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Being “Nice” isn’t Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, According to Leadership Expert Daniel Goleman

Contrary to popular belief, being “nice” isn’t really a hallmark of an emotionally intelligent leader—of course, you can be nice and emotionally intelligent at the same time, but niceness isn’t what differentiates an emotionally intelligent leader from an average one.

Daniel Goleman, the lead researcher on emotional intelligence in the workplace, explains that emotional intelligence is made up of four components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Notice that “being nice” isn’t one of them; though it never hurt to be nice to anyone who deserves it, emotional intelligence is a lot more complex than a personality trait.

The Actual Steps to Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Step 1: Know yourself better (Self-awareness)

We’ve heard the saying “manage yourself before managing others” so many times that it’s become a cliche at this point, but like a lot of these business cliches, there’s a lot of truth to it—you can’t expect to manage a business effectively when you don’t even know how to manage yourself.

The first step to becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader is, therefore, self-awareness; this means becoming more aware of your triggers, strengths, and weaknesses. While at work, pay attention to your reactions and feelings, and watch out for potential blindspots; do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable around an anxious employee? Do you take on more work than you’re supposed to? Is it difficult for you to say “no” to your employees? If there’s a certain pattern of behavior you notice about yourself, explore it and make sure to approach it from a place of genuine curiosity, not judgment.

Step 2: Manage your emotions (Self-management)

Now that you’re starting to understand yourself a little better (your strengths, weaknesses, potential shortcomings, skills you lack or have, etc.), it’s time to build resiliency, and to do that, you need to first become aware of your emotions and how you deal with them.

A leader can be a great communicator, a socialite, or even a really “nice” person but still lack the ability to control their impulses whenever they feel an intense emotion; when they feel anger, they lash out. When they feel helpless or sad, their performance suffers. When they feel anxious, they avoid difficult situations and postpone deadlines. Great leaders know how to appropriately manage their emotions and know how to remain in control even amid emotional turmoil.

Figuring out the best way to manage intense emotions is a matter of trial and error because what works for others might not work for you, so you’re going to have to do your homework. For some, going out for a drive around the city helps them self-regulate, and for others, it’s taking a few deep breaths in and counting to ten.

Step 3: Practice empathy (Social awareness)

So you’ve finally figured out what some of your triggers are and you’re learning how to manage the emotions that come with them, what’s next? It’s learning how to read a room full of people with their own baggage, complex personalities, and triggers. A company isn’t made up of independent departments and silos; a company is a group of teams working together towards a common goal. And what differentiates a good team from a great one? Effective collaboration. And you can’t have effective collaboration when you don’t even bother understanding your employees’ perspectives and how they feel within the organization.

Empathy can help you learn how to deliver feedback more effectively, how to delegate like a pro, and understand the dynamics of the company better. Take note of subtle cues like a solemn tone of voice, long, uncomfortable pauses in meetings, or an employee’s restlessness while giving them feedback; becoming more attentive to others like you are to yourself can help strike a conversation with yourself and your team so you can all find a proper solution to the problem.

This kind of support can actually help create a positive work environment that is collaborative and engaging, which in turn, increases both your own performance as well as your team’s.

Step 4:  Work on your social skills (Relationship management)

An emotionally intelligent leader cares about all types of work relationships, not just one. Sometimes you have leaders who are great with clients but don’t treat their employees with respect, and sometimes you’ll find leaders who are great at delegating but avoid conflict like the plague. When you feel like there’s one aspect of work that you’re doing great—for example coaching, conflict resolution, or networking—and others not so much, then it’s time to reevaluate your work relationships and see what you need to work on.

Emotional intelligence is about learning how to handle, manage, and understand the dynamics of each relationship within the workplace. If you’re managing your relationship with your team members who are fresh out of college the same as you would with those who with ten-plus years of experience, then you’re probably not going to reap the benefits you typically would if you learned to manage both uniquely. With that said, work on your conflict resolution skills, delegation strategies, and other useful workplace skills like coaching, mentoring, and effective communication.

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