Why emotional intelligence matters for hybrid workplaces

Leaders can follow four-part process involving self-awareness, compassion, connection

Why emotional intelligence matters for hybrid workplaces

As workers move back to the office and the hybrid model becomes more prevalent, successful leaders will have to learn or improve the skill of emotional intelligence, says one workplace expert.

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately read and manage one’s own emotions and other people’s emotions,” says Latha Poonamallee, associate professor of management and social innovation and chair of management programs at the New School in New York. “That requires the ability to be self-aware but also the ability for empathy, which is to read other people’s emotions and understand other people’s motivations and to develop a certain kind of understanding and connection with others.”

With the world still “in a collective trauma, leaders will have to first recognize this and be ready to comfort employees with empathy and understanding, says Poonamallee.

And the old ways of managing will have to change as more workers remain at home, at least part of the time, she says.

“Managers and leaders have to learn to trust. Thirty years back, there was this style of management called management by walking around. Basically, you wander around the shop floor or office, and surprise, it keeps everybody on their toes. Now, you’ve got to learn to manage performance differently.”

4 methods to empathy

By employing four methods to practice that new type of empathetic leadership, managers can help workers adapt and thrive in the new post-pandemic world, says Poonamallee.

The first one is self-awareness, she says, because it “the ability to understand our own reactions [which] helps us actually understand other people because the only real experiential tool we have to understand other people’s emotions is our own emotions.”

This helps to empathize with colleagues and underlings, says Poonamallee. “Self-awareness is not just crucial for understanding our own selves, and therefore regulating our own emotional reactivity but also understanding that other people have emotions, and react to some things differently.”

Using mindfulness techniques, or even writing in a daily journal, are excellent ways to help develop that awareness, according to Poonamallee.

Compassion and acceptance are also key to remember as a guiding principle for new-style managers, says Poonamallee, especially when an employee acts differently one day.

“It is just understanding that maybe they had a bad day, maybe they had a difficult time, which means how we approach them to set boundaries will be with some kindness,” she says.

Latha Poonamallee

“Maybe her showing up 10 minutes late to meetings does not indicate disrespect; it could be any of those things that we tend to misinterpret, versus taking a more benevolent stance because then that becomes more positive.”

The next step on the journey is establishing connections, which many employees are craving, says Poonamallee.

“Even in the most individualistic North American cultures, people have suffered in this pandemics from being cut off from their routine [and] people. For some of the most introverted and self-categorized loners, my colleagues, they’re the ones that want to do face-time because they actually miss people.”

Leaders would do well to remember this aspect, and reach out to people, she says.

“Sometimes the connection is just the coffee person that we see every morning and he knows your coffee order. Sometimes the connection is just a colleague that we see and maybe say, ‘How are you doing? How was the weekend?’ It does not necessarily mean all these connections have to be super close or intimate but the human connection makes a whole social world and that becomes really, really important.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is remembering to celebrate joy at work, says Poonamallee.

“We need to take some visceral pleasure in something, whether it’s connecting with our friends or having a laugh at work because when we come to work, we also laugh. It’s not always nine to five serious but just the regular, everyday, funny things because you have inside jokes. Interaction breeds communities.”

As some businesses struggle mightily to survive, remembering to keep things light will help all workers survive, she says.

“Organizations are struggling with a lot of logistical things but at the same time, given how difficult all this is, [it’s important] to have some pleasures and cultivating some joy and kind of capturing those moments. Nobody ever thought these are important leadership skills: create joy for people.”

Canadian HR Reporter recently spoke with experts to find out about 10 ways to improve culture in a hybrid office, while we also looked at how to better engage employees in that type of workplace.

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