- Emotional intelligence is an important leadership skill in the workplace.
- Leaders who are emotionally intelligent are able to open new lines of communication, create understanding, and help achieve common goals.
- Learning to empathize with your employees and coworkers, and remain calm, can help you to address conflicts early before they escalate.
You probably already know empathy is a good thing. It can open up new lines of communication, create understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals. That doesn't mean it's always easy -- sometimes your patience wears thin, you can feel your frustration rising, and it's enormously difficult to continue to listen to your coworkers with an open mind.
But when employees, coworkers, or business partners know they can open up to you about their challenges, it's easier to resolve those conflicts early and avoid losing your patience over a much bigger blow-up later.
There are four questions I've learned to ask others that have helped me keep my cool, and get to the bottom of whatever the trouble might be with the other person.
1. 'How is this situation affecting you?'
No matter how your colleagues or reports might answer, thank them for sharing their thoughts and let them know you're going to take their point of view seriously. Encourage them to share more specifics about the context or circumstances of their frustration or concern. Listen attentively to their feedback so you can try to piece together a causal timeline of events from their own point of view.
2. 'How is this keeping you from succeeding?'
If you're feeling irritated by a coworker during a tough predicament, ask what roadblocks are standing in their way. When people feel valued for their contributions, they'll also feel more comfortable explaining -- without blame or anger -- what's preventing from them contributing.
3. 'What do you think would be the ideal outcome?'
Even when an entire team or organization is working toward a common goal, individuals also tend to nurture their own -- and that's usually fine. One manager might have her eye on a more advanced leadership position, for example, while a top salesperson may be trying to work his way toward managing a huge account. When tensions run high, reconnecting with individuals' separate goals can help you tap back into the empathy needed to keep everyone pulling together. Asking your colleagues how and why they would each prefer a certain outcome from the predicament you're all in is a great way to do that.
4. 'What did you learn from the last big hurdle you cleared?'
This question is a great way to ask somebody to reconnect with their own problem-solving skills.
Rather than wallowing in the hazards of the present situation, you can make room for your coworker or team member to recall a template for solving the problem at hand. Tune into both their verbal and nonverbal cues so you can get a feel for how they've managed adversity in the past. This way, you can coax them into re-adopting the best of those habits, while leaving aside the not-so-productive ones.
Empathetic listeners are quiet and patient, particularly when that's hardest, and they avoid jumping in to fill gaps in the conversation or impose their own assumptions.
It takes real effort not to let your own negative feelings overwhelm you in the process, but sometimes the best strategy is the simplest one: Just ask a question.