Bullying and intimidating had become a habit with Andy, a senior manager and investment advisor pulling down a six-figure salary at a Vancouver bank. It was his first defense against any negative comments about his performance. It didn’t matter that he was intelligent and analytical in his job. He regarded negative feedback as a personal attack He would fire back, yelling, threatening his subordinates and colleagues if they dared to criticize him.
When Andy came to us, we asked him for some of the reasons for his outbursts. His answers to our questions showed him to be a suspicious senior executive. Comments included: “These people are out to get me”; “These clients think I can’t do my job”; “He’s questioning my judgement and authority” or “I don’t have to put up with this crap”. Andy’s siege mentality led to aggressive and defensive behaviour. It would ultimately lead to some kind of apology but his colleagues and subordinates still had to bear the brunt of his lack of empathy, limited listening skills and defensive reactions.
When these behaviours are the rule rather than the exception at work, employees like Andy and his colleagues suffer along with the companies they work for through low morale, decreased sales, productivity and staff turnover.
Organizational and development studies suggest fostering emotional intelligence in the workplace may be the antidote to toxic interpersonal relations.
The term emotional intelligence was coined in 1990 by Peter Salovey of Yale University and John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire. Emotional intelligence or EQ, refers to the ability to tap into, label and express feelings appropriately, respond empathically and use information about one’s own feelings and the feelings of others to make decisions and choices.
Studies show that increasing emotional intelligence positively affects the bottom line. Increased sales and work place safety and reduced turnover and grievances are among the documented results of enhanced emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence, observed gains in productivity related to increased emotional intelligence.
In the current era of economic turmoil, mergers, and higher shareholder expectations, the importance of emotional intelligence is even greater in the bid to create a competitive edge. Companies in a variety of sectors – from financial advising and food services to heavy equipment and manufacturing – are increasingly weaving emotional intelligence into training programs, new employee orientation packages and selection processes.
Nichols Aluminum of Davenport, Iowa, a public $400- million (U.S.) aluminum recycling company, made significant gains after implementing an emotional intelligence training program.
Training manager Jan Daker heads leadership development and teambuilding at Nichols. She recognizes that today’s companies are lean and pressured for time. “You have to be able to communicate faster and not spend time with frustration or being upset or angry. You don’t have time to deal with people who don’t want to play on the same team. We don’t have time to be upset”, she said in an interview from Davenport.
With conflict, unresolved issues and hard feelings making team collaboration difficult, Ms. Daker tried different leadership training programs. But there was always something missing.
“We were looking for a tool that would help the individual put the accountability on themselves instead of someone else”. Emotional intelligence training put the focus on personal responsibility.
Two groups took the training, including president Terry Schroeder. There was skepticism at first. “We’re men and we make metal, we don’t do that stuff”, complained one manager.
However, the results were impressive. “It’s a new world,” Daker said. It’s not like we don’t get upset with each other, but we get over it faster and don’t let it spread. Now when someone says something they disagree with they’ll talk to them, they’ll say it up front, they won’t say it behind their back”.
Staff retention improved, Nichols had 10 straight record quarters of profit and when the economic downturn began in earnest, “compared with others in the same business we are doing much better,” she said.
Andy can report the same happy results as Nichols. After taking the course, he changed the way he viewed criticism by recalling incidents when feedback had been helpful. He rehearsed the idea that some people may be trying to assist him when giving feedback and that criticism, even in its worst form, did not threaten his position or knowledge.
He became aware of his own and others’ boundaries. He saw how his behaviour previously violated other people and how a calm, attentive style made others more receptive towards him.
Two years after Andy completed the program, his supervisor reported he had transformed himself and his business and was thriving. Absenteeism and staff turnover decreased in his division. Following the training the division excelled and continues to be a top performer.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at email@example.com
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.