This week I’m delighted to welcome Claire Walsh, managing partner of Brighton-based management training, leadership development and business coaching providers LCP.  Check out LCP’s blog for more learning and development news – you can also find Claire on Twitter.

Emotional intelligence and dealing with stress

Leading others is a tough job and when things are not working well and you feel stressed it can become even tougher.

When a leader’s stress level is sufficiently elevated…his/her ability to fully use his/her cognitive ability and emotional intelligence in tandem to make timely and effective decisions is significantly impaired. (Thompson 2007)

Although we may like to think our decisions are based on sound judgement and facts, the reality is emotions play a big part in our working lives and significant stress can have an adverse effect on our leadership performance as a number of studies show.  For example, in a study of 62 UK leaders Thomson found stress reduced their ability to control their emotions and led to an over-sensitive, heightened state of emotion resulting in reduced listening, over-analysing and reactive, short-term decision making.

So can we reduce this effect by becoming more self-aware and understanding our emotions better?  According to Daniel Goleman (1998) we can; he argues the more accurately we can monitor our emotional upsets the sooner we are able to recover from them.  He believes that getting greater clarity around our own emotions can help us to manage our bad moods.

Other researchers agree:

The manager, who can think accurately and clearly about emotions, may often be in a better position to anticipate, cope with, and effectively manage change.” (Mayer & Caruso, 2002)

A study of 100 police officers by Clarke in 2000 found that those who could understand and manage their emotions well reported lower levels of stress.

So what is emotional intelligence and how can you improve it?

Boyatzis, Goleman & Rhee (1999) define it as:

“Emotional intelligence is observed when a person demonstrates the competencies that constitute self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills at appropriate times and ways in sufficient frequency to be effective in the situation”.

Therefore in essence, it is the ability to understand, explain and act on emotions in yourself and others, in a socially appropriate way.  This involves being aware of how your emotions and feelings are impacting on your behaviour and being able to control them suitably in different situations.  It is also about being able to identify with the emotions of others and empathise with their viewpoint even if you don’t agree with it.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned by becoming more aware of how you react to others and the impact you have on them.  There are many inventories that measure emotional intelligence and one of the best known is the Bar-On (EQ-i) which measures five scales of emotional intelligence.

So using a structured and systematic approach to understanding your personal preferences can help you identify barriers that you may not be aware of, and afford opportunities for different ways of thinking and considering your emotions, leading to different choices, actions and potentially consequences.

Developing this skill set starts with you – once you have a positive self-regard and regard for others, you can start to more consciously focus on your interactions and create positive outcomes resulting in reduced stress levels for yourself and others.

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