How to put feelings to work4 min read . Updated: 15 Jul 2012, 08:39 PM IST
How to put feelings to work
How to put feelings to work
Q&A | Sebastien Henry
More often than not, it’s believed a conflict occurs because people at the workplace bring emotions into a situation; they tend to take things personally. In his book, EQ And Leadership in Asia, Sebastien Henry, a coach, shows it’s quite the opposite. He explains how emotions can actually get one out of a conflict or avoid it all together.
Practical leadership challenges, how EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) can help decipher what lies beneath the surface of everyday workplace interactions, the consequent smoother work relationships and what happens if emotions are ignored—Henry packs all this along with how-to and practical exercises in his book.
In an email interview, Henry tells us how emotions can be assets for a leader when used wisely, and obstacles when ignored. Edited excerpts:
What is emotional intelligence (EI) and what is its relevance specifically in the Asian context?
Emotional intelligence refers to how skilful we are in understanding emotions in ourselves and others, and in dealing with them in a resourceful way. Emotional intelligence was developed as a concept because of many observations and studies indicating that people with high IQ (logical intelligence) were not necessarily successful in life and in business.
Until now, there were very few books covering the topic of emotional intelligence in Asia. I thought that it was very much needed as in many cultures in Asia, it is considered wiser not to express emotions openly. Emotions then tend to stay below the surface, which makes it more difficult for leaders to apprehend them.
Yes, indeed, working with regional or global teams increases the challenge for leaders. In a context where people are not sure how their emotions will be interpreted by their leader or by other team members, they make a rational choice: shut up and keep their emotions to themselves. But emotions are messengers that carry important messages. When not expressed, they don’t just disappear. Instead, they can gain momentum below the surface, sometimes leading to explosions and conflicts later on. Leaders of cross-cultural teams need to be extra-sensitive and pay more attention to what is going on below the surface, at the emotional level, among their team members.
While writing this book, did you come across any typical Asian thought that’s relevant to the way things work in the East?
Every generalization is a simplification, but overall, I find Asian thought more at ease with paradoxes: There are fields where things are not just black or white, like in the symbol of the Tao. In this symbol, the black and white areas are closely interconnected; there is also a white dot in the black area and a black dot in the white area. Emotions are one of those fields where there is a need to be sensitive as leaders to what may look like contradictions. For example, several seemingly opposite emotions can coexist at the same moment in a particular team member (joy, sadness and frustration). Besides, none of them may be extremely rational!
Can EI be developed among people or is it a trait one is born with?
Yes, numerous studies point to the same conclusion: EI can be developed in a significant way. This is also what I have observed with my clients as well. Two words are crucial when it comes to developing EI. The first word is awareness. I would say that raising awareness of our own emotions (what is going on inside us emotionally) and of the emotions of others (what is going on in them) is the foundation. The second word is practice, as for developing any skill or quality.
There is no absolute rule, and there are certainly situations when it is better to keep emotions unexpressed in the workplace (for example, at the very moment when they are running high). But it should never be forgotten that emotions carry important messages that need to be listened to. For example, frustration towards a colleague indicates that the relationship may need to be adjusted. Without early adjustment, this frustration may grow into anger, which would be more tricky to handle.
Motivating and inspiring people is a given for leaders. Where does EI fit in this puzzle?
Well, in my experience, not so many leaders are really good at motivating people. Most employees complain that their boss is not inspiring them. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of vision, but also from the fact that leaders neglect the emotional dimension. Time is lacking, and it feels safer to stick to hard facts than to listen to seemingly messy emotions. This is where EI fits in the puzzle. Leaders can be impactful by integrating the emotional dimension. This means paying more attention to small emotional signals that will prevent more trouble from happening down the road (for example, a talented employee resigning “out of the blue", there were probably many neglected emotional signals before the decision was made).