Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to differentiate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Its use in the workplace has benefits when considering interoffice relations and expectation setting for employees, so it follows that project managers find the skill particularly helpful to cultivate. But do all managers have it, and if not, how does one learn emotional intelligence? Some hiring managers have even begun screening for emotional intelligence in the hiring process, before an entry-level employee rises to the status of project manager.
EI benefits new tech fields
Researcher Vladimir Obradovic and his cohorts found in 2013 that emotional intelligence is beneficial in rapidly developing fields because “modern business requires permanent change management. Managing changes involves open consistency, which refers to the value of emotions and behavior and optimism…For project managers, social self-awareness is important to be able to understand and guide the project team in order to achieve the best results.” Emotional intelligence, the author argues, is more than a soft skill. It is a necessary component of success.
Obradovic cites a study that concludes that 67 percent of the skills needed for positive results in the business world have their roots in emotional skills. These include self-awareness, self-regulation, social self-consciousness, and relationship management. The successful project manager is no longer a boss barking orders, but a transformational leader who focuses on positive emotions like security and compassion.
EI has to be taught
Though it would seem as if these traits should come naturally to project managers as human beings, compassion, in particular, is difficult to cultivate in the office space, which tends to be results-oriented. Human Capital Specialist Michael Schneider makes the following recommendations:
- project managers should not make assumptions
- they should find commonalities with their subordinates
- they should encourage cooperation and maintain an interest in their employees as people
- they should be mindful of boundaries
Managers should be trained just like the employees, and coached through emotional intelligence areas where they might otherwise lack. Managers should also complete review processes, and HR professionals can track progress through pulse surveys, employee engagement tools, and performance management software.
The ripple effect of emotions
When project managers relate to their employees on a personal level, expectations are met. “Managers can’t help but shape the emotional life of an organization, given their starring roles. And whatever is happening in the manager’s emotional life spreads virally.” It is vital that project managers use emotional intelligence to identify their own stress levels, for example.
When a manager is stressed, research shows that that stress is transmitted to other employees in the office. “How a project manager handles his or her emotions, as well as the emotions of others, can have a significant impact on the nature of a relationship…Since a project manager almost always has a variety of groups to influence in order to be successful…the ability to positively influence relationships to achieve collaboration can have a dramatic effect on results.” Clarity and composure often make the difference between good managers and great ones.
EI and employee engagement
In 2015, The Harvard Business Review published the results of a Gallup poll taken since 2000. The 2015 results showed that fewer than one-third of American workers felt actively engaged with their employers in a positive way. Project managers can combat this concern by implementing emotional intelligence.
“A productive workplace is one in which people feel safe-safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information, and to support one another. In this type of workplace, team members are prepared to give the manager and their organization the benefit of the doubt…In the current study, a vast majority (67%) of the employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths…are engaged, compared with just 31% of the employees who indicate strongly that their manager focuses on their weaknesses.”
Clearly, whether emotional intelligence comes naturally to a manager or not, it is in his or her best interests to practice it.
Implement EI practices from the start
To that end, hiring managers have begun implementing best practices to hire for emotional intelligence. Findings published in The Harvard Business Review recommend speaking with references in person after obtaining letters of recommendation and interviewing potential candidates while screening specifically for emotional intelligence. The author argues that the focus on pedigree has detracted from paying attention to the equally important quality of emotional intelligence. “Even when we ask candidates directly about EI or EI-related competencies, they talk about an idealized notion of themselves and what they’d like to be, rather than how they really behave.”
In the candidate’s defense, of course, this is the case. No potential hire is going to risk his or her chances at a job by being too honest. But hiring managers are now encouraging this honesty through behavioral event interviewing, an informal process that makes the interviewee the protagonist of his or her career story using both positive and negative experiences from the past. How has the candidate grown through these experiences? What did the candidate learn? The answers to these questions reveal a lot about the candidate’s emotional intelligence.
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Obradovic, Vladimir et al. “Project Managers’ Emotional Intelligence-A Ticket to Success.”
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