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 https://www.talentsmart.com/contact-us/

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.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

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.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

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.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

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.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

The Empathy Switch: How to Turn It On When You Don’t Feel Like It.

What makes our empathy wane and what to do about it.

In last week’s blog, we discussed how emotions can switch off our empathy for people around us, causing us to say or do things that go against our values and beliefs. We may do things like yell at a customer service rep when mad about our stolen credit card, curse at the umpire or pitcher when angry at ourselves for striking out, or neglect to stop to help someone when feeling rushed and late for a meeting. In these moments, we operate as though we are the only important player. Anyone else in front of us is to be blamed or ignored because we’re in a self-involved state of mind. You don’t matter. Only I matter right now.

Martin Buber, the philosopher and author of Ich and Du (I and You), describes this type of interaction between people as an “I-It” interaction. Whether briefly due to a mood, or intentionally due to a belief system, one person treats the other person as an object, something to be ignored (not seen), used, blamed or attacked. Through an “I-It” lens, our state of mind makes us more likely to engage in words or actions ranging from inconsiderate to harmful.

Empathy, on the other hand, is an “I-You” state of mind. Empathic thinking sounds like this, “If I do __, it will affect you in __ way.” You matter just as much as I matter. I notice how you feel and I care to do something helpful. Without empathy we erode our connections and relationships. With empathy we address each other’s pain, resolve conflicts, and build a feeling of community.  Empathy is our North Star when our state of mind erodes our connection to others. 

Here are the strategies that will help you switch your empathy back on when emotions or thoughts start to dim your regard for the person next to you.

World of Your Own Empathy Erosion: Strong emotions like stress, anger, or anxiety consume us. To avoid going blind or numb to people, here’s what you can do:

Strategy 1: Observe the ripple effect from your emotions. We all react differently when our emotions overwhelm us. Some people clam up in response, while others lash out. Some people work tirelessly toward fixing their problem, while others take time to reflect. Whatever the tendency, it has the potential to hijack our empathy if we’re unaware. Learning tendencies is the first step toward managing them (i.e., people who clam up may need to learn to force themselves to speak, and people who lash out may need to learn to breathe for ten seconds and give over the floor to other people.)

Strategy 2: Cut “catch phrase empathy.” “Maybe it’s better this way” and “At least it wasn’t worse” are little more than catch phrases used to avoid real acknowledgement. Under a veil of “well-wishing,” catch phrases are an example of how world of your own empathy erosion can become a workplace norm. Instead of using catch phrases as a crutch, try to be present, listen deeply, and thank them for sharing something so important.

Strategy 3: Note your circumstance. Just as our natural tendencies can cause us to treat someone badly, so too can our circumstances. One common example of this is being in a position of power, which studies show lessens our ability to empathize with others. Similarly, alcohol not only makes us less empathetic, but also makes our empathy less accurate.

Corrosive Emotions: Corrosive emotions like contempt and disgust seep into our thoughts over time. To avoid letting these emotions toward a person dictate your actions, here’s what you can do.

Strategy 1: Walk in their shoes. At its simplest this strategy can mean envisioning how someone we hold strong feelings against goes through their day or their life. At its most challenging this can be like George Orwell who intentionally lived homeless to learn what it felt like before writing his experience in the memoir Down and out in Paris and London. The most efficient way to step into someone’s shoes is usually something between the two extremes: long conversations. Stories of a person’s life help us to piece together who they are, what they feel, and why they act the way they do.

Strategy 2: Be open and vulnerable. To flip a negative relationship on its head, try flipping the entire approach. The last person we typically open up to is the person we dislike, but when we do, it can be surprising how they react. While we may fear that radical vulnerability and openness will make us look weak and inadequate, studies show that people actually see vulnerability as “desirable” and “good.” Vulnerability breaks down the “I-It” perspective by forcing us to communicate on a human-to-human level.

Strategy 3: Intentionally empathize with enemies. “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” -Abraham Lincoln

By seeking out the people we harbor long-term negative emotions toward and getting to know them better, we can proactively break down those long-term emotions like contempt and disgust. One profound example of someone who mastered this is Daryl Davis, a Black blues musician who has intentionally been attending KKK meetings for thirty years. He spends his time befriending members and has personally convinced over 200 members to resign. He’s done this by sitting down to have dinner with individual Klan members and having deep conversations with them.

From Insights to Action. In a Princeton study, Betsy Levy Paluck successfully led anti-bullying campaigns at middle schools. To accomplish this, she and her colleagues found that the most successful approach was to assign specific students to hold their peers accountable for bullying. The reason this worked so well is that groups operate first and foremost on norms. When we see other people act in a certain way, we’re much more likely to follow their lead than we are if, for instance, a principal walks around threatening punishment for bullying. By modeling empathy and practicing mindful empathy strategies, each of us can begin to successfully shift old team norms and mold organization cultures the same way individual kids were able to successfully reduce bullying at their schools.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

Two Important Ways Emotions Can Erode Empathy

Empathy is so essential to how we interact as people that even brief lapses can be hurtful to the people we work with and live with in our communities. Last year one of our training participants shared an all too familiar hectic workday story that illustrates what we mean by a brief lapse of empathy.

Liam (at least that’s what we’ll call him), woke up to an emergency call from the office in another time zone about an upset client. He didn’t have time for breakfast and boarded the train at six thirty still preoccupied on his phone. He sat down in the last available seat. An elderly man carrying a cane boarded the train just after Liam and had to stand right beside Liam’s seat. Liam noticed but didn’t offer his seat, too engrossed in his conversation about mitigating the crisis. At the next stop, the elderly man lost his grip on the pole and would have fallen if not for a woman nearby who caught him.

Liam received several pointed glares and turned bright red seeing this play out. Now he felt completely guilty. His inconsiderate state of mind almost caused a serious accident. He knew he could have taken his call standing up, but in the moment, he chose not to. He had acted as an uncivil stranger rather than the civil commuter he liked to think he was, and it was too late now to correct himself. Why did he do that?

Liam’s example is something we can all admit to at times. His feeling of being rushed and work-absorbed temporarily eroded his empathy. According to psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen in his book The Science of Evil, empathy requires us to “suspend our single-minded focus of attention and adopt a double-minded focus of attention” to include our own feelings and interests as well as those of the people around us. Both recognition and response are needed to be empathetic. Baron-Cohen goes further to say that mild empathy erosion can lead to cruelty when people turn other people into objects in their mind.He explains that this objectification of any person is one of the most hurtful things we can do to another human being, to ignore their thoughts, needs, and feelings.

Emotions can erode our empathy to both a mild and a severe extent:

  1. In a World Of Your Own State of Mind

Instead of seeing the elderly man as a person who needed the seat more than he did, Liam saw a distraction from his priority—to solve his client emergency. Liam was completely absorbed in his own world, and his goal took precedence over the people around him. Other examples of “world of your own state of mind” include yelling at a telemarketer on the phone for interrupting your dinner, flipping off another driver for a mistake, or yelling at a colleague for messing up and making you miss your kid’s soccer game. Most often, this first type of empathy erosion is a moment’s deviation, the result of temporary anger toward or attention away from someone getting in the way of your goal.

2. Corrosive Emotions

The second kind of empathy erosion builds over a period of time and is the result of corrosive emotions like bitter resentment, contempt, and disgust. Dr. David Motsumoto a researcher of emotions from San Francisco State University warns us of the volatile combination of contempt “an emotion of superiority” and disgust, “an emotion of contamination.” These emotions, and the attitudes they feed, erode empathy levels to zero. If ignored and unmanaged, they create the mindset and conditions for treating someone as an object to harm, hold back, use for personal gain, or make unhappy. An example in the workplace could be a boss who intentionally excludes a capable employee from opportunities out of personal detest or jealousy, or a competitive coworker trying to make their rival look bad for personal gain.

From Insights to Action. It’s important to understand the potential we all have for acts of short-term and long-term cruelty. We are human and the emotional center in each of our brains works similarly.By discovering that your frame of mind and negative emotions can derail your empathy for people around you, you can begin to watch yourself and work to take proactive steps to avoid empathy erosion. You can also recognize when someone else is in a world of their own, so you can steer clear, defend yourself, or step in to protect another in their path.

Tune in next week for the second article in TalentSmart’s series on empathy. Next week we cover emotional intelligence (EQ) strategies for acting more empathetically.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

Understanding Self-Awareness Inside and Out

In a deck of tarot cards, one card shows a collapsing tower. The collapsing tower represents the danger of building something on a false premise. No matter how much work we put into something—a relationship, a company, an idea—it’s inevitably going to come crashing down if the work was built on a flimsy foundation. When you build your emotional intelligence, the essential foundation is self-awareness.

Self-awareness is your ability to recognize and understand your emotions as they happen and to know your general tendencies for responding to different people and situations. People who test highly in self-awareness build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively, work more creatively and productively, are better decision-makers, and are overall more confident.

Perhaps the best thing about self-awareness is that it’s a learnable skill you can improve with practice. To help get you started, let’s take a close look at two sides of self-awareness: Internal and External, followed by two self-awareness strategies from Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Internal Self-Awareness

What it is: The internal side of self-awareness is our ability to recognize and understand the things that make us tick—our values, beliefs, goals, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. These drive how we feel. and why we feel that way.

Internal self-awareness in action: When Alexa von Tobel set out to start her business LearnVest, she was terrified by all the things that could go wrong. To quell her fears, she began to put together a written plan, and the writing deepened and expanded. By the time she was done, the plan was 75 pages. The interesting thing is not so much the business projections or the plan itself, but the core beliefs she had at the time about who she was and what she was seeking, and the way she still uses the plan. Now, whenever she finds herself stuck on a decision, lacking for motivation, or confused, she turns to that section of her plan as her self-guiding light, her foundation.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #11: Visit Your Values. Spend some time reflecting on the things that are deeply important to who you are, your core beliefs, and write them down. Your list doesn’t need to be a seventy-five-page manifesto. A short list of core ideas is often enough. Next time you’re faced with a tough decision or difficult time, pull out your list and use it to guide your next decision the same way von Tobel does. We tend to assume we draw on our core values or beliefs when faced with tough decisions, but in reality, we find ourselves reacting on a whim. By getting something written, you give yourself a place to go look, to slow down and visit your values more often.

External Self-Awareness

What it is: External self-awareness is our ability to see how other people experience us. This can be a tricky element of self-awareness because it means understanding how you actually come across to others (not just how you think you do).

External Self-Awareness in action: In a recent leadership study based on in-depth interviews with 125 leaders, the authors set out to learn how leaders develop over the course of their careers. One leader sticks out as a perfect example of the importance of the external side of self-awareness. David Pottruck began his career at Charles Schwab as the head of marketing. Being new, he convinced himself that he had to work as hard as possible to impress the people around him. He put in countless hours and held high expectations of the people around him. One day, Pottruck’s boss pulled him into his office and explained to him that other employees didn’t like him. They resented how he approached his hard work, didn’t trust him, and felt intimidated. All of this was going on, while in Pottruck’s mind he was winning them over through hard work. The feedback from his boss was that critical insight he needed to mold the way he balanced his work intensity with his approach with people. He went on to become the CEO.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #14: Seek feedback. Asking for feedback directly is one of the best ways to get honest opinions about your work and the way you come across to the people around you. Prepare yourself with specific questions for areas you can improve. When it stings, try your best not to be defensive or to deny any of the feedback offered. Pottruck could have easily turned on his boss and blamed his team saying they just weren’t willing to work as hard as he was, but instead he actually took the time to understand their experience, what his boss was saying, and to grow from it.

From Insights to Action. The challenge with self-awareness is that most everyone feels like they already are self-aware, but we all have major blind spots like Pottruck’s, or we forget to look deep inside, as Alexa Von Tobel does. Denial and frustration can be enemies to growing self-awareness, which requires admitting your shortcomings and living your values, both big and small. As you set out to learn about yourself, inside and out, make sure you do so openly and with self-compassion.

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