Why empathy is more effective than anger in the office3 min read . Updated: 05 Jun 2019, 08:15 PM IST
A rush of negative emotions like anger, envy and frustration not only dissipates energy, but also damages relationships and takes a toll on physical well being
The delivery head of an IT company turned pale when she learnt that a critical application of the company’s most prestigious client had come to a halt. She tried to pacify the client by promising immediate action. Seething with anger, she sent for the manager supervising the application and gave him a piece of her mind. He tried to offer an explanation but she would hear none of it. She had had enough of his negligence, inefficiency and mismanagement. Tempers ran high and an ugly slinging match played out. The manager marched out of the room stressed, disgusted and exasperated.
Such workplace scenarios are not uncommon. A rush of negative emotions like anger, envy and frustration, by diminishing ones cognitive ability and decision-making power, not only dissipates energy, but also damages relationships and takes a toll on physical well being.
In his 1996 bestseller Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman described emotional intelligence as the ability to accurately perceive and manage your own emotions and understand and navigate those of others, thus enhancing your ability to influence, manage conflicts, lead others and build relationships.
“Whereas intelligence quotient is very hard to change, emotional quotient can increase with deliberate practice and training" writes Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of Business Psychology at University College London and Columbia University in a Harvard Business Review article titled Can you really improve your EI?.
Let’s see how the above scenario could have played out with greater emotional intelligence. The delivery head sensed her anger flaring up (self-awareness) as the client broke the bad news. She closed her eyes and took a few long, deep breaths. The extra dash of oxygen instilled an instant sense of calm (self-management).
She realized that there were two issues at hand—first, to get the client’s application running and second, address the manager’s lack of performance. She decided to delink the two. She sent for the manager and explained the situation. They had a productive discussion and worked out a strategy to get the application on its feet.
Once that was accomplished, she called another meeting to share her concerns about his performance. She took care to be objective and non-judgmental, knowing very well that any other approach could provoke an unnecessary argument (social awareness). The conversation concluded with the manager committing to address developmental areas (relationship management).
Emotional intelligence stands on the four pillars of self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management.
Ajit Menon, a service delivery manager at Mumbai-based talent assessment and development company, TalentMetrics, shares a personal anecdote: “I used to have frequent arguments with my boss, who is also my elder brother. These would degenerate into fights as we are both extremely driven and hold strong views. It was hampering work and taking a toll on our relationship."
When Menon started introspecting, he felt his brother did not trust him, which hurt his ego. “But looking at it from his perspective, I understood that he was under a great deal of stress. Perhaps he felt I was new in the system, and that I was throwing my weight around, instead of trying to learn," he adds.
He consciously started identifying his emotional triggers and exercising restraint. “Introspection, empathy, and consciously taking a pause before reacting helped me turn things around, not just with my brother, but with other stakeholders as well," he says.
When Anil Parab, executive vice-president, heavy engineering, Larsen & Toubro, was tasked with turning around a unit going through a bad patch, his priority was to address the insecurity and concerns of the employees.
“Keeping my own misgivings in check by maintaining a positive attitude, I addressed around 1,500 officers and 2,000 workmen over three months. I met them in small groups, listening, empathizing and responding to queries with utmost transparency. I apprised them of the adverse market conditions and our future plans and attempted to dispel their anxiety by expressing confidence in their ability and appealing for support. This interaction, coupled with some concrete steps on the technology front, helped stage a turnaround," he says.
This empathetic approach in understanding the employees’ concerns and insecurities and addressing them through proactive communication is a manifestation of emotional intelligence.
“A person who has the self awareness to recognize prejudices and the self-regulation to rise above them would be able to develop cordial relationships with anyone. Such a person would be equally comfortable relating to a vegetable vendor or a boardroom colleague," says Raj Bowen, managing partner at EMA Decision Dynamics, a global provider of solutions for leadership and talent management. “I would put such a person in the upper echelons of emotional intelligence."
Charu Sabnavis is a coach, an organizational development facilitator and founder director of Delta Learning.