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  • Tamar Balkin

Keeping Cool In The Eye Of The Storm, Can Emotional Intelligence Can Help Wellbeing?

Updated: May 5, 2021

Photo by Heather Gill on Unsplash

“Strip away all the psychological jargon and it’s simple. There are two ways to influence people as a leader – you can manipulate them, or you can inspire them. There’s nothing wrong with the carrot and stick approach, but if you truly want lasting change and discretionary effort, you must inspire.”  Martin Newman (2018)

Last week I was briefed on a new client who works in the financial services sector. The CEO told me that a culture of trust and honesty, particularly when things go wrong, is essential in his industry and his firm. My new client is a renowned technical expert however, he has a tendency to shout at his team and colleagues.  I'm not sure if the CEO has read  Amy Edmondson latest  book on psychological safety, yet he definitely realises that for many reasons it is critical for my client to change his behaviour.

“A long line of research on emotional contagion shows that people in groups “catch” feelings from others through behavioural mimicry and subsequent changes in brain function.” Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill

As is often the case when I am thinking about my work a relevant email appears in my in box.  This morning it came from Adam Grant, where he referenced the work undertaken by Sigal Barsade, on emotions in the workplace.  The contagious nature of emotions in the workplace is well known and explains why the best way to improve the emotional intelligence of your team is to start with improving your own emotional intelligence. What is less known is Barsade’s research that the sharing of emotions in the workplace influences not only how people feel, but also what they subsequently think and do. Specifically they found that genuine positive emotions in the leader resulted in greater group-level cooperation,  less group-level conflict, and greater perceived individual-level performance (both by oneself and others).  In contrast they found that a leader’s “rampant anxiety led to many negative outcomes, including poor financial performance, burnout, and low job satisfaction.”

Before I tell you more about my client, I want to share my view of EQ. 

Whilst many people have defined EQ (and Daniel Goleman was possibly the first) I find Martin Newman's framework as measured by the Emotional Capital Report the most useful. He explains that EQ is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

What are the benefits of EQ? 

  • Manage Difficult Emotions

  • Thrive under pressure

  • Ensure values, ethics and purpose are at the forefront of all decisions

  • Enable respectful, useful and timely feedback

  • Create a culture of creativity, innovation and continual learning

  • Respond logically to complex situationsIncrease in discretionary effort  

  • Influence and negotiate with diverse stakeholders

  • Encourage robust debate and avoid group think

  • Enable respectful, useful and timely feedback

  • Attract and retain high performing talent

Leaders with high EQ can improve the psychological wellbeing of themselves, their team and create psychologically safe and healthy workplaces.  

So what does this mean for my client?

The first step in improving his Emotional Intelligence (EQ) will involve increasing his emotional self-awareness.  Recent research demonstrated that the better we are at naming our emotions the better we are at managing them. It is not even essential to understand why we are feeling something. Using the thesaurus, word lists, and broadening your emotion word vocabulary is a beneficial first step in increasing your EQ. The self-awareness process will also involve an understanding of how my client's  personality manifests at work when his tired, stressed and bored.  A values assessment will identify what matters to him in life and at work.  We will also review the 360 feedback that prompted this referal. Learning to be brave enough to source on going feedback and keep improving his self awareness will help to ensure he continues to improve his behaviour beyond the coaching. 

Once my client has this foundation can we talk about his wellbeing and his ability to stay calm in stressful situations and maintain productivity without losing control.

“Emotionally intelligent leaders manage their emotions well and restrain their actions until they have time to think rationally. They are able to stay calm in stressful situations and maintain productivity without losing control. They make considered decisions and project a composed, reliable presence.”

Martyn Newman

What I have described is only 1/3 of the components of EQ, the inner focus.

My hope is through the coaching program we will have the opportunity address the other components namely:

  • Establishing honest genuine relationships,  

  • Learning and expressing empathy;

  • Providing constructive timely feedback- radical candour;

  • Flexibility in thinking and openness to new ideas;

  • Optimistic even in the face of adversity;

  • Tolerant of others and receptive to new ideas and consider different points of view;

  • Derive satisfaction from their accomplishments in life and work.

I was asked recently by a colleague if I felt that it is problematic that my recent coaching referrals relate to the high levels of incivility in the workplace. Perhaps my philosophy was best answered by my client who explained that coaching enabled her to think about her values and priorities in both life and work. By increasing her self-awareness and ensuring that she looks after her wellbeing, she is behaving appropriately in a manner that is consistent with her strong values of fairness and kindness. In addition, she is enjoying work and achieving success in her new role. 

"What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do."


Finally, there may be times where it is not manipulative and actually appropriate, to use the principles of  behavioural psychology to motivate yourself and others. In these instances, it is extremely worthwhile to know what people find rewarding, as I have a hunch the average person will prefer a biscuit to a carrot. ----------------------------------- References:

Newman, M (2014) Emotional Capitalists. The Ultimate Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders.

 Detert, J.R. & Burris, E.R. (2016) Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely? HBR: The January–February 2016 issue

10 Big Ideas from Emotional Capitalists: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders,

S.G. Barsade, et al.,(2018)  Emotional contagion in organizational life, Research in Organizational Behavior McLeod, S. A. (2007). Skinner - Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from

Emdonson, A, C.  (2019)The Fearless organization. Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning innovation and growth.

Torre, J.B.  (2018) Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review Vol. 10 No. 2 (April 2018) 116–124

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