Avoid Emotional Intelligence Pitfalls at Work

February 1, 2017

pitfall_guyFrequently encountered emotional intelligence (EI) pitfalls that limit relationships and productivity at work are numerous. Ordering people to just “get it done” could well be the top pitfall of all. Several pitfalls and better EI Options are listed below.

Pitfall: Just tell your direct reports or others to do something.

Better EI Option: Use your EI skills in empathy and assertiveness to influence others to want to engage in your project.

trap-jump-pitfallPitfalls sabotage your success. When you just tell people to do something and you don’t take a few minutes to acknowledge them, build buy-in and guide understanding, you often invite opposition and resistance. Ironically you might have been so directive because you felt you didn’t have time for more engagement, yet the resistance will cost you more time in the long run.

Pitfall: Order your direct reports or others to be happy and engaged.

Better EI Option: Create a culture that builds skills in optimism, self-regard and emotional expression and thus supports staff agility and buy in. These and other EI skills are central to building an engaged culture with a “can-do” attitude. Your leadership has a lot to do with the responses you get. If you want happy and engaged direct reports, use positive language that supports optimism. For example, express the belief that together all of you will meet the big challenge, you just don’t know how yet. That wonderful word “yet” establishes the presupposition of success, and that helps create the outcome you’re looking for.


Pitfall: Ignore the impact of reassigning employees who have become friends and are working effectively as team members.

Better EI Option: Respond to and acknowledge relationships, notice how they support or weaken team work. When you need to make new assignments, help people process and accept the change.

people-puzzlePitfall: Insist that emotions be left at the door when it’s time to solve problems.

Better EI Option: Use all your smarts in solving problems; that is both your IQ and your EQ. People can’t think without using their emotions. So the question becomes whether you and your team want to be aware of your emotional responses, including your intuitive awareness, and factor in all your data when resolving the problem. We suspect people seek to avoid their emotions when they are afraid they don’t have the skills to manage the emotions successfully. However, this strategy frequently backfires as the emotions will leak out in some poorly managed format. It’s better to get training and coaching and be fully in charge of your responses.


Pitfall: Blast your stress on all in your path.

angry-redhoopBetter EI Option: Learn strategies to regain your equilibrium when your buttons are pushed, then talk to others. You can breathe, use stair therapy, count to 10, any number of strategies work. Just give yourself time to avoid the adverse consequences of getting all tied up in knots! The key point is get more oxygen to your brain and give yourself a few minutes before you respond. Stair therapy is one of our favorites. When you feel triggered, tired or cranky go climb a set of stairs then come back to your office or to the situation and respond. Your renewed resilience will invite more welcome responses.


Facilitation Supports Collaborative Decision-Making

April 2, 2014

“There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.” Warren Bennis

dancersGood facilitators create a curious and safe environment that promotes singing, dancing and decision-making!  Organizations seek facilitation when they value an integrated group process with lasting results.  A well facilitated process focuses on building Collaborative Intelligence™. A good facilitator works with the leaders to ensure a well-designed and run event, which can take many shapes and sizes.  It can be an offsite, a retreat/advance, a high conflict session or a discussion by a well-functioning team looking to expand their skills.  There are times we help an organization with employees in conflict select between a facilitated process and a mediated process.  In mediation a neutral third party assists others in arriving at a mutually acceptable decision, but doesn’t add his or her own thoughts to the process.  In facilitation, the facilitator actively assists the parties in brainstorming options and solutions.  It is always important, though, that the decisions are made by the participants.

Collaborative Growth provides facilitation for elected boards and commissions, executive sessions, organizational retreats or advances and employees in conflict.  There are many elements in common for all the processes.  Possibly the most important is that the facilitator elegantly promotes the full participation by all parties.  This calls for guiding those who want to over-participate to pull back on their comments while the facilitator invites the more quiet introverts to share their insights and questions.

At a recent facilitation a participant commented on the great benefit he and others were receiving because of our reading and responding to the non-verbal messages from the team members.  It is important for the facilitator to notice when someone wants to speak, acknowledge that and then remember to get to that person in order of others who have indicated a desire to speak.  Non-verbal communication can also include indications of discomfort with a topic such that the facilitator calls on the person making his or her participation safe, saying something such as “Jason, give us your thoughts on the challenges or possible concerns with this approach.”

Facilitation benefits include:

  • The comfort for participants is increased because they know they will all receive help in speaking up with balance and respect for one another.
  • The leader can participate as he or she doesn’t have to be in charge of managing everyone else’s participation.
  • A highly interactive and engaging process can occur.
  • The facilitator structures the topics without stifling creativity thus helping the group take time to vet a decision and then consider all aspects of implementing and working with the decision.
  • The facilitator guides the group to apply reality testing to potential decisions and to access if it can get done and by when and to identify and assign responsible parties.
  • The facilitator can help the participants combine their EQ and their IQ.

Good facilitation is welcomed by organizations when done well.  That means it is focused on assisting all parties to participate, reach sustainable solutions and along the way provide assistance in resolving conflict and exploring difficult topics. Curiosity is welcome and promoted.  Imagine what can be created – Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious.”

How’s Your Resilience Meter?

November 3, 2013

resilience_meterGive yourself one of the best gifts available – expand your resilience.  Sustainable behavior change is a lifestyle change, not a whim. That’s very much the truth for expanding your resilience.  Scientist and leading scholar in the field of positive psychology, Barbara Fredrickson reports that in their entire research program in resilience they found that the key active ingredient supporting those with higher resilience is positivity, which includes openness and a better ability to keep things in perspective and see the bigger picture.

A frequent challenge raised by our coaching clients relates to managing their resilience.  They may talk about putting up with one challenge after another as a new program is being unveiled until they finally lose their composure.  Or the challenge may be significant personal issues that are taking so much of their energy and drawing upon their flexibility dramatically that when one more thing happens – at work, at home or anywhere they become unusually inflexible, emotional or just walk away leaving things unresolved.

Stephan (not his real name) is a good example.  Most of the time, things are fine; he can manage work and personal demands.  He has a good education, a reliable job with mid-management responsibilities, and a loving family.  Just like happens to most of us, each of these good parts have challenges.  His parents are in their 80’s and require a lot of attention.  Recently his dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his mom has arthritis to the point she can’t take care of him.  His teenage children need a great deal of time from both he and his wife.  It’s hard, yet he keeps telling himself that in a few years it’ll be easier.  For now Stephan is committed to giving his all to helping his parents, his kids, serving at his church and then there’s his job.  His position has a lot of stress with it and most weeks require 45 to 50 hours of work plus his commute.  Usually he juggles everything well enough.  Then his boss informed him that the big report he and his team have worked on for two months is needed in two days instead of the two weeks they were supposed to have to complete it well.  Stephan hit the roof.  He yelled at his boss, refused to meet the deadline.  Told his staff to just quit and take the rest of the day off.  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  That was a few weeks ago.  Stephan is working with the aftermath of his outburst, as well as what brought him to it, in coaching.  Our focus includes understanding his challenges and building ways to stay in touch with his resilience meter to help guide his behavior.

Strategies for Expanding Resilience

You, just like Stephan, can choose from several strategies to expand and maintain your resilience.  Six of the sixteen EQi skills particularly support resilience strength.  Act now to support your health and well-being by following a resilience enhancing strategy such as:

  • Meditation.
  • Recognizing that you are a part of something purposeful that’s bigger than you.
  • Expanding your happiness through gratitude or embracing and valuing your connections with others.
  • Building your optimism by expecting what works to keep on happening and get even larger.
  • Embracing your Bigger Yes – by living priorities that call for time with loved ones, time to exercise, time for you – all which expand your stress tolerance capacity.
  • Perceiving yourself with healthy self-regard by being able to view your strengths. challenges, and neutral zones and feel good about who you are.
  • Exercising your emotional self-awareness by noticing your emotions, recognizing how you feel and why and continuing to call forth positive emotions.

Resilience is the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, or adversity; it’s a form of buoyancy. Fortunately, your resilience can be expanded – it’s a personal skill that may have some components of genetic predisposition but can be influenced and grown as one of your most reliable assets.  However, it does require continuous upkeep.  Growing the skill requires awareness and practice.  Your journey is one of developing new habits that may not only change your social and psychological take on life but may well improve your health as well.

Six Emotional Intelligence Skills

There is a strong connection between the strength of your resilience and 6 of the 16 skills measured by the EQi 2.0:  stress tolerance, emotional self-awareness, self-regard, optimism, happiness and flexibility.

These EI skills are ones that are more self-oriented rather than other-oriented because resilience is an internal state. You’ve probably heard that you need to take care of yourself before you have the strength and resilience to take care of others well.  The metaphor most call to mind readily is when oxygen is needed on an airplane you need to put your own oxygen mask on before you start helping others.  You know why – you’ll black out quickly and be a problem rather than a help if you don’t start with your mask.  Life is that way as well.  Though it may be easier for some to focus on the tasks, including attending to everyone else’s needs, you will be better in all ways if you start with you first – and then remember to keep prioritizing your needs!

Barbara Fredrickson

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0 and Positivity, which I highly recommend, provides copious research on the beneficial effect of resilience and the field of positivity. I’m blessed to be taking an online training with her. She talks about changing people’s daily diets of positivity with the goal being to change what we notice and to influence the practice of our habitual positive and negative emotions. One effective strategy she emphasizes is loving kindness meditation.  What’s different about Barbara’s work is that it primarily occurs in the laboratory – her laboratory and her joint work with many other leading scientists. The blessing of her research is she is documenting what so many coaches, trainers and others have believed to be true.

Research results by Barbara and her colleagues are documenting that there are improvements on cognitive, social, psychological and physical resources for people using certain positivity practices.  Whether you practice meditation or other resilience enhancing strategies, I encourage you to choose a practice or two from the list I provided above or another resource you have and take good care of yourself.

The Neurology of Conflict

May 1, 2012

The Neurology of Conflict 

 – Marcia Hughes & James Terrell

What happens to our brains when we “lose it”?  The new field of social neuroscience is discovering intriguing answers.  We now know we learn in part because of mirror neurons and that spindle cells build intuition and contribute to those instant judgments now referred to as thin slicing.  How do these and other brain functions affect our ability to be collaborative as we resolve conflict? In this article we’ll explore some of what we know about the brain and conflict and discuss effective conflict resolution strategies that come from people understanding their own predilections and then being able to manage their responses to achieve effective results.  The traits measured by personality profiles such as the MBTI, values surveys such as Spiral Dynamics, and skills assessments such as the EQi, Conflict Dynamic Profile or TKI, and team effectiveness such as the TESI point the way for improving our skillfulness as trainers and leaders in these critical areas.  The conscious intentional use of skills highlighted by these assessments together with the neutrality and communication strategies of mediation augment the trainer’s understanding of how to train effectively and the participants’ ability to understand how to manage their responses.  This discussion will briefly reference assessments while primarily focusing on understanding and responding effectively to conflict.

Core Concepts

1.    Count to 10 before you speak when upset:  This key concept is taught in kindergarten if not pre-school.  Now we know the neuro-biological reasons why this works.  Most people just need to know the principle and practice it.

2.    Amygdala hijack:  This concept was created by Dan Goleman and explains why counting to 10 or some other brief pause is essential before responding when one feels triggered. You can learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack

3.    Decision making and emotions:  Antonio Damasio has led our understanding that emotions affect decisions; pure rationale thought just isn’t possible.  This expands our ability to understand what triggers conflict as well as the necessary decision making components that build resolution. Damasio demonstrates in his 1994 book Descartes’ Error that “pure reason” that is free from emotion or personal bias is an illusion. Every image we conjure up in our mind has attached to it some emotional response and its associated feeling.

4.    Neurobiology Defined:  Neurobiology is the study of cells of the nervous system and the organization of these cells into functional circuits that process information and mediate behavior. It is a sub-discipline of both biology and neuroscience. Neurobiology differs from neuroscience, a much broader field that is concerned with any scientific study of the nervous system. Neurons are cells that are specialized to receive, propagate, and transmit electrochemical impulses. In the human brain alone, there are over a hundred billion neurons.

The success of the body, in fact its survival depends on its ability to receive information from the environment, interpret it accurately, and respond to it effectively. Unfortunately our neurobiology can work against us, for instance when we learn the “stress habit”– that is familiarize ourselves so much with the external cues of stress that we develop internal correlates that trigger the same kind of fear and anxiety as real life but now are due merely to imagination.

Applications: Goleman and Boyatzis in “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” (HBR, Spring 2011) discuss three critical aspects of brain biology – mirror neurons, spindle cells, and oscillators – and highlight how we can develop practical socially intelligent behaviors that expand on our neural power and our connections and influence with others.

  • Mirror neurons: “The brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. . . [these] brain cells operate as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world.  When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions.  Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.” (Goleman and Boyatzis, p 45).

We are wired to resonate with the behaviors which are modeled around us. This is infinitely more effective than verbal descriptions. Imagine learning to tie a shoe or ride a bike based on such instruction. In child development this principle is the source of the bonding between of her parents and infant, most specifically the mother.

  • Spindle cells:  “Intuition is in the brain, produced in part by a class of neurons called spindle cells …. They have a body size about four times that of other brain cells, with an extra-long branch to make attaching to other cells easier and transmitting thoughts and feeling to them quicker.  This ultra-rapid connection of emotions, beliefs and judgments creates what behavioral scientists call our social guidance system.  Spindle cells trigger neural networks that come into play whenever we have to choose the best response among many…. These cells also help us gauge whether one is trustworthy and right (or wrong) for a job.  Within on- twentieth of a second, our spindle cells fire with information about how we feel about that person….thus leaders should not fear to act on those judgments, provided that they are also attuned to others’ moods. (p 46)
  • Oscillators:  “… coordinate people physically by regulating how and when their bodies move together. … When two cellists play together. Not only do they hit their notes in unison, but thanks to oscillators, the two musicians’ right brain hemispheres are more closely coordinated than are the left and right sides of their individual brains.” (p. 46)
  • Thin Slicing — As described by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (2005) is the concept that we make instant judgments and very often stick with them.  These judgments can be accurate but in conflict resolution we guide people to broaden their lens and gather more data so new concepts and answers become available.

5.    Social Intelligence:  Social Intelligence (SI) is measured by your ability to persuade, influence, connect – in short to lead a meaningful life connecting with others and applying your skills to match your values. Defining Social Intelligence is tricky as it encompasses so much of what we express, of our world view, and our interpersonal values.  SI is definitely based in people skills.  And it’s much bigger as it encompasses our capacity to understand and exude our values in all dimensions of living. We define SI as:

Social Intelligence is the capacity to understand and respond effectively to the emotions, social cues and needs of others in a way that furthers our own values and demonstrates respect for others at the individual, team, organizational and global levels.

Thorndike originally coined the term Social Intelligence in 1920 and was referring to a person’s ability to understand and manage other people and to engage in adaptive social interactions.

6.    Manage Self:  This is one of the key sets of strategies for being the best you can be to resolve conflict.

o      Impulse Control – This is the most impactful EI skill according to thought leaders, Howard Book (2009) and Rich Handley (2009). Impulse control is managed by choosing time, tonality, content and demonstrating a listening engaging attitude.  Extroverts usually need to dial done their engagement; introverts need to dial it up.

o       Internal Talk – One good source for demonstrating the enormous consequence of our internal messaging is Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns (1980). By giving ourselves positive and patient feedback, we can then pass that on to others.  It can give us the pre-disposition to diffuse conflict instead of stir it up.

o      Competing responses – This behavior management tool could be used to diffuse responses likely to trigger conflict.  An example is training oneself to say “Let me think about it” with a neutral tone every time you are inclined to respond cynically to a co-worker. Installing this competitive response will convert the anxiety previously driving the self destructive response to an insignificant one

o      Optimism / Positivity – Extensive research is demonstrating the power of a positive attitude, such as believing a conflict can be solved.  It provides resourcefulness, reduces stress and supports creative thought in finding solutions.  Thought leaders include Martin Seligman (2002, 2011) and Barbara Fredrickson (2009).

o      Move towards, away, against – Humans have a few classic ways of responding and how we manage our habits and willingness to respond by being supportive, withdrawn or antagonistic strongly colors the nature of a potential or actual conflict.


The purpose of our work at Collaborative Growth is to build sustainable behavior change for leaders, individuals and teams by expanding emotional and social intelligence skills.  We’re excited to incorporate the awareness of brain biology and to include the work of leaders and thinkers in social intelligence as we facilitate sustainable change.

Some other conflict resolution strategies that take advantage of this evolving wisdom:

1)    Quick and powerful

  • Drop a pen (the time it takes to pick it up slows you down)
  • Take a drink of water
  • Walk around the block
  • Stair therapy (go climb one or more sets of stairs)

2)    Build Reflective Awareness and Action

  • To be effective we must embrace vulnerability without victimhood.  Reflective awareness with action based in taking responsibility can move people out of conflict.
  • Strategies at the individual level are journal writing or taking brief notes.
  • Strategies groups or teams can use requires the act of listening without commenting; and that is truly listening.  Discussion can occur after the full listening.
  • The significant power of deliberate group discussions, twelve step groups, cancer healing groups, long term deliberate gatherings  – leadership groups, book clubs – requires discipline

3)    Act – Move — Engage

o      2% project – Develop a personally rewarding part of your life as described in Marcia’s Life’s 2% Solution

o      Exercise

o      Make a deliberate shift of manageable proportions to change one habit to another – e.g., being more or less assertive, empathetic, doubting.

4)    Trainer Led Exercises

o      Marcia Hughes and James Terrell have authored several books that provide strategies and exercises for resolving conflict including:  Emotional Intelligence in Action, 2nd Ed. (2012), Developing Emotional Intelligence:  Exercises for Leaders and Teams (2010), The Handbook for Developing Emotional Intelligence (2009), A Facilitator’s Guide to Team Emotional and Social Intelligence, (2009), A Coach’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence (2008), The Emotionally Intelligent Team (2007), Life’s 2% Solution (2005).


Some of the good ones are:

Personality: MBTI, Emergenetics, Disc, Hogan, Firo-B

Skills:  EQi, Conflict Dynamic Profile or TKI

Team Effectiveness and Skills: TESI

Values: Spiral Dynamics


Contact Marcia Hughes and James Terrell at Collaborative Growth for more information on how to use today’s learnings about neurology and conflict resolution to resolve conflict and build collaborative intelligence.

Take Your Team to the Oscars

March 30, 2012

The Help, Moneyball, and The Descendants – these Oscar nominated movies demonstrate ways of understanding team and individual emotional and social intelligence.  The Oscar nominated movies and some other great ones we highlight demonstrate interesting tips for team and individual awareness.  This is a great way to build team engagement and knowledge on how to improve skills.  It always helps to have a model so our discussion is organized around the Team Emotional and Social Intelligence Survey® (TESI®), which includes the seven key skills we’ve found teams need for building their ESI.

We list two movies for each of the 7 skill areas and discuss the first one.  We hope you’ll comment on our blog site and contribute to this fun learning opportunity for all of us!  We thank the many people involved in making these movies for the great entertainment and the remarkable ways in which your work teaches us.  We enjoyed the movies we are reviewing here and recommend them to you.

Team Identity:  The Help and Of Gods and Men

Team identity measures the level of pride each member feels for the team as a whole, and how much connection and belongingness members feel to the team.

The Help:  The team is composed of African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights movement. A plucky new college graduate who grew up there is horrified with the way her grown-up school chums relate to their maids. So she asks one to tell her story and eventually they all get involved, and what’s been going around for so long starts to come around at last.  The maids had always given each other emotional support; this project brought them together in an act of tremendous courage to have more of a sense of pride, possibility and certainly belongingness to their team.

Motivation:   Margin Call, Albert Nobbs

Motivation is a competency that measures the team’s internal resources for generating and sustaining the energy necessary to get the job done well and on time.

Margin Call: In this case the team is made up of professionals in a financial company who have just realized they are holding tens of millions of dollars worth of worthless stock.  They decide to sell it to their clients the next day in order to save the company. This is capitalism at its worst, and the few conscientious team members cannot change the self protection trend. At the end of the day the conscientious ones are unable to shift their corporate compliance habits, the result is disaster for the company’s investors.  This is a movie your team could see in order to strike up considerable discussion about appropriate motivation and to ask when do we stick with the pack and when do we break free?  It can be a great start to discussions about ethics and how to find win/win answers.

Emotional Awareness: I Am, Iron Lady

Emotional awareness measures how well team members pay attention to one another and demonstrate acceptance and value for one another.

I Am: Tom Shadyac, the highly successful movie director for Jim Carrey films such as Ace Ventura pet detective has everything and lives like it until he has a bike wreck and his life is in peril. He discovers that he’s gotten it all wrong as has everyone around him it seems, so he takes a film crew and begins asking knowledgeable people such as Desmond Tutu the Nobel laureate, Noam Chomsky the political theorist and Coleman Barks the poet and Rumi translator: “What’s wrong with our world?”and “What can we do about it?” Their answers are a consistent formula for living sustainably in relationship with each other and the environment.  Some of the key concepts in the film are: cooperation is in our DNA; the truth of who we are is we are because we belong, technology and the human narrative are beginning to come together; we are geared at a primordial level to feel what each other feels.

This is more a film about an individual leader than a team, but the ideas are ones the team can see and extrapolate concepts and values they want to notice and promote in one another.  Iron Lady is listed as the opposite of emotional awareness.  Margaret Thatcher is portrayed as paying primary attention to herself and unflinchingly adhering to the beliefs she developed as a child rather than learning and responding to new ideas and populations.

CommunicationWe Bought a Zoo, Beginners

Communication provides information on how well team members listen, encourage participation, share information and discuss sensitive matters.

 We Bought A Zoo: This movie tells the story of a major attempt to start over after the death of a spouse and mother. The hurting family leaves their old house, old neighborhood, old school, old job and buys a house in the country that is home to over 40 species of animals and an unusual assortment of people who take care of the animals.  The team becomes the father, the zookeepers and the two children, all learning how to work together to get this challenging small business into start up mode and to turn a profit. The father is the team leader.  He is now the employer of the zookeepers, the food and shelter sponsor for the animals, and the source of love and guidance for 2 children. Most of the movie he’s afraid he’s just about to let everybody down but he keeps taking his own advice to his lovelorn son: “20 seconds of insane courage will deliver something totally magical.”  Fortunately it works and the results are as heartwarming as humorous.

Team members can pick up lots to talk about in terms of which zookeeper or other team member they most identify with and how the different personalities help promote or challenge team success.

Stress ToleranceHappyThankYouMorePlease, Moneyball

Stress tolerance measures how well the team understands the types of stress factors and manages the intensity impacting its members and the team as a whole.

HappyThankYouMorePlease:  This delightful film will reduce your stress just by watching it. When 9 or 10-year-old Rasheen gets left on a subway by mistake a group of 20 somethings come together like an ad hoc team on his behalf. He didn’t know his parents or how old he was and was not interested in any more help from social services, but he turned out to be a great teacher of love just as life was providing some great opportunities for practice for his young adult care takers. For example, a geeky guy wants to develop a relationship with a woman who can’t grow hair because of a medical condition. She doesn’t feel worthy of his adoration but tells her friend who found the boy “Let’s be people who deserve to be loved.”  Part of the lesson is for everyone to learn to feel loved.

This is a great film to show a team with generational differences.  It’s a heartwarming way to appreciate the generation entering the workforce.

Conflict Resolution: The Descendants and Of Gods and Men

Conflict resolution measures how willing the team is to engage in conflict openly and constructively without needing to get even.

Of Gods and Men: In March 1996, an Islamic terrorist group kidnapped seven French Trappist monks from their remote monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. They were held for two months and then killed.  At the heart of this atrocity is a tale of heroic faith, steadfastness and love, captured in the sublime film “Of Gods and Men.” It is perhaps the best movie on Christian commitment ever made.  This is a powerful movie and one of the best released in 2011 about real team work. The monks made a very difficult choice in the face of certain danger to stay together, practice their faith and be with their Muslim community.

These men were not shy with each other, they got angry, they blamed, they acted like victims, they wept, they hid, and they each eventually realized that they were expressing these emotions in response, not to the people and the world around them, but rather in response to their perceptions and judgments of that world. This recognition is what enabled them to fully surrender their lives to the service they provided the local community, and receive the spiritual grace that sustained them through the ending of their time on earth.

Positive MoodHugo, Midnight in Paris

Positive mood measures the positive attitude of the team in general as well as when it’s under pressure.

Hugo: This is an extraordinarily charming film about children and adults and how courage looks and feels and is practiced from both points of view. There are two small teams, one of children, one of adults.  Ultimately the two teams come together as one, but major challenges are faced first. It’s also a beautifully made movie.

Ask you team what elements of the movie help them have a sense of “can do” that they can bring back to their team.

Don’t forget – take your team to the movies.  Have fun and learn!

Can Virtual Teams Demonstrate Emotional & Social Intelligence?

December 30, 2011

by Marcia Hughes, Donna Dennis, James Terrell

When Manuel cut off Maria and implied her research was simplistic during the recent team webinar, most of the other team members checked out and started doing email.  Maria wiped a tear away and swore to herself that she wouldn’t risk participating again.  The Team Leader, who is a top notch engineer and is signed up for his first management training class next month, said nothing.  This interaction cost the team and the organization in terms of engagement, trust, and willingness to take risks with one another, yet nothing may ever be done about it.  Virtual teams face big challenges in being able to connect at an interpersonal level.  They are challenged with non-verbal communication, conflict resolution and forming a strong identity.  Virtual teams are likely to struggle more than other teams in using their brain biology support system of mirror neurons, spindle cells and oscillators, which Dan Goleman and Richard Boyatzis recently described as core to using social intelligence (Harvard Business Review OnPoint, Spring 2011).

Yet no matter how big the challenges virtual teams are proliferating. So what should a good leader and organization do?  Applying a team centered model to measure and build ESI (emotional and social intelligence) will provide the framework for understanding and proceeding successfully to build measurable team ESI skills.  First, let’s understand what we mean by ESI and by a virtual team.

ESI is a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. 

 Another way to think about ESI is that it encompasses your ability to recognize and manage your own skills and to recognize and respond effectively to those of others. These skills, or their lack, are exhibited daily by individuals, leaders and teams.  The question is how well these engagement skills are demonstrated.  The answer is to have a deliberate process for expanding the skills the particular team needs.

Virtual teams are teams that are working from dispersed locations so that they do not have the opportunity to work together face to face frequently.

ESI challenges for virtual teams include:

  • Developing emotional awareness of one another
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Developing trust
  • Communications challenges prevail due to:
    • Confused or ignored commitments on response time to one another
    • Lack of visual and non-verbal cues
    • Often cultural and language differences
    • Lack of emotional and social tags that create a sense of connection
    • Relying on email to get work done

These challenges need to be taken seriously because they can cost the organization, team and individuals in many ways including through lessened engagement, decreased productivity, higher turnover, and missed creative opportunities.  Fortunately, these challenges can be addressed.  By using a solid model through which the team members are given a voice about their functioning as a team their ESI can measurably grow.

The model we explore using is the Team Emotional and Social Intelligence Survey® (TESI®), which is composed of seven scales that measure a team’s strengths or challenges.  The survey is an internal 360 on team performance as it results from team members responding confidentially to a survey about their team performance.  With the data in hand from the survey, the team can frankly discuss their strengths and opportunities as well as their different experiences of being on the team.  Best of all they can then create an action plan to support their development.  Later the team can retake the TESI and measure their progress, which will be depicted through a pre-post chart.

7 TESI Skills & Opportunities for Virtual Teams

Team Identity reflects how well the team connects with one another and demonstrates belongingness and pride in the team.  It also includes role and responsibility clarification. Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Making agreements and keeping them- trust builds through keeping commitments in virtual teams
  • Establishing communication agreements, e.g.  response time
  • Clarifying roles & responsibilities
  • Creating a logo or motto
  • Naming themselves

Communication reflects how accurately the team members send and receive emotional and cognitive information.  It indicates how well they listen, encourage participation, share information and discuss sensitive matters.  Communication indicates the extent to which team members acknowledge contributions and give feedback to one another.  Trust must be built faster in virtual teams and if key components are not attended to early, the team is not likely to have the foundation it needs to get work done at a distance. Trust is initially built by making and keeping agreements.  Thus strong communication strategies will support the team in moving forward to experiencing trust beginning with trusting the communication process.  Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Establishing a communication process with understood time commitments
  • Practicing active listening virtually
  • Setting up conversations in pairs – virtually have coffee or lunch
  • Building reflective skills

Emotional awareness measures how sensitive and responsive team members are to each other’s feelings. Does the team value and respect negative as well as positive feelings? This scale measures the amount of attention the team pays to noticing, understanding, and respecting the feelings of its members.  Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Taking a personality assessment and use the information, such as the MBTI or Emergenetics. Understanding work preferences will facilitate smoother interactions with team members.
  • Working with the TESI to build understanding of preferences.
  • Matching technology to task
  • Telling stories about something that happened when working alone
  • Asking questions and listening, checking out the accuracy of what is understood

Motivation is the competency that shows the team’s level of internal resources for generating and sustaining the energy necessary to get the job done well and on time.  It gives feedback on whether creative thinking is promoted and whether competition is working for or against the team.  Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Setting stretch goals
  • Intentionally reinforce what works
  • Catch each other succeeding and talk about it- make sure team members know this is a part of what they need to do as well

Stress Tolerance is a measure of how well the team understands the types and intensity of the stress factors impacting its members and the team as a whole.  It addresses whether team members feel safe with one another, and if they will step in if someone on the team needs help. Stress tolerance reflects the level of work/life balance that the team is able to achieve including its ability to manage workload expectations.  Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Talking about a non-work joy
  • Agreeing to all go for a walk at the same time
  • Getting up and stretch during the virtual session

Conflict resolution scores show how willing the team is to engage in conflict openly and constructively without needing to get even.  It measures the ability to be flexible and to respond to challenging situations without blaming one another.  Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Expanding dispute resolution skills
  • Pacing one another
  • Practicing paying attention

Positive Mood reflects the positive attitude of the team in general as well as when the team is under pressure.  Positive mood scores indicate the members’ willingness to provide encouragement, their sense of humor, and how successful the team expects to be.  It is a major support for a team’s flexibility and resilience.  Virtual Teams can grow this skill by:

  • Going to the movies together (in different cities)
  • Supporting team members in setting up a time for two to use Skype or an equivalent and have a drink together, be it coffee or…
  • Making a big and consistent deal of celebrating successes!

There are many resources that will support your ability to use these resources.  Attend or watch our webinar on this topic, our books Developing Emotional Intelligence:  Exercises for Leaders and Teams, The Handbook for Developing Emotional Intelligence, A Facilitator’s Guide to Team Emotional and Social Intelligence, A Coach’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, The Emotionally Intelligent Team, and Emotional Intelligence in Action, Second Edition.

We welcome your contacting us for more information.

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

January 9, 2011

Now is the time to live our intention to be the finest people we can be. Two public shootings occurred this week in states near our home in Colorado.  West of us in Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot while she spoke to her constituents in a simple public setting outside a grocery store. The Democratic lawmaker was doing the best work our politicians do; she was meeting with her constituents.  Chief Judge John Roll of the U.S. District Court for Arizona was killed as were others and many were wounded.  To the east of us in Omaha, Nebraska Millard South High School Vice Principal, Vicki Kaspar, was killed and Principal Case was injured in a shooting at the school by a student, Robert Butler. Acts of violence and tragedy are being experienced worldwide.

How shall we respond?

  • Listen with the ears of our heart.  Focus first on the quality of what is said rather than letting the relationship be objectified.  Our messages to and from one another matter.
  • Be forgiving.  Forgiveness is the process of repair, healing, making whole again, it is the opposite of retribution.  Omaha students are designing T-shirts printed in school colors to raise money for the three parties most affected by the tragedy, including Butler’s family. This is an example of forgiveness in action, and it is the only way to heal.
  • Recognize and acknowledge our essential connection with one another.  Research is showing our species thrived not because of ruthless competition but its remarkable ability to cooperate.  Try saying to yourself when you encounter anyone: “In love I am one with you.”  Just try it and see what happens.
  • Explore the truth and implications of the ancient Mayan statement “en la k’etch, which translates as” – You are another myself.
  • Calm yourself.  Whether you meditate, pray, walk or use another strategy, be intentional about taking dedicated time to calm and center yourself as you move beyond stress to connect with your truth.

Developing emotional and social intelligence (ESI) is the focus of our work.  We’ve written seven books providing specific strategies for making a sustainable difference in the quality of the lives of individuals, leaders, teams and organizations by expanding ESI.  This is how to mitigate and prevent the conflict that escalates to violence when we treat each other carelessly.  We’ve worked with people on six continents and are blessed in the many ways we have been touched and taught by people worldwide. The heart of our work is coaching people to expand their compassionate truth telling with themselves and with one another.  While we offer many formats for engaging in this vital path, in truth employing the five simple and profound steps listed above will accomplish all that is needed.

Paul Simon wrote Bridge Over Troubled Waters in 1969 and Simon and Garfunkel released it in 1970. At that time in the United States, where we live, people were deeply troubled over the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement was growing, on May 4, 1970 four Kent State University student demonstrators were killed and nine more were wounded deeply shocking our nation.  It was a time of deep challenge and this beautiful song touched our hearts, minds and souls. Simon and Garfunkel sang:

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

©1970 Simon and Garfunkel

This song is perhaps one of the most profound expressions of empathy ever written in English.  It acknowledges that a great deal of our human adventure is still fraught with disappointment, loss and sorrow.  It volunteers to be consciously present in those times providing strength and companionship to help us get through them.  Empathy is the ESI skill most critical to understanding what others are requesting and why they are making the request.  When we take time to understand the heart of the message, it becomes much easier to respond to those needs and desires and to avoid the kinds of conflict that is certain to result from ignoring the true request.

Thank you Simon and Garfunkel.  Thank you to all who are willing to slow down, listen with the ears of your heart and know that communication matters.  Thanks to those who go beyond fear and the belief in separation to know and assert with your whole self to all beings on this planet “In love I am one with you.”  Thank you to those willing to be taught by the ancient Mayans and so many other cultures that “I am another yourself.”  Thanks to all who stop in the midst of the chaos, the demand for social media interactions, the busyness and expectations to be still, breathe and send peace to yourself and one another.

Thanks to all our friends and colleagues for the privilege of communicating and working with you.