the likelihood that the project management team made early efforts to get to know Andrea, made her feel valued enough to speak up, and had the EQ skills to receive her feedback and navigate through an important moment. EQ skills don’t prevent bias, but they do give people ways to be aware in the moment, to work through uncomfortable feelings constructively, and to help foster a culture of inclusion.

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What You Can Do To Raise Your Team’s Emotional Intelligence

A team’s performance is measured most often by the things they accomplish as a group—a new product developed, a crisis managed, or a patient’s satisfaction.

Beneath each of these final outcomes, the team engages in a whole symphony of interactions, crowded with conversations, thoughts, and feelings between people. Imagine, for example, a patient in a hospital whose journey begins at the front desk, then transitions to nurses for preliminary testing and to a doctor for diagnosis (the list can quickly grow a lot bigger and more complex than this). Each of these medical professional team members interacts with the patient, and many of them will interact with each other. A team’s ability to effectively recognize, understand, and manage these interactions and their emotions toward successful outcomes is called team emotional intelligence (team EQ).

Studies have linked high team EQ to improved goal achievement, faster task completion, increased trust and group cohesion, better stress management, and stronger cross-functional collaboration.

As a team member, what amount of difference can you really make in the way the whole team interacts? The answer is quite a bit! The words you say and the actions you take greatly influence your team’s EQ. Below, we put together ten strategies tailored to the individual who wants to raise their team’s EQ:

  1. 1. Help advocate different perspectives. When your group agrees too quickly, don’t be afraid to step in with a different perspective. Say, “Well, have you thought about it this way?” This is a great way to stimulate new ideas without attacking anyone or claiming to have the answer. Even if your team sticks with their original decision, you’ve helped deepen your team’s ap
  2. 2. Help a struggling teammate. When you notice someone isn’t doing well, or doesn’t seem like their normal self, try to find a natural way to check in with them and make sure they’re okay. Say, “Hey, I noticed you were a bit quieter than normal today.” or “I noticed you have a lot to say about ____. Are you feeling okay with the changes?”

3. Say “thank you” to team members who work above and beyond. Recognition doesn’t have to come from above. In fact, team leaders aren’t always there to see when something special happens. People will appreciate you spreading the news and they’ll follow in your footsteps, creating an environment where good work gets noticed and appreciated.

4. Hold yourself accountable and apologize when you make a mistake. Work to fix it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if your mistake is complicated, or even if you’re just confused. Accountability is a powerful, positive force in a team. Why not model it?

5. Encourage quieter members to share their perspectives. Say, “I remember ___ had something interesting to say about this topic last time. Would you mind sharing your perspective with the group?”

6. Reinforce team confidence. Say, “We can do this. I know we’re capable.” Simple, positive affirmations help build a good team atmosphere.

7. When things get difficult, remind your team what they can do. Say, “That might be out of our hands, but what we can control is…” When faced with big changes or challenges, teams tend to focus on how difficult everything is. This creates stress and a negative atmosphere, which in turn can lead to poor decision-making and conflict. Toxic stewing may trigger unhealthy reactions. By re-focusing the group on what they can control, you’re steering the team toward healthy action.

8. Remind your team of the bigger picture. When your team finds themselves conflicted or unsure how to proceed, try reminding them of the original goal, where the eventual destination is, and why you got started down this path in the first place. Say, “Remember that what we’re trying to achieve is…”

9. Point out when your team seems stuck in a rut. Inevitably there will be times when your team gets caught-up on a single topic or a bad mood. By pointing out that things seem stuck, you can save everyone a lot of conflict, energy, and time. Say something like, “It feels like we’re stuck and I think we could pause here and decide tomorrow where or how to proceed without making things worse.”

10. Leverage your company connections. When your team is collaborating cross-functionally, and you know someone on the other team, offer to play a liaison role. By learning more about that team through your connection, and vice-versa, you can help kick off collaboration. Both teams will be better set to work through difficulties by understanding what the other is up against. A solid discussion between people who know each other well is a great way to proactively initiate that understanding.

From Insights to Action. Team EQ is powered by the seemingly small things each team member can contribute. Each of these strategies is intentionally simple and straight-forward in execution, yet each carries a small perspective shift that can cast a disproportionately large ripple effect on the team’s EQ.

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