Building trust: know and grow your emotional intelligence

Have you ever had a boss or a work colleague who just did not pick up on the ‘cues’ that others were giving, or realise their impact on others.

It is likely that these individuals had a few gaps in their emotional intelligence (EI).

What is emotional intelligence (EI)? Why does it matter? How do you assess it? Why it is useful to understand your EI? What can you do about? How does it impact your competency in building trust?

EI is a set of emotional and social skills that influence your behaviour. It provides a great lens into your behaviours. It includes the way you perceive and express yourself, the way you develop and maintain social relationships, and the way you cope with challenges.  It is also about how you use emotional information.

A good emotional quotient really helps makes things easier for you, both at home and at work.

Think of its impact this way: you might know many really smart people, who appear to have highish IQs, but they might not be very effective or contribute as much as others whose raw intelligence is a bit lower. Those others might have a well-developed set of emotional and social skills.

When an individual has both highish IQ and high EQ they are more likely to have the potential for senior leadership.

It is important to understand what makes up the EI skill set, and how the different attributes—particularly some highs and lows—might interact to influence individual behaviour and the ability to build trust.

Emotional Intelligence provides five lenses

Adapted from MHS Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQi)

So, what are the specific attributes that comprise EI?

1. Self-perception

Self-Perception encompasses understanding your own emotions through your self-awareness, your self-regard (confidence), and your self-actualisation (self-development). Understanding and valuing yourself is usually part of the fabric of good leaders.

2. Self-Expression

Self-expression includes assertiveness, independence and emotional expression.

Assertiveness is about how you stand up for yourself. Independence is about initiative. Emotional expression is about how you present your feelings to others.

A good level of initiative is critical for leaders. However, a combination of very high assertiveness and independence might make it harder for a person to be a real team player, as they might not consider the views of others to the extent that they should.

A reasonable level of emotional expression is also critical for leaders because it helps us to appear more authentic.

If you have been brought up not to show your feelings or be demonstrative, your appearance will show little variation. This can negatively impact how you lead others.

If you have too much, you might present to others with too much by way of extremes.

That is where your self-awareness comes in—to judge when and how to show and use your emotions effectively.

3. Interpersonal

Interpersonal includes interpersonal relationships, empathy and social responsibility. 

Skills in interpersonal relationships provide the foundation of building and sustaining relationships.

Empathy is being able to recognise, understand and appreciate how other people feel. It is about being able to articulate an understanding of another’s perspective and behaving in a way that respects the feelings of others.

Social responsibility involves acting responsibly, having a social consciousness and showing concern. A well-developed social conscience is often an indicator of the ability to collaborate well with others.

4. Decision Making

Decision making includes problem solving, reality testing and impulse control.

The problem-solving attribute can be a bit misleading as individuals often believe they are good ‘problem solvers’. In EI terms though, it is about effectively managing your emotions when solving problems; for example, separating out the personal and professional (and also articulating that to others that that is what you are doing).

Reality testing is about checking that you see things as they really are. We all know people who we might say ‘have a poor grip on reality’. That is, they might leave a meeting thinking things went well, but they were really a bit delusional about that. For those people checking that what they experienced is what others also experienced is a very useful and simple technique.

Regarding impulse control, some of us tend to react to a situation more quickly than we need to or should. Think of the time you might have replied in haste to an email, or, were too quick to assume bad intent and comment on potentially negative behaviours of others—without fully understanding their situation or the circumstances.

You might know people you would describe as ‘considered’ who will think things through before reacting. They are likely to have a higher level of impulse control than some of their peers.

5. Stress management

Stress management includes flexibility, stress tolerance and optimism. 

Flexibility is about how effectively you adapt to change, and, can provide some pointers as to how well you deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Stress tolerance is about how successfully you cope with stressful situations.

Optimism is about having a positive outlook and usually an important ingredient of effective leadership. Each of us usually appreciates experiencing a sense of hope, and to see our leaders optimistic.

Different EI attributes interact with each other

One of the most useful aspects of EI is knowing your ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ areas, how these interact and the implications for the behaviour you are likely to exhibit.

EI can shift over time and it is one of those ‘intelligences’ that you can change, develop and modify.

For example, understanding that you have a high level of stress tolerance—with concurrent low empathy—is likely to mean that you can deal personally with difficult situations, but you might not understand why others cannot do the same.

If that is also matched with lower impulse control your behaviour at times might look like ‘badgering’ to others, and in the worst instances, bullying. You are likely to ‘sound off’ at why others can’t deal with things the way you can.

Reviewing levels of assertiveness and empathy are important in any negotiating situation.

We worked with a group of 20 very senior Project Directors, who were each leading part of a major business systems implementation (in the range of $400m+ over three years). On average, as a group they had a high level of assertiveness with low levels of empathy. They wanted to just ‘get it done’, but had to bring others along with them, including members of the executive team.

Just sharing with each of them their individual EI scores and then the aggregate as a group, had a profound impact on their understanding of why they were encountering resistance.  In working with their external consulting ‘integration partner’ also they wanted to ‘win’ every encounter and negotiation, rather than really understand what their partner’s issues and pressures were.

On the other hand, where you have a combination of lower assertiveness and higher empathy, you might be tempted to ‘yield’ in any difficult negotiation. You might empathise too much with those with whom you are negotiating and not be so good at standing up for yourself or your organisation

Understanding the different elements of your EI and your natural tendencies means you can further understand your strengths and some areas for development or more conscious self-leadership. Building trust without understanding EI is very difficult.