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Coach Employees to Strengthen their Emotional Intelligence

Not every employee who joins the organization has strong emotional intelligence. Some employees tend to be reactive and don’t handle stress or conflict well. They are easily “triggered” by others and may not collaborate or communicate in the best way.

Writing up an employee under a Performance Improvement Plan is not the best way to handle low emotional intelligence. Rather, you need to coach employees to understand why emotional intelligence matters and how to recognize their own weaknesses in responding and interacting with others in an emotionally intelligence manner.

Let me share a client story. One of Abudi Consulting Group’s clients, a large global retail organization, has an employee (who we will call ‘Jack’) that, overall does well achieving his goals and completing complex projects. However, he doesn’t interact well with others. In particular, he is very reactive, especially when he is under stress or feels challenged by someone. As a recent example, Jack needed to get some data from someone in the human resources (HR) group for his project. He requested the information via email on a Monday morning. On Monday afternoon, an HR employee reached out and said she was unsure of exactly what he was looking for and asked if they could meet (they are in the same office.)  Jack’s response was less than professional and quite emotional. He responded that he sent the email in the morning and expected an immediate response to his needs. He also questioned whether the HR employee was actually working or just “goofed off” all morning. He then angrily told her he would not meet with her and to get him what he needed immediately.

This is a typical response from Jack when he feel pressured, under stress or when someone asks a clarifying question or offers ideas. As another example, on another initiative on which he was a sub-lead, he berated a peer who was working with him for “not working fast enough” on a task and making Jack “look bad.”

While there are many situations where employees may “get away with poor behavior” because they perform well; this has an impact on other employees as well as the organization as a whole. Simply hoping an employee will “figure it out” is not a strategy. Over time, that poor behavior will override the “good” work the employee may otherwise be doing.

In order to address behavior that reflects low emotional intelligence, it is important to understand what is important to the individual and show them how what they want to achieve it not achievable if they don’t change how they interact with others.

Let’s go back to the client story.

Jack is focused on moving into a leadership role in the organization. In fact, there is a supervisory role opening up in another division that Jack wants to apply for.  This is a leverage point for Jack’s manager. What’s is important to Jack is moving into a leadership role; but in an organization that values collaboration, teamwork and communication effectiveness, it is highly unlikely that Jack would be entertained as a candidate for such a role. Therefore, the manager can use this as an example of how to get Jack to what he wants, with a focus on why his emotional intelligence matters.

When coaching an employee on emotional intelligence, focus on why strong emotional intelligence will help them achieve their goals in the organization and beyond. If an employee cannot recognize the value of emotional intelligence, it is difficult to coach them to improve. However, we have found that if you link back to how their lack of emotional intelligence is impeding them/will impede them in achieving their goals, you are more likely to get them to see the value and to focus on strengthening their emotional intelligence.

Begin first by getting the employee to recognize (self-awareness) that they are not always acting appropriately. Whether that means they lash out at others when stressed, anger quickly, or react in a negative way; it is important for the employee to be self-aware. Once they have achieved self-awareness, then they can focus on self-management. To self-manage, an employee must recognize their triggers and how those triggers manifest themselves to create strong emotions (e.g., feel themselves heating up.)

Then, the employee can move on to learning how to recognize the emotions of others. When we recognize others’ emotions, we can more easily manage those emotions. What this means is that if I know someone is not having a good day, it is not the best time to ask for something from that person or to have a difficult conversation with them. Similarly, when I get to recognize the emotions of others, I know when how I am communicating may not be in the best way and am therefore able to change my communication in order to better meet their needs (and achieve my goals.)

In Summary… Coaching an employee to improve/strengthen his/her emotional intelligence is not easy! It requires them to accept in the first place that they have emotional reactions to everything that happens to and around them and that they may not always react positively or emotionally intelligence in all situations (self-awareness.) For some employees, they “see” this in themselves and want to improve. For those who are more challenging to get to recognize that they need to strengthen their emotional intelligence, a focus on why it matters to them individually helps. When we can link back how an employee may not achieve the goals he/she wants to achieve unless they strengthen their emotional intelligence, they are more likely to understand the value of strong emotional intelligence and commit to improvement.

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