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How to build an emotionally intelligent workplace

The idea can seem overwhelming to leaders, but this one thing can make a major difference.

How to build an emotionally intelligent workplace
[Source images: Eva Almqvist/iStock; Simone Hutsch/Unsplash]
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By now, the majority of leaders have heard of emotional intelligence and seem to have bought into the notion that it is important to have it in their organizations. In a survey by Career Builder, 71% of employers stated that they valued EQ (emotional quotient) over IQ (intelligence quotient) and technical skills. Research by Talent Smart found EQ to be the strongest indicator of performance in the workplace. Yet with all the challenges faced by leaders in today’s rapidly changing workplace, the idea of building emotional intelligence can seem overwhelming. But what if there were one idea that could be easily implemented—one that would make a major difference?

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Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, recently updated his classic book. Although there are major changes that came about due to technological advances, the one thing that remains the same is his advice to catch people doing things right. It’s a simple idea, but it has profound implications. Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company, wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Leaders who engage in relentless fault-finding can’t help but lead to a culture of bloodless execution. Leaders who celebrate small acts of kindness [and] who reward moments of connection give everyone permission to look for opportunities to have a genuine human aspect.”

Improving your merit recognition process

When it comes to giving recognition and appreciation, one size does not fit all. Many organizations have a staff appreciation day where everyone is involved. The hardest-working, most creative high performer receives the same recognition as the employee who is just there to receive a paycheck. This approach can breed mediocrity and even resentment from those who feel they are going above and beyond and giving their all for the organization.

Recognizing employees based on their merits and as individuals requires time, effort, and commitment from leaders. One way that leaders increase their awareness of what their people are doing well is to spend more time working with them. Leaders must be engaged with their employees, says Judy Bell, president of Judy Bell Consulting in Memphis. This is what sets leaders apart from managers. While managers do better with tasks, leaders inspire employees on the human side, Bell says.

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The best people to do this are the managers who have staff reporting directly to them, since they are in the best position to know the actual work that the person’s responsible for. While this takes time away from other tasks, it’s well worth the effort. Employees learn to respect and appreciate managers who are willing to step up and keep themselves involved in their everyday work.

What to watch for

Make an ongoing commitment to find people doing something right. There will be times when leaders have to point out to their people that they need to change something. The problem is that staff will get the impression that they receive attention only when they do something wrong. The important thing is to continually look for ways to give people positive feedback. According to research, high-performance teams get five times more positive feedback than negative. That is well worth keeping in mind when it comes time for doling out feedback of any kind.

Everyone loves to be appreciated and recognized. When staff see that happening to them and around them, they quickly pick up that this is a healthy, supportive workplace. Feeling better about themselves and their colleagues, they put in more discretionary effort, resulting in higher performance for the organization. Discretionary effort is the work employees give above and beyond, and this is priceless for the culture, Bell says. As an added benefit, this leads to less turnover and a decrease in the cost of recruiting and bringing new staff on board. Witnessing recognition being a serious focus of the organization also increases the number of employees turning their attention to recognizing each other.

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Those who are looking to be promoted and move up in the company will be more aware that their actions in recognizing colleagues will be among the considerations. In this way, recognition from the top will spiral and lead to an increase across the organization. While it will still be necessary to catch mistakes and correct them, it will become known that catching someone doing something right is what will be encouraged and rewarded within the organization.

Altogether, this will make for a happier, more engaged workplace while the organization gains a reputation for being a good place to work. “Culture is the internal brand that ultimately affects the external brand of the company, its services, and its products,” Bell says. So make it count!

About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com

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