It’s one thing to learn to apply emotional intelligence (EI) but quite another to keep it fresh and relevant – especially in hybrid workplaces. So just how do you keep the empathy working in this new look workplace?
It’s harder to think of positives that have come out of the pandemic. But it certainly turned a bright spotlight on wellbeing in the workplace, particularly mental wellbeing, and this has continued to be of importance. Rightly so, you may say. So as well as learning to use new online ways to stay connected, we also had to quickly adopt new techniques to engage with our teams and ensure they were coping with this new way of working, and quickly make the necessary changes if they were struggling to juggle home and work.
It was a situation which brought the value of emotional intelligence (EI) to the fore. The ability to actively listen – a tricky skill to develop – and to tune our emotional awareness to the signals, both visual and verbal, that we were getting online, became things we very quickly had to learn to adopt. Who’s having a bad day? What can we swiftly change to streamline our processes in this new environment? We may never have considered them before, but empathy and collaboration came to the fore. Those for whom these were already skills valued within their culture had a clear lead. Others had to learn, and quickly, or struggle to cope.
But it almost became too much. Fatigue quickly set in. How do you read body language when you can only see the head and shoulders of a colleague on screen? How can you possibly manage a team when half are in the office and half working from home? The hybrid world has made it harder, and that in turn requires more concerted effort, and a completely new set of rules.
Many businesses are still grappling with these issues as we return to a more hybrid world. Not surprisingly I’m now asked many, many times if I can lead sessions on hybrid working – and just what we can do as business leaders to adjust to this without the fatigue?
The Basics Still Apply
Firstly, the things which always mattered still matter. The basics of being a good leader, a good team player, a good team member, will always be the same. It may well be a new world of work, but the old ways are still with us and still valuable. And the skills of Emotional Intelligence – active listening, empathy, caring, compassion – are core and remain core skills. So what can we, as leaders, do to make sure we use them and use them well?
Here are five tips to adopt, which together with the engagement of your emotional intelligence, should ensure you avoid the fatigue which hybrid working risks introducing into all our workplaces.
Plan & Prepare
Particularly if you feel that the meeting might involve a difficult conversation, prepare for all eventualities. Think about the other person’s feelings and point of view before you meet. Just where are they coming from? Why might they feel or have the point of view they have? Get the full picture too. Don’t be afraid to ask around. How do others feel about this? Have they had similar dealings with this person or been in similar situations?
Clear Your Mind
Another important part of preparing for a meeting is getting into the right mind set and clearing your mind of the stream of thoughts that often threaten to derail your focus on the conversation in hand. Making the time to ‘get in the zone’ is an investment that will payback many times over. You’ll get far more out of each meeting and each conversation by being fully prepared, and you’ll be a far more effective leader as a result.
It’s a busy world we live in. We rush from one meeting to the next. On the phone, online, face to face, team or individual, whatever the format , we have to be seen and felt to be present and fully engaged, not rushed, and not with our minds elsewhere. Active listening takes time. So slow down and be fully present throughout.
Keep an Open Mind
Very much related to being prepared for the meeting is the need to be open to change and compromise. Keeping an open mind is an essential skill in good listening. You will have your own viewpoint before the meeting, but let the other person have their say, and be prepared to change that view if necessary. You might learn something new or see the situation in a different light. So be flexible, agile and keep in the moment – another reason for keeping that clear mind and being fully present. Remember – compromise gets the best out of any situation for everyone.
Call it Out
If someone’s body language and words don’t match, be prepared to be brave and challenge what they say. If what you are seeing doesn’t match what you are hearing ask if they really do feel or think that way. If you are really open and listening you’ll be far more aware of these possible discrepancies, but you also need to be bold enough to act if it doesn’t feel right.
Follow those tips and you’ll really be using your emotional intelligence to the full.
One last, vital secret to successful EI – find the win-win. If you’re prepared to actively listen and really engage with the team, individual or group – and really understand where they are coming from – you will be more able to facilitate a calmer and more productive conversation.
Sometimes you’ll get just what you need because the team or individual will feel they have really been listened to and heard. Sometimes that’s enough for people, and having felt they’ve been heard they’ll be open to accepting a different solution. Other times you may have to compromise, but in a way that works for both sides. Always plan in the moment – and keep in your mind just what is the win-win here and how do I facilitate the conversation in a calm way to achieve that result? To reach that win-win you need to make sure everyone feels they’ve had their say, expressed their genuine views, and had them heard and fully considered.
Hybrid working – with teams split between the office and home for some or even all of the time – will continue to present challenges to us all. But handled well, with compassion and understanding, they equally present opportunities to help everyone thrive, whatever the future might bring. By learning to engage our Emotional Intelligence, to really listen to what people are telling us, to put ourselves in their shoes, to truly have empathy – all this will ensure that we are far more likely to avoid the apathy and fatigue which might otherwise stifle the collaboration and success we really need to drive our businesses forward.
Executive coach and facilitator