Director Ei4Change
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How to use emotional intelligence in VUCA situations

If the rollercoaster that was last year has taught us anything, it’s the value of emotional intelligence. In 2021, it’s up to us to use this to our advantage to tackle whatever the year has in store.

11th Jan 2021
Director Ei4Change
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When we look back at 2020 and the challenges that we faced, our memories will be driven by how the events made us feel. The year certainly gave us a greater understanding of the term VUCA – a term now widely used in business to describe situations that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

Empathy is going to be the biggest driver of success as home working and artificial intelligence continues to be more prevalent 

The year was marked by a rollercoaster of emotions. These emotions will have been vastly different for everybody, driven by the loss of loved ones, or job roles, or certain freedoms, as well as the gains of more time to spend at home, learning new things and adapting to ever-changing circumstances.

Why emotional intelligence is important

Emotional intelligence has been a vital component underpinning our adaptability and resilience during the pandemic and will continue as the decade progresses. It will become even more vital in the workplace as it evolves with further volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

The emphasis within the workplace is mainly focused on strategic decision making centered around process and quality, profitability and creating value for stakeholders. These are largely considered to be cognitive functions associated with objectivity and critical analysis – hardly an environment for emotions.

Many people still believe that emotions get in the way of productivity, but those leaders who are going to be successful in the future know that emotional intelligence makes a huge difference.

The role of emotions in organisational culture

Poor understanding of the importance and the role of emotions in business leads to organisations where inappropriate, unregulated, and suppressed emotions create toxic cultures.  

Many organisations and senior leaders want their people to be happy and strive for a pleasant culture. They fail to associate their behaviour as being a vital component necessary to achieve this. Studies have shown that the emotional climate within a company may account for as much as 30% of its performance. Furthermore, the CEO is responsible for establishing more than 50% of that.

Unfortunately, in the 2020s there remain senior executives who still are unable to recognise this. They tend to have low levels of emotional intelligence and maybe they feel threatened by any consideration of emotions.  

How attitude underpins emotional climates

One CEO is often quoted as saying, “we don’t do emotions here, we leave that to Barry Manilow”.   

This attitude is perfect for managing a workforce of robots on a production line. It fails to comprehend how people react to situations that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It, also, fails to consider and understand the importance and power of emotions in a human workforce in ever-changing situations.  

Happiness and contentment, along with many other constructive feelings of engagement underpin cultures that are highly productive, adaptable, profitable, and resilient. It is nigh on impossible for people to be happy and contented in environments driven by fear and anger, but these are the only emotions that some senior leaders understand and recognise.  

The role of empathy on the organisational climate

The emotional intelligence competency of empathy is going to be the biggest driver of success as home working and artificial intelligence continues to be more prevalent over the coming months, years, and beyond.  

Empathy is a human quality that is completely beyond the capability of artificial intelligence and, because of the complexity and plasticity of our brains, we will never be able to recreate empathy in artificial systems. Empathy involves sensing others’ feelings and perspective and taking an active interest in their concerns. People with this competence are attentive to emotional cues and listen well. They show sensitivity and help based on understanding other people’s needs and feelings.  

Having good levels of empathy drives concern for the wellbeing and happiness of others. Empathy doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their views – you just need to understand them.

Empathy promotes constructive, helpful feelings and behaviours. It also drives service orientation, leveraging diversity and political awareness.

Empathetic qualities are understood and demonstrated by the most successful people in organisations who liaise with stakeholders inside and outside of the company. Empathy is a key driver of success in sales, which of course is a fundamental function of every organisation.

Working with emotional intelligence

Fortunately, both empathy and emotional intelligence are skills that can be learnt and strengthened. Both require an investment of time and the need to start with the right attitude about recognising situations from other people’s perspectives.  

Emotional intelligence is not about catching and suppressing emotions as they begin to surface. So, it's not about hiding anger, frustration, annoyance, anxiety, fear, or any other emotion that may intensify and lead to destructive behaviour. It's about empathising, raising the issue and recognising that the emotions contain some vital information to address. It most certainly is not trying to suppress anger with your own anger, no matter what your own reaction is to events.  

Emotional intelligence at work is not about being nice. It’s about bringing emotions to the surface using the active awareness and the empathy that flows from understanding the emotional climate and using them in a way that can drive situations forward.

In this way, both your cognitive and emotional intelligence can work together to help you make quality decisions, while building authentic relationships.

Interested in this topic? Read The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

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Mac Macdonald - open necked shirt
By Mac Macdonald
14th Jan 2021 13:07

A great read Robin and I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on EI and Org culture and leadership responsibilities re empathy.

We constantly push the same thinking by asking people to adopt our Moccasin Approach, to see things from the shoes of the other person or people. As you say, "empathy is going to be the biggest driver of success as home working and artificial intelligence continues to be more prevalent over the coming months, years, and beyond." Spot on!

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