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The Link Between Emotional Intelligence, Collaboration, and Productivity

October 26, 2016

The Link Between Emotional Intelligence, Collaboration, and Productivity

Ever since Daniel Goleman popularized the phrase "emotional intelligence" (EI) in the '90s, we continue to get a better understanding of how this aspect of interpersonal skills impacts business. An employee's technical competency is no longer sufficient to make her a valuable member of the team. Technical competency is a baseline requirement, sure. But the nature of today's workplace demands successful collaboration, which rests on people's ability to navigate group dynamics.

It turns out emotional intelligence in a group setting accelerates the group's development. Team members need EI on an individual level. And when we work together with EI, it's fascinating to see what happens. Studies are finding that collaboration among those with high emotional intelligence creates outcomes that exceed the sum of their individual talents. Shared emotional intelligence not only improves work processes, it improves the work product!

Fortunately, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be taught. Teams struggling to overcome personal differences aren't doomed to fail. Even teams that operate on a satisfactory level can ramp up their capabilities by working on their emotional intelligence.

Where We've Got People, We've Got Emotions

All our relationships are fundamentally emotional. We can either use our emotions to advance or obstruct collaboration efforts. Having emotional intelligence enables us to recognize our own emotional states, as well as those of the people we're working with, so we can respond intelligently. According to Goleman, emotional intelligence has five main characteristics:

  1. Self-awareness: More than just awareness of our own emotional state in any given moment, it also means we understand how other people see us.
  2. Self-regulation: We're not reactive to our emotional states. Instead, we are able to intentionally choose how we react. This includes being deliberate, rather than defensive, regarding other people's actions.
  3. Motivation: We're motivated by larger goals than personal aggrandizement, and have an optimism that keeps us from getting easily discouraged by challenges or conflict.
  4. Empathy: Recognition of other people's emotional state, as well as acceptance of it even where we disagree.
  5. Social Skills: The ability to translate our emotional awareness into action, by building relationships and finding ways to resolve differences among group members.

Working with emotional intelligence helps us recognize the emotional background why other team members act as they do. This builds our own empathy. It's easy to get annoyed because a team member never makes herself available to others. When you understand it's because she feels her peers are trying to "assign" her work instead of asking for help – you drop being annoyed and can move on to being helpful.

Growing Your Emotional Intelligence

Like most soft skills, the most effective way to teach others emotional intelligence is through behavior modeling. Being able to watch and preserve how other team members collaborate with each other helps those learning to collaborate – and collaborate with high emotional intelligence – better. With so much of our work interactions, as well as output, captured in the new wave of collaboration and communication tools, everyone on a team has the opportunity to "copy, paste, modify" the successful behaviors they see in others.

Here are some behaviors and values you can model within a team to develop shared emotional intelligence:

Build and Nurture Personal Connections

The more you learn about a team member, the more accurately you can gauge what's going on with him when he seems off. You'll also have a clearer sense of what motivates him, and how to help get him back on track if needed. This isn't about manipulation. It's about recognizing that team members are people, not drones. Plus, as you learn about him, he'll be learning about you. Even if he can't describe the approach you take with him, he can feel the improvement in your shared dynamic. And if successful, he can see and appreciate it.

Focus on Outcomes

Shared goals and objectives should always be front and center. Because every team member shares both, they can keep people together whenever tension arises. Shared objectives help foster empathy because team members all want the team to achieve its goal — especially when it's hard to make sense of someone else's suggestions or actions. Making the choice to try to understand what other team members are doing in the context of a shared goal opens up your mind to new possibilities. Who knows?  Maybe you'll come to realize someone else is offering a better option than yours. This is another practical and interpersonal benefit of focusing on outcomes. People become more open to a range of strategies and tactics because of the context of a shared goal.

Shared Accountability

If team members share the goals, they also share the results. Shared accountability encourages high standards for everyone's work. Shared accountability can be modeled through active collaboration among team members. People shouldn't always have to ask for help. Encourage people to proactively provide support to other team members.

Improving the Team Can Improve Team Members

People with high emotional intelligence are motivated by the team's success, not just their own. These people play a critical role in facilitating collaboration within a team since they're seen as a stabilizing force who helps the group move forward.

Emotional intelligence within a team encourages the right balance of tasks and relationships. When team members see how their teammates with high emotional intelligence operate, whether in person or via the team's collaboration tools, the emotional intelligence of the entire team increases. The group dynamic improves each individual's skills, which they can bring to all the other groups and teams they work with. And in the end, greater productivity is the desirable end state we all want to reach.