Picture this: you walk into the meeting room with a sense of urgency and optimism. An important business proposal is due next week and you want to make sure that everybody in your team is up to it.
Your four team members are patiently waiting. Following a hasty “good morning,” you quickly distribute reports and work assignments, switch on the projector, and fire up your laptop. The preparations took you until late in the night to finish and there is no time to lose!
However, there is a sense in the room that something doesn’t feel right. Your colleagues do not seem to be very enthusiastic and after looking at them for a few seconds, you pointedly ask, “What’s going on?”
They look at each other for a moment and one of them quietly replies that Paul received some very sad news the previous night. Paul is sitting at the corner of the table. His head is bent down and he seems to be on the verge of tears…
Now you are confused and a myriad of questions inevitably arise: what do you do? What are you feeling now? Anxiety? Concern? Worry? Sadness? How is Paul feeling? How is this impacting the rest of the team? And how focused can they be on the project right now? Like you, they probably feel very uncertain about what to do in this situation and are looking for guidance.
This is a crucial moment because your immediate reaction will dictate the performance and response of your team today and, perhaps, in the weeks and months to come. Your behavior and actions will affect their work and emotional stress. The success of your business depends on the performance of your team and setting a clear example is crucial.
There are three key factors that you must consider in this situation:
- First of all, your own emotions. You must acknowledge, understand and manage them.
- Second, the emotions of the people you are interacting with. You have to be able to recognize and understand their emotions as well.
- Finally, the immediate human connection. The handling of the relationship and the best way to communicate at this very moment.
These three factors are equally important and can apply in one-on-one interactions with an employee, colleague, client, or manager, as well as outside the corporate world with family and friends. They can also apply to group settings. You must be able to read the emotions of the individuals involved and feel the mood of the group.
We traditionally concentrate on two basic characteristics when trying to evaluate other people’s potential and interact with them: their cognitive intelligence (IQ), which some define as the ability to learn, and their personality traits, which define their stable behavior patterns. The most widely accepted personality traits are conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion.
A third characteristic that is rapidly gaining acceptance is the ability to recognize and understand both our own emotions (self-awareness) and the emotions of others, as well as knowing how to use this awareness to manage our own behavior and to handle interpersonal relationships.
Let’s now return to the scenario described earlier. We can begin by reviewing what may be happening during those initial few minutes based on the three factors listed above.
First of all, note your personal emotions:
There may be a mixture of urgency (the project), concern (for Paul) and uncertainty (regarding how to proceed). You recognize your emotions (urgency, concern, etc.) and understand where they are coming from. This is a very important first step, but now you have to manage them. How are you going to react?
Let’s summarize the two basic alternatives you have in those first few seconds:
- Let your emotions get the best of you by becoming upset, nervous or excited and lose control of the situation.
- Take a moment, restrain yourself, take a deep breath and start considering your options.
The first choice is a lose-lose one. A poor reaction here can cause a lot of damage in the team relationship and motivation. As what we seek is a road to success, let’s assume that you will take the second alternative. In other words, you’ll remain calm.
Next, note their emotions:
When you see how distressed Paul is and the uncertainty on the faces of the other team members, what do you feel? Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. The business proposal is probably not very high on their emotional agenda at the moment. They are having a primal reaction to the situation. Something went very wrong and they are all distraught and confused.
How do you get through to them? Through intuition and observation, you are aware of your feelings and those of the rest of your team. These two phases must be fully covered before you can approach the third step: establishing a winning connection.
Start with a very tactful conversation. In this case, Paul is at the center of the situation. You need to connect with him first. You may, for example, ask the rest of the team to leave you both alone for a few minutes. After they leave, you may ask Paul if he wants to talk about the situation, and if he agrees you must approach the conversation very calmly and genuinely. Don’t be afraid to show concern for his well being. After some reflection, you may both decide that he is not available to do effective and meaningful work right now. On the other hand, he may be well enough and want to continue working.
What has this achieved? You have connected to Paul as a human being—not just as an employee. You have accessed a fundamental element of human behavior and made him feel that you care.
After you both come to an appropriate decision, you call the team back into the room and share it with them. In order to start the meeting with a new atmosphere, perhaps suggest a short 10 minute break to clear the air.
Though you may have spent some time addressing this matter, the team’s focus will now be centered on the project and you can proceed with the agenda. Moreover, they will probably be ready to approach the meeting with additional energy. They now know that if a similar situation ever befalls them, you’ll be very understanding and champion their needs. This also demonstrates to others that you are a trusted leader and have the ability to inspire even in challenging scenarios. You are a winner. You are a leader. You are the kind of person they wish to work with.
In this example, I have used a very emotionally-charged hypothetical situation to illustrate the importance of properly managing your emotions and getting through to the emotions of others. It is not about how critical the situation is; it is recognizing that managing emotions is at the center of the strategy to achieve success as a manager and a leader.
Your personality traits and cognitive intelligence are part of your identity and most authorities on the subject recognize that these two factors don’t change much over the course of your adult life. In fact, they’re fairly set by your early teens.
On the other hand, your ability to understand emotions—yours and others’—along with the ability to manage them and handle interpersonal relationships based on that awareness, are skills you can learn over time. Developing this ability may represent a huge step toward a more fulfilling career and happier life.
The road to successful relationship management, both personally and professionally, involves the following three phases:
- Be aware of your own emotions. Understand and manage them.
- Pause. Let your intuition work and recognize the emotions of others. Maybe a bit of small talk will help you perceive what’s going on. Whatever system you use, you need to be able to feel the mood of the room in order to fully understand what may be impacting your colleagues.
- Finally, connect. Based on your self-awareness and what you see in the team, you may need to adjust your approach. Be fluid, flexible, open and ready to confront the situation head-on.
We cannot fully control how we will feel in a given situation, but we have the ability to control how we react to our emotions. If we add to this the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others, and if we are empathetic and respond to their needs, we will be viewed as true leaders and have a much clearer path to success in today’s business world.