The Highs and Lows of Emotional Intelligence in Conflict Navigation
Written by Renée Safrata - firstname.lastname@example.org, October 05th, 2010
Stuck. That’s the feeling that many co-workers have when they try to navigate conflict with someone who is operating with a low level of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
If you’ve ever tried to have a conversation with a colleague that ends in finger-wagging and raised voices, you’ve experienced the negative effects of low emotional intelligence firsthand.
Emotional intelligence is characterized by a person’s or group’s ability to constructively manage their emotions during interactions. (Read my blog post, “Emotional Intelligence – How does it impact the bottom line?” for an in-depth definition.)
Just how important is emotional intelligence in the workplace?
Psychologist Daniel Goleman surveyed 200 companies and found that emotional competence accounts for two-thirds of productivity differences among workers (“What Makes a Leader,” 1998).
People who demonstrate behaviours of high-level emotional intelligence are able to:
- Manage their emotions during highly volatile and high-risk situations.
- Quickly tap into their self-awareness to identify and manage those emotions with appropriate behaviours.
- Exhibit empathy for others and, with effective leadership assertiveness, demonstrate a competence in social skills which result in a positive outcome.
Consider this scenario:
Sarah, a great worker bee, has difficulty being accountable for her department’s task deadlines. In collaborative departmental and project-related meetings, she often flashes a sweet smile while blaming her teammates or clients for the lack of results on one of her direct reports.
Jason often states that Sarahʼs behaviour is unacceptable. Because Sarah is the team leader, he feels itʼs her responsibility to lead her direct reports to a successful outcome and notify all parties if the project goes off-course.
At this point during the meeting, Sarah usually explodes into a loud tirade of blaming statements and accusations and stomps out the door. Jason is left perplexed, trying to figure out what to do differently to get the project moving forward.
Meanwhile, Tanya remains sitting still in the meeting, saying nothing. Sheʼs tired of the “same old” behaviours from Sarah. Although she silently applauds Jasonʼs efforts, she knows that he doesnʼt have the ability to implement any consequences to Sarahʼs actions.
Interactions like these leave most co-workers feeling powerless and ready to give-up: “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” So when peer interactions are being dominated by low-level emotional intelligence, don’t hesitate to involve your leader, manager or supervisor.
Here’s what the process would look like with Sarah and Jason:
- The leader is able to identify the “sticking points” in communication and project results that Sarah and Jason are encountering. Both Sarah and Jason have an opportunity to take accountability for the impact their ineffective communication has had on both the end result and the overall team dynamics.
- Once Sarah understands how her behaviour affects the team, she can be guided back to the basics. Her leader can develop a plan with task-specific expectations and subsequent consequences to not meeting those deadlines. The plan provides Sarah with both clear directives and corrective feedback.
- A similar yet less guided approach needs to be presented to Jason. He understood that their communication needed to change, but had no power or understanding of how to redirect Sarah. Acknowledging his frustrations and recognizing his struggle to work with Sarah is adequate.
Once team behaviours improve, the team relationships and project results will all improve too.
Ever bumped up against a co-worker with low level emotional intelligence? How did you handle it?