What Is Emotional Intelligence?


This is the second installment of our series explaining and exploring new terms in project management. Our first definition explored the topic of project leadership. With each article, we’ll focus on a specific definition and summarize what it means for anyone leading a project.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence [ə-mōSH(ə)n(ə)l in-teləjəns]

According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is the “ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” It includes the skills of being emotionally aware, able to harness and apply emotions to tasks and manage and regulate those emotions.

The term came into prominence with the publication in 1995 of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and science journalist who specializes on the brain and behavior. In it, Goleman argues that emotional conditioning plays a dominant role in what people think of as intelligence.

But what does that have to do with leading a project successfully? It may be a soft skill, but it’s one that is no less crucial to managing teams than the more technical ones. Your teams, after all, are made up of people. When people work together under stress, like on a project, emotions are going to flare. If you can’t manage them then you’re going to jeopardize your project.

How Emotional Intelligence Can Improve Meetings

One practical example of how emotional intelligence can improve a project is by looking at what it offers in terms of meetings. Every project has meetings, many meetings, maybe too many meetings. A good meeting can rally the troops and set direction, while a bad meeting can waste time and lower team morale.

Annie McKee writes in the Harvard Business Review that by developing emotional intelligence you can better lead a productive meeting and turn a failing meeting into a successful one. If you’re setting expectations that aren’t being met, poorly preparing and not being fully transparent about the agenda you are trying to address, you’re going to alienate your team and derail the meeting.

There are many things you can do to turn that around by gauging the team members around the table. For one, admit when you’re wrong. It’ll build trust. Focus on areas you can make progress rather than flogging a dead horse. Have the team buy-in to the plan and leverage everyone’s time to be more productive.

Developing Financial Mindfulness

Budget is part of a project manager’s responsibilities. Finance can seem like simple arithmetic, in that numbers don’t feel and act irrationally, but it’s not. Once people are added to the equation, then emotions tilt the scales. It’s important to apply one’s emotional intelligence to financial matters, as well as people.

We’re written before about the financial biases people have that can prevent them from making the best possible decision. If aware of the subtleties involved in decision making, project leaders can better manage risk when assembling their budget plans. There are psychological, social, cognitive and emotional factors at play whenever someone makes an economic decision, be they individuals or institutions.

Emotional intelligence can reveal that people aren’t always being objective, and that goes doubly when money is involved. One of the ways that people lose objectivity is by overvaluing their own product or service. Remember that people tend to be loss-averse, in that everyone wants to gain not lose. But don’t forget that you, too, have biases. Being emotionally intelligent doesn’t necessarily make you a better person, but it does help you to create awareness of when you have prejudices, so you don’t have to act on them.

Jack Welch on emotional intelligence

Improving Leadership

Being a leader means being able to motivate people. People are emotional animals, so it would make sense that to have a keener sense of their emotional state and the skills to manage those emotions is going to make you a more effective leader. Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., wrote in a Wall Street Journal commentary: “No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader. You just can’t ignore it.”

The five key elements that are essential to a high emotional intelligence dovetail nicely with what makes for an effective leader. Take a look at the categories and see how they apply to you. The result will gauge your emotional intelligence and leadership qualities.

  1. Self-Assessment: being aware of one’s strength and weakness.
  2. Self-Regulation: having the discipline to control and/or redirect disruptive emotions.
  3. Empathy and Compassion: the ability to feel what others feel and being concerned and helpful.
  4. Relationship Management: connecting with others in a healthy and productive fashion.
  5. Effective Communication: getting your message across with words as well as tone and body language.

Think of some of the best teams in the world and how they conduct themselves. One such outfit known for its leadership and successful projects is the SEAL unit of the U.S. Navy. You may not think of the military as a place that excels in emotional intelligence, but remember the Navy SEAL creed: “The ability to control my emotions and actions sets me apart from other men.”

Soft skills are essential but they’re useless without the right tools to apply for the work at hand. If that job is leading a project then you’re going to want a collaborative online suite of software solutions created with project management in mind, such as ProjectManager.com. See for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial.

Related Posts

Deliver Your Projects
On Time and Under Budget

Start planning your projects.

Start 30-Day Free Trial