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Coaching Emotional Intelligence

This subject for today is going to probably be quite surprising. I want to talk about emotional intelligence, I want to talk about what used to be called interpersonal skills. I regularly meet (more often than I probably would have realised, in advance of my coaching career) very senior executives, who have very low emotional intelligence and pretty poor, therefore, interpersonal skills.



Often, if there is a high flyer or board executive being prepared for the next promotion, it's one of the things on the list from the sponsor, the employer, who's looking for a significant improvement in this area of their life. What is surprising is that this is so prevalent, because these people are successful. Somehow, despite not necessarily being good with people, easily good with people, they found that they can still claw their way to success.

The thing about emotional intelligence is it all starts with self-awareness. If you don't know yourself very well - and that can be just a matter of being honest with yourself - If you don't know yourself very well, how is it easy to understand others? The more you understand yourself, what motivates you, what you enjoy, what you don't enjoy, what you respond positively to and negatively to; if you don't understand that reasonably well then you can't interpret other people's actions so well either.

Emotional intelligence isn't about manipulation. But what it is about is understanding how other people are feeling and how they are likely to feel when you engage with them. And engaging with them in every context, whether it's a conversation, whether it's a meeting, whether it's a one to one, whether it's an email, whether it's a letter - whatever way you engage with them, is going to generate an emotional response. From your perspective, you want that to be as positive and as an emotional response as you can make.

So emotional intelligence is probably the second greatest skill beyond your functional professional expertise that a senior executive needs to acquire. There are lots of books and lessons and courses you can go on around emotional intelligence, and I'm not going to repeat all of those in this particular conversation. But I'm going to highlight the really, really critical aspects, and why they matter - so much so that perhaps executives can recognise for themselves that this is an area for them to focus on.

We all know about body language, you all realise that the stance someone takes the way they present themselves, the way they show up dramatically impacts people's responses to them. If you turn up to a meeting stressed out and sweaty and dishevelled, you're going to get one set of reactions. If you arrive calm, collected smart, and totally in control, you're going to get a different set of reactions. If you are finger-pointing, aggressive individual during the meeting, that will solicit possibly even more violent responses, but either way, it's not inducive to collaboration. Whereas if you are more open and more receptive to other people's ideas, you're much more likely to get a positive response, I can go on with many of these examples.

The other aspect is the way in which we speak to people - I mean verbally speaking to people. The spoken word really contains two quite separate pieces of information. One is the data that you are communicating; the actual message that you are delivering. The second is the emotion with which you deliver it. I'm going to roleplay an example just to show you what I mean...

Saying seriously ‘You're really not doing very well, and I'm getting very concerned about you’ is one way of presenting something, but laughing saying ‘You’re really not doing very well and I’m getting concerned about you’, is another way of communicating exactly the same message. One is threatening, one is serious, and one is potentially offensive. One is humorous, one is light-hearted. The message received, the information received by the person you're talking to, is fundamentally different. The words are identical. But the meaning, the sentiment, and the intended reaction were entirely the reverse of each other. And because of the way the mind is wired, because of the way we deal with threats, the emotional channel, the emotional aspect of that particular communication would always, always outweigh the verbal, specific messaging. Therefore, as a communicator, it's important that the messages you deliver, whilst being clear and precise in words are wrapped up in an emotional presentation that's going to deliver the desired effect that you're looking for. Because if you don't, it will be for certain misinterpreted.

If you understand yourself through self-awareness, if you understand the impact you have on other people, and you understand how they're likely to respond to you, you can modify your behaviours. You can modify the way you approach people; you can move on to a higher level of interactive competence.

There are sayings around that you should treat everybody the way you'd like to be treated. Well, that's only half the story really, because you should treat people the way they would like to be treated. Because the 'they’ in that is the most important the sentence, you want to influence them, they have an expectation of how they'd like to be dealt with. If you meet that you're much more likely to get the answer that you want. So, understanding other people, empathising more effectively with the other person or the other groups of people, understanding their motivations, their desires, their hopes, their fears, their worries, their concerns, will position you better to deliver your message wrapped in an appropriate emotion that lands closer to the bullseye that you're looking for.

When you look at non-face-to-face non-in-person communications, (and I don't include video conferencing, I'm talking about the written word or over the phone) you're in a much more depleted position is a much more difficult place to convey the emotion that you want to wrap around it. So careful thought around the wording to avoid ambiguity, and to avoid misinterpretation is pretty crucial. We've all read emails and the first response we've had is offence; we've read something and been offended by the tone of the email. Then we picked the phone up or we’d spoken to someone who said 'Hey, what do you mean by that?' Suddenly, before we know where we are, they didn't mean to say the way we've read it. And if you can recognise the importance of that when you're composing an email, when you're composing a report, when you're composing a letter and think about the recipient, and how they're going to understand how it's going to land for them; the greater the chance of a successful interface for both of you.

So emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills are crucial to long term executive success. As an executive, you are effectively a manager, you are effectively a leader, and persuading people to do what you want them to do, willingly and hopefully, enthusiastically is a critical skill. It will separate the good from the very good, and your professional competence will not be good enough as you rise through the ranks. The ability to deal with people will become increasingly important, bearing in mind that those people may be customers, those people may be key trading partners, over whom you have no authority whatsoever, only influence.

And so, your interpersonal skills and your emotional intelligence quotient is the only tool you have.

There we have it; emotional intelligence, it's important and how a coach perhaps can help you recognise it and start to practice and develop it.


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