Using emotional intelligence to navigate a new era of work

Written by Sarah Speers, Regional Director, Product and Accreditation
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

I have been fortunate to have worked with emotional intelligence (EI) throughout most of my career. It has helped me through both personal and professional experiences – having children, returning from maternity leave, navigating challenging work relationships, acquisitions, and the list goes on!

Over the last year, the ability to manage myself to be both personally and interpersonally effective has been more important than ever. The fine balance of working, home schooling, and generally dealing with what life has thrown our way has stretched most of us thin. This is where my background in this industry has made all the difference; I’ve used that emotional intelligence to navigate a new era of work.

I realise not everyone has taken classes about or consulted with clients on the premise of EI. While I appreciate the background that I have in this space, I’ll be the first to tell you that I am just as “human” as the next person. I have cried, I have shouted, I have loved and laughed, all while constantly reminding myself to be kind to myself with the juggling that has been required. Emotional intelligence isn’t about being perfect, it’s about what we do when we are not perfect!

Acknowledge your feelings

I have had conversations with my two young children over the last year about why mummy cried or shouted. I can only hope this honesty and awareness will help them in the future to understand that expressing emotions is OK; they exist to help us understand and process the situation.

Through the work that I do I am all too aware of the impact that not acknowledging our emotions has on both myself and those around me. Through coaching and my own self-reflection I know that when I am feeling negative about myself – incompetent, insignificant, or disliked (low self regard) – my emotional resilience and lack of flexibility are impacted. I become more emotional and I hang onto those things that make me feel safe. My anxiety creeps in and overtakes the extroverted, people-loving individual that I am, which causes me to become withdrawn and quiet.

Proceed with caution

Safety is so important to us as human beings and that feeling of “I am OK, you are OK” (high self regard and high regard for others) helps us thrive in the social world that we live in and be the best we can be. As soon as this is challenged and we feel “not OK”, our defences kick in and our priority becomes keeping ourselves safe. Whether this is emotional safety or physical safety, people’s observable behaviours change and they may not feel comfortable sharing these feelings.

This safety has been core to how I have felt over the last year – safe in my own home feels good, while venturing into the “real world” has been challenging. Strangers pushing past me in shops, people not socially distancing, and scenes of crowds on the news have meant my anxiety levels have risen and I have returned home feeling panicked and nervous.

Gathering for the first time for team meetings (outside) have felt great, but at the same time slightly uneasy in that I am mixing with a different group of people. I am in the fortunate position that I have been fully vaccinated, which means I have enjoyed these opportunities. I have more meetings planned over the coming months to re-engage with my team and colleagues in a more personal way. And recently I received news that my office is reopening, which has brought back that familiar feeling of butterflies in my stomach and a slight uneasiness. How will it pan out? What processes will be in place? Will I feel safe?

Flexibility goes a long way

My company now employs a hybrid working structure where we can choose how and where we work. Teams can decide how and where we meet – face-to-face if everyone is comfortable or virtual still if some people do not feel comfortable. What we have agreed upon is that, whether we meet physically or virtually, efforts must be made to ensure everyone is included. This flexibility and empathy for varying feelings on gathering together goes a long way in calming those butterflies and feelings of uneasiness that this previously normal activity have evoked in me.

I hope I have created an environment for those with whom I work where they feel safe and that they feel they can be open and honest around this next step in the changing world that we live in. Recognising my emotional intelligence and associated feelings will allow me to not just survive but thrive in this new era of work. With these things in mind, we should all remind ourselves that it’s OK not to be OK some of the time. We should make it a point to listen to how we are feeling. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year and it will be OK!

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