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How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Your Business

Bill Benjamin
Nov 18, 2019

Businesses are best served by employees who have high emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a key trait employers should be looking for in employees. 

According the World Economic Forum, emotional intelligence is one of the top 10 skills needed for workers at all levels of organizations in 2020 and beyond. McKinsey & Company predicts that the need for emotional skills will outpace cognitive skills by 2030. Yet, in a recent study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, only 18% of companies said they’d ingrained emotional intelligence into their culture.

Is your business in the 18% or 82%?  If you are not sure, it’s much more likely your organization is in the 82% of businesses that do not have emotional intelligence embedded in their culture.

Either way, you want to know where your company stands and what its strengths and weaknesses are. Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence at both the individual and organizational levels. You can’t grow and develop something unless you’re aware of it and know the root causes.

There are several ways to assess where your business stands in terms of emotional intelligence:

  • Leverage current engagement and other surveys you may already be using. Many companies use their own assessments that include EI-based questions. See the EI-related questions below to see if any of them are on your engagement survey and use them to gauge your where your organization stands. 
  • Conduct focus groups. While surveys are excellent for getting anonymous feedback, the context and detail you can attain from speaking to people can make a big difference. Conducting effective focus groups that aren’t just opportunities for people to complain takes a lot of skill and planning. 
  • Complete an organizational emotional intelligence assessment. If you don’t already use an engagement survey, finding a simple tool to assess your organization’s level of emotional intelligence can be very illuminating. Many companies, including IHHP, provide a short assessment at no cost as part of a speaking and training engagement. 

What to assess

Regardless of the method you use to assess the emotional intelligence of your organization, these are some of the key things you’ll want to measure:

  1. Do you have a feedback-rich culture?
  2. Do people in your company feel safe to take risks and innovate?
  3. Is your organization agile and resilient?
  4. Do people handle conflict well?
  5. Are people able to engage in productive debate?
  6. Are people energized by the organization’s goals and values?
  7. Do people avoid difficult conversations?
  8. Are your leaders able to effectively manage change?
  9. Do people in your organization skillfully manage emotions?
  10. Are people able to listen without judging or jumping to conclusions?
  11. Do people admit to mistakes?
  12. Do people become defensive when given constructive feedback? 
  13. Do people feel they’re coached and developed by their managers?
  14. How do people handle pressure and tension?

These are some of the key questions you can ask through either a survey or a focus group to uncover how people in your company handle situations that elicit strong emotions. If your current engagement and other surveys don’t ask these types of questions, then you’ll want to look for a new assessment process that does.

It’s critical to know where your organization stands in terms of EI-related behaviors and values. Once you have determined your organization’s strengths and opportunities for improvement in emotional intelligence, then you can determine an approach to developing those skills in your organization.

How to develop EI in your organization

Managing emotions is at the root of people’s ability to be agile and open to change, collaborate, deliver feedback, take risks, handle conflict, and perform under pressure. When emotions are not managed, it negatively impacts relationships and teamwork, stifles innovation, and derails an organization’s performance.

To ingrain emotional intelligence into the culture of your business, people at all levels must learn the skills of EI and apply them to the key developmental areas that you identify during the assessment phase. These are some of the best practices that our clients use to build a high-EI culture:

  • Based on your assessment, identify the key behaviors that will drive the outcomes you want. For example, if developing a feedback-rich culture is a goal, then people must demonstrate the behaviors of stepping into and not avoiding feedback conversations. They must model that culture by not getting defensive when they receive feedback.
  • Start at the top. If the senior leaders of your company do not buy in or, more importantly, are not demonstrating the key behaviors themselves, it’s very difficult to get the rest of the organization to engage.
  • Provide positive feedback when people demonstrate the behaviors. Humans are wired to crave validation, so you can use that to help drive the EI-based behaviors you are trying to build into your culture.
  • Include the EI-based behaviors in your performance management process, including any bonus plans. This may take time to fully implement, but it shows your company is serious about rewarding both the results people achieve and how they achieve them.
  • Provide EI skills training. Emotional intelligence is not an innate skill; it’s a series of insights, behaviors and strategies based on how our brain responds under pressure that can be learned.
  • Leverage 360 assessments. We all have blind spots in our self-awareness. An EI360 assessment will help people recognize both their strengths and opportunities to develop the key EI behaviors you want to embed in your culture.
  • Use technology to provide learning opportunities at all levels. EI is as critical to the performance of your front-line employees as it is to your senior leaders. With the advent of highly interactive and engaging live online learning, it’s no longer necessary for people to attend training in a physical classroom. In fact, when done well, live online learning can be more impactful than classroom training.

Emotional intelligence is a competitive advantage. As one of our clients said, “assessing and training for emotional intelligence is like having a video conference platform – it’s no longer a question if you’re going to have one, it’s a matter of which one is best for the organization.” With the advent of artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, the key human skill that will be necessary in the coming decades is emotional intelligence.

Organizations that invest in integrating emotional intelligence into their culture and become part of the 18% are going to have a competitive advantage at both the organizational and individual level. 

Image Credit:

Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

Bill Benjamin
I have degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science. I spent 14 years in the technology field where I struggled as a leader. I was introduced to the concept of Emotional Intelligence 23 years ago and it has helped me both in business and in my personal life. For the past 18 years I have been a co-owner of the Institute for Health and Human Potential. We are research and learning company that teaches the skills of Emotional Intelligence to help people and organizations drive performance and leadership. In addition to being a business owner, I am speaker and have worked with both small and large companies, the military and athletes.