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Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Zero Tolerance for “Brilliant Jerks”

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Zero Tolerance for “Brilliant Jerks”

Catch Christa Kirby’s presentation “Cultivating an Agile Mindset: Creativity, Trust, and a Plastic Toothbrush Case” at this year’s Agile & Scrum Conference!

By Christa Kirby, MA, LCAT, PMP, CSM, CSPO  |  Vice President, Global Learning Innovation and Global Practice Director, Leadership – International Institute for Learning (IIL) 

As we move into 2018, it feels as though change is afoot here in the United States.  In the wake of a tremendous scandal, a new reckoning is occurring in the workplace, and in many organizations, unethical conduct that had been previously swept under the carpet is now being acknowledged and held up to the light.  Harassment, bigotry, and bullying are just a few behaviors that are falling under more scrutiny… and are no longer tolerated.

In 2016, Arianna Huffington – author and founder of HuffPost and Thrive Global agreed to join the board of Uber in order to help transform the company’s culture, as well as its brand image.  The “new Uber,” she says, will include “no more brilliant jerks.”  The replacement of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with Dara Khosrowshahi is a definite step in the right direction.

The list of resignations and firings due to misconduct is growing every day.  Are we ushering in an era where people are accountable for their actions and where bad behavior is no longer tolerated in the workplace?  I’m hopeful that we are at least making progress.

The good news is that there is hope for “brilliant jerks.”  There is a set of skills that can be learned and refined, and you’ve probably heard of it before: Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is a concept that author Daniel Goleman brought into popular awareness with 1995 publication of his book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.  As you probably know, Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we:

  • Perceive and express ourselves;
  • Develop and maintain social relationships;
  • Cope with challenges; and
  • Use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

A work environment that values Emotional Intelligence is one in which respect and trust exist amongst colleagues.  Creativity and innovation can flourish because people are encouraged to share ideas, and “failures” are reframed as opportunities for growth and learning.  This creates a climate of engagement, where people want to “show up” and are intrinsically motivated to do their work.

An organization with this kind of work culture reaps many benefits.  Number one: retention. People want to work there.  Given the fact that many of us will spend upwards of 90,000 hours of our lifetimes “on the job,” it is important to feel valued and appreciated for the unique talents one has to offer.

The second benefit of this kind of work culture is huge: high performance and results.  That’s right – a culture that promotes Emotional Intelligence is built on a foundation of what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson dubbed “psychological safety.”

What this means is that people feel empathy amongst their colleagues, mutual respect, and trust.  They feel listened to and genuinely cared about as a person.

The results of Google’s 2012 Project Aristotle study reinforced the critical importance of psychological safety to team performance.  When their People Analytics team examined data on the company’s top-performing global teams, they found that the most important factor contributing to the teams’ performance was this concept of psychological safety.  Being able to take risks on the team without feeling insecure or embarrassed, having conversational equity, and treating one another with respect emerged as more than just nice-to-have qualities – they were central and fundamental to the teams’ success.

And guess what?  They are also foundational concepts of Emotional Intelligence, a skill set that each and every one of us can continuously build and improve.

So as 2018 unfolds, my hope is that we will collectively begin to embrace more and more behavioral accountability in our work and personal lives and that Emotional Intelligence will be elevated to the level of importance it deserves.

Want to build your team or organization’s skills in Emotional Intelligence?  IIL’s Emotional Intelligence training includes a globally validated, actionable assessment for each participant, integrated into a highly interactive workshop experience.  To learn more, contact us at learning@iil.com.

About the Author
With a BA from Duke University and an MA from New York University, Christa Kirby is an experienced Communications professional as well as a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist and trainer. For the past decade, Christa has conducted workshops and led trainings for corporations, non-governmental organizations and foundations in countries including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece and the US. Her specialty areas of focus are team-building, leadership, conflict resolution, effective communication, cross-cultural communication and peace-building.

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