Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in a Tik Tok World: Rick Inatome Discusses EQ Recovery in the Post-Pandemic Workplace

Emotional intelligence (“EQ”), generally defined, refers to the capacity to identify and manage one’s emotions and understand those of others. As Rick Inatome notes, EQ took a major hit during the pandemic.

Consider the recent widespread scenarios in which mostly Baby Boomer bosses issued post-pandemic edicts to return to the office full-time. These mandates, as evidenced by the pushback they generated, represented a profound disconnect with the emergent needs and concerns especially of Generation Z and millennial employees.

The lack of empathy, collaboration, and adaptability to new realities constitutes a recipe for undermining morale, trust, and productivity. The situation reflects an EQ deficit that is especially problematic, insofar as it clashes with the values and priorities of generations that are becoming dominant in the American workforce. Manifest thus is the need to develop or reacquire EQ capacities that, among other things, acknowledge the evolving dynamics of the modern workforce.

Introduced in the 1990s by a Harvard psychology professor, EQ soon caught the attention of a business world that was phasing from hierarchical structures to more collaborative processes. The focus on self-awareness, empathy, and relationship management in many organizational settings became perceived as essential in optimizing relationships, teamwork, and productivity.

EQ expert Travis Bradberry states that 90% of top performers have high EQ, and that this quality is responsible for nearly 60% of their performance. Yet, as he further indicates, only 36% of persons have high EQ.

EQ Loss During the Pandemic

Recognizing the potential of a high EQ workforce, many organizations invested significant resources in its development. Through 2019, research shows global gains in EQ. With the advent of the pandemic, however, EQ dropped precipitously. Particularly notable is a Korn Ferry Institute study of 155,000 leaders showing that 40% of them had severe gaps in their EQ. Poor self-management was a particular weak point. These indicators, especially considering the trickle-down effect of low EQ leadership, suggest the need for relearning highly learnable skills.

Remote Work Presents New Challenges to EQ

With nearly 30% of the American labor force working remotely full-time, and two-thirds working on a hybrid basis, there are new challenges to elevating and maintaining EQ. Increasingly important in this context are digital and virtual emotional intelligence, which can be more difficult to acquire and maintain due to several factors.

Remote work presents a barrier to verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. Digital communication (e.g., email, IM) can be misinterpreted and subject to delay. Diminished social interaction hinders relationship development and connectivity and, in an environment of isolation, can lead to unhealthy ideations. Distractions in a remote environment and multitasking can undermine focus, listening skills, and empathy. Feedback, which is critical for understanding one’s performance effectiveness and impact upon others, tends to be more limited.

Some Tools to Secure and Strengthen EQ

Although these factors present some differentiated challenges compared to an office environment, Rick Inatome notes there are processes that can be adapted effectively to the digital and virtual environments. One effective tool is to begin each team meeting with a recitation of ground rules. An example would be:

Meeting Ground Rules

• Begin and end on time

• Set up in advance any documents that need to be shared

• Refrain from multitasking

• Minimize environmental distractions

• Allow others to complete their thoughts

• Debate ideas, not individuals

• Maintain confidentiality (use headsets if others are within earshot)

• Stay on subject

• Listen actively

• Exercise team-sensitive discretion in use of cell phones and other devices

A particularly unfortunate casualty of the pandemic was trust. Most business leaders, even if they have relented on return to the office edicts, have said they cannot trust employees to be as productive at home as at the office. Mistrust begets mistrust and, because it is the glue that binds a performance optimizing culture, special emphasis on restoration of trust is imperative.

Toward this end, another simple tool that can be deployed at the beginning of team meetings is a check-in. The process entails projecting a slide that sets forth organizational values and having a volunteer identify one of them as a focal point for the meeting. Following is a sample set of values that might define an organization serious about EQ.

broken image

(These values are drawn from Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass 2002)

Using this chart as a visual reference point, a team member might reference vulnerability-based trust and share a relevant personal narrative that bespeaks a willingness to be open, authentic, unthreatening, and assume the risk of sharing weaknesses, mistakes, and the need for help. Exercises like this help flip the script of mistrust engendering mistrust to trust begetting trust.

A Ripe Market for Emotional Intelligence

The handling of back to the office mandates suggest sthat EQ was another casualty of the pandemic. Improving (or reclaiming) emotional intelligence in organizations experiencing deficits should not be a difficult sell. Many Baby Boomers and much of Generation X were introduced to the importance of EQ when the subject first became widespread in business literature. Emphasis on emotional intelligence should have a particularly strong appeal to the Tik Tok generations, given the importance they assign to personal growth, well-being, self-awareness, empathy, and connectivity – and the fact they seek workplaces and leaders who prioritize EQ.

It is well-documented that high EQ organizations have superior productivity. It is a competitive disadvantage, however, if emotional intelligence declines due to transitioning to a remote or hybrid work environment. Maintenance of an emotionally intelligent culture hinges upon prioritization, process, and accountability. The employment context may have changed, but not so the need for leadership that makes emotional intelligence a strategic imperative.

About Rick Inatome

Rick Inatome is a transformative business leader whose legacy includes being an architect of the digital age. Working with other pioneers such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, he established a disruptive technology distribution channel that introduced the personal computer first to the general public and then to corporate America. Rick Inatome is among a select group of tech giants in the Computer Hall of Fame and was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine. He has founded and managed various private equity funds, served on numerous boards, and is in demand as a consultant, mentor, and public speaker.