Nick Mills suit3

Welcome back: This week we continue our emotional intelligence series and today we focus on the second component in the Genos Model of Emotional Intelligence is awareness of others, which is about perceiving, understanding, and acknowledging the way others feel. As described by Genos: “This skill helps us identify the things that make people feel valued, listened to, cared for, consulted, and understood. It also helps us demonstrate empathy, anticipate responses or reactions, and adjust our behaviour so that it fits well with others.”

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Leena was holding the first staff meeting of the year, hoping to get off to a running start in a quarter that was packed with important ventures. During the holidays, Leena had been able to spend time at a friend’s beach house. She was relaxed, upbeat, and forward-looking. However, the meeting wasn’t going well. Her finance officer kept yawning in spite of her best efforts to be entertaining. Her communications officer, Mary, normally so plugged in, was sullen and negative. And when she mentioned the beach vacation, her most valued team leader openly scowled, and Lena thought she saw people exchanging looks. 

Leena checked in with herself. What was she getting wrong? She knew it couldn’t be her attitude. After her holiday, she was in great form. So what could it be then?

What Leena didn’t know is that her finance officer’s infant was keeping him awake at night, something that had been going on for weeks. After fraught holidays, Mary and her husband had just the day before decided to get divorced. Stan, the team leader who was usually so competent, woke up late, was out of coffee at home, spent an extra 40 minutes in traffic, couldn’t find parking, and arrived late to the meeting. The others felt a little envious of Lena’s tan.

Unaware of these possibilities, Leena plowed ahead. At one point in the meeting, she grew visibly angry. At another, she found herself speaking dismissively at something Mary suggested. Stan brought up the fact that he hadn’t had any coffee, but Leena ignored him. When the meeting ended two hours later, she had the sense that nothing much had been accomplished. In fact, her own enthusiasm was dampened. The tasks ahead seemed insurmountable. And she felt disconnected from her colleagues, unsure how to get back on the right footing. 

It’s one thing to be self-aware and quite another to be tuned into what’s going on with others. But it’s just as important.

What went wrong?

Because she was relaxed from her holiday and eager to get back to work, Leena assumed her colleagues would be too. She was aware that a good leader displays openness to the perspectives of others, and she felt she was doing this. However, she had failed to consider what each person at the meeting was currently experiencing.

Eager to get going, Leena dove right in before finding out where everyone else was at. As the meeting progressed, Leena grew even less sensitive to her colleagues, which had a cascading effect. When has this ever happened to you in your workplace?

What should be done?

First of all, it would have been a better idea not to schedule an important meeting the first day back. Everyone would have then had a chance to settle down, to enthuse or complain about the time away, catch up on emails, and become reacquainted with work routines. Plus, Leena would have had a chance to check in with everyone.

By demonstrating active listening in an informal context, Leena could have learned about the baby causing sleepless nights, about Mary’s impending divorce, and about the highs and lows of the others’ time off. She would be seen as someone who is keenly interested in the people she works with instead of someone who always puts work first.

Leena had gained so much by her days at the beach that she didn’t consider many of her colleagues didn’t have the same opportunity to relax. By taking the time to check in with others, Leena would have appeared more humble and grateful for her good fortune.

As the meeting progressed, Leena might have seen that too many of her colleagues were too ‘off’ for much to be accomplished. She could have cut it short. Instead, she rambled on. Later, she might have acknowledged that she had made a mistake about the timing and tone of meeting.

Leena also found herself reacting rather than responding. Reactions may be purely emotional or ego-driven, like her expression of impatience, for example. In contrast, a response follows from the particular details of the circumstance. She could have stopped for a moment, taken stock, and decided that she was reacting inappropriately when she cut Stan off.

Mistakes like this are not insurmountable and are often easily remedied. Stan simply needed a cup of coffee! Had Leena been better attuned to his needs, she might have solved the problem for him. The others might have felt reassured by Leena’s empathy and been better able to push their issues to the side. The meeting might have turned out better.

This kind of rapport is crucial to working towards common goals. Without the sense of psychological safety and security promoted by empathetic leadership, most people don’t feel comfortable sharing ideas, something that is necessary for organisational success. In extreme cases, if this type of sharing is directly discouraged or rejected, not only are there missed opportunities, but it’s a recipe for failure.

Leaders who are aware of what’s going on with others can make the difference between ongoing success and a toxic culture where miscommunication and poor performance become normal.

Leaders who are aware of others practice the following:

  1. They are active listeners who ‘tune in’.
  2. They build trust and champion transparency.
  3. They own up to mistakes and apologise with sincerity.
  4. They make colleagues and employees feel valued.
  5. They encourage colleagues to share insights.
  6. They are authentic.
  7. They are empathetic.

A leader who is aware of others is able to see the big picture with the empathy and accessibility to connect with their people allowing them to flourish.  How effective are you at demonstrating this skill in the workplace?