A reach out last month from Samantha was a jolting reminder that I had not connected with her since the pandemic began. “Sam” was one of my first applicants when I became a staff recruiter at Abel Personnel, both of us about five years since college graduation. I’ve placed her three times over the years (I understand that a predecessor of mine placed Sam’s mother a few times, too). Residing in the same city and being in a similar demographic, I frequently run into Sam at business networking events or favorite dining establishments. This connection has grown as Sam is in touch with me when she senses that she must move on to another company to advance her career, or needs career advice even though she’s very satisfied with her current employer. The phone call this time was more the latter. Her question, “I think I’m flunking my emotional intelligence exam; what can I do to bring up my score?”
As described by Indeed, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage emotions effectively. Emotional intelligence in the workplace can provide significant benefits and further develop your career, in addition to creating better relationships and promoting a positive work environment. The five components of emotional intelligence at work are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.” In the past several years, hiring managers have more often asked me about a candidate’s “EQ” (emotional quotient) before agreeing to have me schedule an interview. This more likely happens for supervisory positions, but sometimes on customer service openings. The ability to control one’s emotions as well as empathize with others is certainly key in both those jobs.
As I started extracting more information through some targeted questions, the picture emerged: Sam’s talent for reading body language and picking up voice tone and nonverbal clues made her an effective colleague within her company and a responsive resource to its customers. Those skills dissipated once most of her interactions were over the phone or on Zoom. At the same time, Sam was feeling more anxious about all the work and home issues emerging from the pandemic. She caught herself being a little too caustic in some of her interactions and shooting off some emails that she later regretted. Sam’s apologies afterward were met with understanding, but Sam was frustrated by her behavior. “This is not who I am,” she insisted.
As we discussed how to leverage the hybrid workplace to enhance emotional intelligence, Sam and I identified the following tactics that might increase her “score:”
- Be Face-to-Face: While most real-time connections need to be virtual, try to promote video conferencing. That includes insisting or cajoling those present to show their face rather than a flattering photo of themselves. This may require dressing down a bit, so those who elect to work in sweats from home do not feel embarrassed by being underdressed. As neat as some of those virtual backgrounds have become, showing how you live (including your cat curled up sleeping on the couch behind you), will increase everyone’s comfort that we’re all working from home in unusual circumstances. Finally, dismiss the taboo of eating while you’re conferencing, another excuse for turning off a video feed. Together, these practices keep all attendees in the moment, which enhances motivation in addressing the work at hand.
- Check-In Intermittently: No longer able to walk around an office, causal encounters aren’t happening. A simple video call with those with whom you’d typically stop and chat is a good replacement. Don’t fall into a pattern (“Debbie always seems to call me around 9:30 on Friday mornings”) and make the call strictly about how they’re doing. Convey your empathy, focus on what’s happening with them without needing to share your life concerns unless they ask. If they want to bring up work-related topics, that’s fine. And make sure you thank each employee on these calls for the work they are doing, the way you might do when you’d pass them in an aisleway at the office.
- Unemotional Emails Only: The best employment of emotional intelligence relies on steady feedback between participants. Email does not offer that immediate feedback, videoconferencing does. Once you’ve written an email, go back and check to see whether you include any sharing of your feelings. If someone is available who knows nothing of what you are writing, have them do the “emotion check.” If there is not a great deal of urgency to send the email, set the email aside and revisit it later, preferably the next morning, when you might be feeling calmer. To self-regulate emotions, one colleague was in the practice of writing an email about what she’d like to say, and then a second email about what she should say. The email sent was usually the latter or a hybrid of the two, but she happily admitted how much she enjoyed writing that first email! This is not to say that you should be emotional in your face-to-face interactions; quite the opposite. It’s vital to express your emotions in direct conversations, which essentially gives whomever you are talking to permission to share their emotions as well.
- Commute Replacement: As much as you might have once griped about commuting to and from work, those minutes in transit served to help to put you in a proper mindset ahead of your day, and to wind down on your way home. Virtual work has relieved you of that tedium but robbed you of that opportunity to be self-aware of your emotions and emotional triggers. While many may not shuffle directly from bedside to computer screen (and vice versa), building in time before work and just after work for mental processing can increase emotional intelligence. This could be as simple as working out or going for a walk or reading a chapter of a novel.
- Support Group: If you don’t already have one in place, gather a diverse group of your friends and/or out-of-company colleagues to act as each other’s sounding boards as you hone the social skills required for virtual and hybrid working environments. Aside from checking email for emotional content, this group can help you to plan out and rehearse what you want to say by video, including the shoulders-up body language to better communicate your feelings (practice in front of a mirror helps too!).
Functioning as a career counselor is a facet of being an Abel Personnel recruiter that we each especially enjoy. This “free” service benefits both the applicant seeking career guidance and our client companies when a valued employee who is about to resign can be offered an outsider’s perspective and tools to renew their commitment to a great job and employer.
- Indeed, “The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace,” November 5, 2021.
- EI Experience, “How to Engage Your Virtual Team Using Emotional Intelligence.”