As technology takes on more tasks, we need emotional intelligence to connect and engage

Originally published in the Globe & Mail April 14, 2023

As many of us are awestruck, anticipating what the latest and future versions of AI tools like ChatGPT will do for our education and work systems, we contemplate what the definition, prioritization and evaluation of skills will be.

The half-life of skills has been shrinking for decades. What happens when technology keeps getting exponentially smarter and cheaper and is now able to gather and process data, and write and analyze for us, way quicker, and often way better, than humans?

Digital literacy will be the minimum requirement. Developing human leadership capabilities will be critical because, for example, robots can’t authentically connect with others to lead and build relationships in the same way humans can … yet.

Authentically connecting with others involves:

  • Being courageous and staying true to our values, even when they are challenged
  • Role-modeling vulnerability and a growth mindset, acknowledging we don’t have all the answers
  • Leading with empathy in the broader context of emotional intelligence

These human leadership capabilities help build trust, which engenders collaboration and empowers teams to focus on the goals of the team and organization, rather than on personal agendas.

Understanding our own and others’ emotions has a big role to play in the future of leadership, and in the workplace more broadly. Once we are better able to understand one another’s emotions as data that can impact performance and team dynamics, we can operate with empathy and compassion, form deeper bonds and collaborate more effectively. EQ or emotional intelligence (defined by the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and recognize and influence them in those around us) is equally or more important than IQ for individual, team and organizational success. It can, however, be challenging to develop in fully remote or hybrid working environments, where we don’t see each other’s facial expressions or body language on a regular basis.

So how can we improve this critical capability, given the challenges of our tech-reliant world?

1. Name it to tame it

Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of Permission to Feel, articulates a vision “to use the power of emotions to create a healthier and more equitable, innovative and compassionate society.”

But in many cases, we encourage team members to make decisions with data and information, not with emotions. The key is to regulate emotions so we can be thoughtful and responsive, as opposed to reactive. But “we can’t tame what we can’t name,” suggests Dr. Brackett, and most adults find it challenging to label or explain their own emotions. Dr. Brackett’s mood meter can be a useful tool to stimulate reflection and conversations about feelings, so we can be more deliberate about proactively managing them.

2. Practice active listening

Reading others’ body language, including facial micro expressions, takes practice, which is hard to come by in fully remote and hybrid environments. And, misinterpreting others’ facial expressions can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding, which can impact trust and team effectiveness. Asking questions and engaging in active listening can help you further understand others’ emotions so you can work together more effectively.

Active listening includes:

  • Removing distractions to being fully present in the conversation
  • Practicing good eye contact
  • Noticing and using non-verbal cues
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Paraphrasing and reflecting back
  • Listening to understand rather than to respond
  • Withholding judgment and advice

3. Be an emotion scientist

In his book, Dr. Brackett suggests that, to unlock the power of emotions, we must all take on the role of “emotion scientist” instead of “emotion judge.”

An emotion scientist:

  • Is open, curious and reflective
  • Views all emotions as information
  • Is in learner mode and investigates
  • Wants to get granular
  • Has a growth mindset

An emotion judge:

  • Is critical, closed and ignores emotion
  • Views emotions as an “error”
  • Is in knower mode and makes attributions (for example, “he must be acting that way because he’s an angry person”)
  • Categorizes emotions as good or bad
  • Has a fixed mindset

Operating as an emotion scientist instead of an emotion judge enables us to stay curious, ask why we or others are experiencing various emotions, and solve problems with more information.

Keep in mind, emotions can be contagious, so it’s important to be self-aware about the ones we are exuding and whether they are effective in achieving the best outcomes for our team. If yes, how can we deliberately harness the emotion to motivate others? If not, what could we do to manage our emotions for a more positive impact? Robots are not quite there…yet.