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6 Steps to Finding Your Emotional Intelligence


26 Jan 2023 | Alex Avery

In our Digital Matters Podcast for December 14th, 2022, we spoke with Trenton Moss; founder & head coach of Team Sterka (Leadership coaching specialists) and author of Human Powered: Supercharge your Digital Product Teams with Emotional Intelligence. Here we highlight the six key steps to becoming more emotionally intelligent.

Know Your Enemy

To explore solutions, we should first understand the problems.

When asking senior Tech leaders what people-problems they face, there were two trends.

First, interacting with stakeholders at a senior level could be like pulling teeth. Second, that it could be difficult to get distinct teams to play nicely with one another.

So how do you approach conflicts, communication barriers and provide a space to unlearn learned helplessness? First, you need to open up…  

Open Up  

Before asking some potentially difficult questions, cultivate the right mindset. You must be open about what you’re about to do and receptive to whatever you find. You may need to encourage others to be forthcoming and honest with you.

The culture of your team is an extension of your companies’ values, but also your own. It’s important to understand yourself and to understand others. It’s important to empathise and be open.

Understand “You don’t know what you don’t know.” As a leader you may think you know what’s going on, part of this exercise is in realising you may not.  

Provide a Safe Space

In 2012 Google conducted a two-year study (Project Aristotle) of its 180 teams to investigate trends in team effectiveness.

Their most productive teams were found to feel psychological safety. They felt safe to be vulnerable around their peers and more able to take risks.

Those lacking psychological safety may instead exhibit learned helplessness. They feel they lack autonomy and rely on leaders for even basic decision making. They may not know how to articulate this, so you need to look out for signs of it to ensure you provide a space for them to feel psychologically safe.  

Question Time

Make sure your team understands that you value their honest feedback. Give them time to prepare and stress that whatever is said, you won’t be defensive.

You can now ask these key questions:

  • “What do I do that has a negative impact on you (and others)?”
  • “What do you value in me? What do I bring to this relationship?”

They may respond (for example) that you’re always interrupting, or that you’re often late to meetings. It’s important not to be defensive whatever the case – don’t try to justify what’s said – instead empathise and commit to holding yourself to account.

Then they’ll see that you’re taking this seriously and in turn they’ll feel psychologically safe. It may take time, effort, and changes but the benefits are worth it.  

Win / Win… and Win Again

When pursuing your own needs, goals, and wins, you naturally understand them. But do you consider others, understand their needs and work towards them too?

That’s what looking for a win/win is all about: make time to empathise and understand others and show them you’ll put as much into pursuing their goals as your own.

We’re often taught to treat others as you’d wish to be treated. Instead, why not treat others how they wish to be treated? Their motivations and values may differ from your own, but neither are necessarily wrong.

Put into practice, you’ll find this can resolve conflicts and even turn a conflict of interests into mutual support.  

Not Like This

Elon Musk recently purchased Twitter for a huge sum. He’s spoken at length about significant changes the company must make, but his approach is “bull at a gate” or perhaps “doing things the Elon way”. There’s little emotional intelligence or empathy.

Daniel Goleman wrote more on this in the six leadership styles identified in his book: Primal Leadership. Musk’s approach could be called Commanding Leadership, it can be useful in a crisis but over time can exhaust your team. Eventually you, or they, will become frustrated and look for more appetising greener grass.

It can be hard for a leader to self-reflect and ask, “Am I creating this situation?”, but it’s vital emotional intelligence to do so.

To Sum Up? Make Time.

This process can take time and should be ongoing, not a box-ticking exercise. Your team may not open up to you immediately and you may all need practice in understanding and communicating safely an openly.

However, emotional intelligence is something everyone can learn. Practice asking how you impact a relationship and learn how to look not just for your own win, but a mutual win/win.


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