Use your Emotional Intelligence to Guide your Team Through Change

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts”.

Arnold Bennett

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is not new. It has been part of the human psyche since humans began to interact with each other, several million years ago. But it is only in the last 80 years that we have begun to recognize it, understand it, and learn how to use it in our business and personal lives.

In the 1930s, the ability to get along with other people was for the first time dubbed ‘social intelligence’. During the following two decades, psychologists suggested that affective components of intelligence may be essential to success in life, and that people are actually able to build their emotional strengths.

In 1990 two professors of psychology, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, published their landmark article, which confirmed a place for Emotional Intelligence (EI) in the world of business and personal psychology. They defined EI as “... the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions (Salovey and Mayer 189)”.

The four branches of EI according to Salovey and Mayer are:

  • Perceiving emotions
  • Reasoning with emotions
  • Understanding emotions
  • Managing emotions 

EI is not something that you have to acquire.  Everybody has it – what we have to do is learn how to make the best use of it. 

How can you use EI at work?

As a leader, your biggest challenge is to work well with the members of your team – and to get them to work well with each other.  And for this EI is your most important tool. Understand your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, and you will be able to recognize and deal with your team’s reactions to the challenges they face.

There are 5 main ways in which EI can help you at work:

1. Knowledge of your own emotions

Begin by getting up to speed with your own developmental homework. The better you know yourself, the better position you will be in to guide others.

You can’t take anyone further than you’ve travelled yourself!

To be an effective resource to others in their individual development in their career and their job role, you first need to be aware of your own behaviour. Using your EI you can understand the emotional impulse behind your actions and decisions; you can learn how you will react in the various situations that you are faced with, and recognise the emotion that you are experiencing in each moment.

Hold up a mirror to yourself, and don’t look away, but dare to state clearly what you see.

There’s an old saying that goes, “We don’t see the world as it is; we see it as we are”. You’ll never be able to see what’s really going on in the present if your emotions and patterns of behaviour remain stuck in the past, with your eyes staring at an unchanging inner landscape. 

2. The regulation of emotions

Learn to control reactions such as fear, sadness or irritation. Succumbing to negative emotions leaves you constantly fighting against feelings of distress – and wasting your valuable emotional energy. Keep on top of your emotions, know how to calm yourself when necessary, how to look beyond the moment towards your next challenges, and you will quickly bounce back and move ahead.

Learn to live in the moment and shed the shadows of previous emotions which hang over you. Personal authenticity is all about experiencing each event in life in the light of present reality, instead of through the distorting mirrors of the past.

This attitude will help you as a leader to give feedback to people with whom you had a conflict in the past or when giving developmental feedback to ‘an old friend’.

Emotional Intelligence helps to clear your mind and look at things in a non-judgemental way. 

3. Self-Motivation

Motivation bears fruit in terms of a successful life – and research among Olympic athletes, world-renowned musicians and chess masters shows that they all have the ability to motivate themselves to practice endlessly.

Even negative emotions can work in a positive way for you!

How do you react when you have to deal with fear? People who focus on their anxiety are most likely to fail. On the other hand, people who can master their emotions can use anticipatory fear to motivate themselves; they prepare well and perform even better. 

4. Recognizing others' emotions - empathy

Empathy develops from self-knowledge; the more we are open to our own emotions, the better we can interpret other people's feelings.  People who are empathetic have an instinctive eye for the subtle social signals that indicate what others need or want, what they are thinking and how they are reacting.

5. Dealing with relationships

The art of handling relationships comes largely from the ability to recognize and regulate emotions in others. Emotions are contagious.

At each meeting we are continually sending emotional signals; and these signals have an impact on the people around us. The more proficient we are at the social level, the better we emit signals that we control. Using our Emotional Intelligence, we can regulate this exchange. "Popular" and "charming" are terms we use for people we love to have around us because their emotional skills make us feel good.

How emotionally involved people feel during a meeting can be seen from the harmony of their physical movements while talking with each other. One nods at the precise moment that the other points out his opinion; both shift simultaneously in their chairs: if one leans back, the other leans forward.

Using your Emotional Intelligence to guide your team through change

People are often quite uncomfortable with change, for all sorts of understandable reasons. This can lead them to resist it and oppose it.

This is why it's important to understand how people are feeling as change proceeds, so that you can guide them through it and so that – in the end – they can accept it and support it.

The following ‘Transition Model’ was created by change consultant, William Bridges, and was published in his 1991 book "Managing Transitions."

The main strength of the model is that it focuses on transition, not change. The difference between these is subtle but important.  

Change is something that happens to people, even if they don't agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it's what happens in people's minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.

The model highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they experience change. These are:

1.  Ending, Losing, and Letting Go

2.  The Neutral Zone

3.  The New Beginning

Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go

People enter this initial stage of transition when you first present them with change. This stage is often marked with resistance and emotional upheaval, because people are being forced to let go of something that they have been comfortable with.

Using your EI to Guide People through Stage One

Allow your people the time to accept the change and to let go, and try to get everyone to talk about what they're feeling. In these conversations, make sure that you listen empathically and communicate openly about what's going to happen.

Make sure you have thought about what’s going to happen to the person you are talking to. No change will affect everybody in the same way – and each person is only interested in how it will affect him. Focus your conversation on his particular situation. If necessary, spend some time yourself beforehand focusing on what is different for each of your team members, and in what way each of them is likely to react. What is the biggest issue for them? Is it the change in their daily routine? Is it having to work in a different part of the building? Or are they apprehensive about having to work more closely with colleagues they don’t know very well?

Use your EI to “read” their reaction and feelings, and to guide them along the path that will give them the least discomfort.

Help them to look ahead, so they can visualize their place in the new situation. Emphasize how they will be able to apply their skills, experience, and knowledge once you've implemented the change. Talk about new projects they will be involved in – projects that you know they will enjoy.

Stage 2: The Neutral Zone

Think of this phase as the bridge between the old and the new; in some ways, people will still be attached to the old, while they are also trying to adapt to the new.

Using your EI to Guide People through Stage Two

Your guidance is incredibly important as people go through this neutral period. This can be an uncomfortable time, because it can seem unproductive, and it can seem that little progress is being made.

Meet with your people frequently to give feedback on how they're performing, especially with regard to change. Set short-term goals during this stage, so that people can experience some quick wins.

Don’t expect everyone to share your enthusiasm.  You can carry the majority of your team by your positive momentum. But look carefully for the one or two who are not on board – they will hold up the whole ship!

Be patient. Don’t expect it all to happen too quickly.  Give people time to get used to the new things. Some people will transition faster than others, and some will want to hang on to the old ways longer than others. Be prepared to adapt your time planning – sometimes it won’t do any harm to let the old processes stay in place a little bit longer than planned.

But at the same time, it is important to know when to use your leadership skills to impose the change.  There is a right time and a right way to say “Ok, that’s enough. Sorry if you don’t like it. This is the way we’re going… get on board!”

One person with a negative attitude can wreck a whole department.

Stage 3: The New Beginning

The last transition stage is a time of acceptance and energy. People have begun to embrace the change initiative. They're building the skills they need to work successfully in the new way, and they're starting to see early wins from their efforts.

Using your EI to Guide People through Stage Three

As people begin to adopt the change, it's essential that you help them sustain it. Use techniques like Management by Objectives to link people's personal goals to the long-term objectives of the organization, and regularly highlight success stories brought about by the change.

Take time to celebrate the change you've all gone through, and reward your team for all their hard work. 

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Frederick Douglass  

Diana Vanbrabant is a certified TEI (Traits of Emotional Intelligence) Executive Coach and works with companies all over Europe to improve the performance of their managers and teams.

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