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Empathy is the new black

How your team is feeling and why you should care

Published on
July 25, 2018

Employees are looking for more from their place of work than just a company’s reputation or a big pay-check.

What distinguishes workplaces and makes them more desirable is the culture instilled in everyday practices which address not only the physical needs but the emotional needs of employees. But everyone has a role to play, especially when working in teams where we are managing not only ourselves, but others. This is where our emotional intelligence comes in and, when managed appropriately, is critical to the success of high functioning teams.

Although some people may naturally have a higher EQ, there are tools and methods that we can incorporate into our daily habits and routines to improve our capacity for emotional intelligence, and ultimately create more successful teams.  

So what is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence goes by many definitions, but overall it’s our ability to recognise, understand, and manage emotions and social complexities in ourselves and others. It’s different to IQ and personality as it is more associated with levels of self-awareness and empathy as opposed to your ability to learn or whether you are introverted or extroverted. It’s about placing value and importance on team members being on the same page at all times, and creating a safe space for teams to have open discussions and encourage respectful dissent. And most importantly, egos are left behind.

“Group emotional intelligence is about small acts that make a big difference. It is not about a team member working all night to meet a deadline; it is about saying thank you for doing so. It is not about an in-depth discussion of ideas; it is about asking a quiet member for his thoughts. It is not about harmony, lack of tension, and all members liking each other; it is about acknowledging when harmony is false, tension is unexpressed, and treating others with respect.”– Druskat and Wolff, Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups

EQ check-in

EQ stands for emotional quotient, and essentially sums up your current emotional state into a number. This number is a reflection of several variants including how present you are feeling today, how enthusiastic you are, or just generally how you are feeling overall. When working with a group of people, there are often varying levels of emotions, energy levels and attention spans. If someone comes to a meeting distracted, stressed or low in energy, the EQ check-in provides an opportunity for that person to be honest and open, allowing their team members a chance to understand their circumstance.

The check-in can be completed at the start of every day, and only needs to take a few minutes. Everyone takes their turn to share their percentage, and back up their percentage with a short sentence explaining why. For example, Dave might say “I’m feeling about 60% - I’m excited about where we are at in the project, but I didn’t get much sleep last night so I’m feeling a little slow today.” Then the rest of the team knows to go a little easy on Dave today, and prevent any future misunderstandings.

Weekly Questionnaire

You can also take the opportunity to extend the EQ Check-in to a weekly questionnaire, allowing you to express and build upon any thoughts you’ve been having over the past week. This is best done in project teams whereby everyone has a chance to personally reflect on their week in their own time, and bring up any areas they wish to tackle at the beginning of the following week . The questionnaire can be curated in any way, shape, or form that will provide the most benefit to your team. This can also be beneficial to do on an individual level, as a way to reflect upon your overall mental health as the weeks go by, and track where your highs and lows are; what contributed to a bad day or a small win.

Some example questions:

  • How are you feeling about the project at this stage?
  • How are you feeling in general?
  • Outline the top 3 things you think we achieved this week.
  • Talk about something you found tough this week. Was it resolved?
  • Thinking about next week, what would you like to see the team get done?

Reflected best-self exercise (RBSE)

This exercise requires a little bit more attention, time, and some input from others, yet provides something concrete and tangible for individuals to identify their strengths and how this plays out in a team scenario. Studies show that people tend to focus and remember negative information more than positive, which is why people find it easier to point out their flaws as opposed to their strengths.

Identifying examples in which you have performed your best is invaluable in understanding your role and contribution and how fit in with your team (plus it’s great have handy for those job interviews). Identifying your best self doesn’t have to be about technical skills, but ways that you specifically add value or make a contribution to others and teams. It can be a way of working or a personality trait, for example. Undertaking the reflected best self-exercise will allow you to receive feedback on your strengths from those who know you best, and identify how others see you when you are performing at your best.

EQ can be an infectious trait in the workplace. By starting small, demonstrating a level of care, and utilising simple methods such as these, you can slowly build an exciting and desirable work culture with motivated and committed employees.

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