Fine-tuning your EQ to enhance decision-making, engagement, and productivity
A leading expert from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence reveals the link between emotions and workplace productivity, and he offers tools to help advisors build better relationships and positively influence their firm's culture.
You've probably heard that emotions can influence investment decisions, but their influence on the workplace can be much greater. Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, studies emotions and how they affect behavior. He believes emotions not only play a huge role in how we interact with others but also directly affect productivity and effectiveness. By learning to effectively identify and regulate positive and negative emotions, you can improve personal decision-making and work performance. You can also build stronger teams, enhance client relationships, and make your firm more successful.
"Don't let your heart rule your head."
If you've ever needed to make a decision at a time when you were feeling upset, excited, or angry, then you've probably heard some version of this common idiom from a well-meaning friend or colleague. That's because emotions are often perceived as something to be suppressed, particularly in the workplace, where employees are generally expected to make pragmatic, impartial decisions.
But does ignoring our emotions really lead to better business decisions? Perhaps not, says Brackett. He believes harnessing emotions can lead to a healthier, more productive work environment and improved relations with clients.
In fact, a growing body of science has identified direct links between emotions and performance. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of American workers are either unengaged or actively disengaged in their jobs,1 which could be costing the U.S. up to $550 billion in lost productivity each year.2 Brackett says these feelings can affect everything from decision-making to mental health and can also impact on-the-job performance.
"How many of you would feel a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit alarmed, if data came back that showed 75% of the time the people who worked for you feel tired, bored, and stressed?" Brackett asked advisors at Schwab's IMPACT® conference.
It doesn't have to be that way. People can learn to manage their emotions. "The distinguishing variable is the skill of emotional intelligence," Brackett says. “People who have the ability to regulate their emotions are the ones that achieve the greatest products."
To improve your performance, Brackett recommends taking a hard look at your own feelings, and he has several tools to help you better understand your emotional state. Once you understand and learn to enhance your ability to regulate your own emotions, you can address the emotional environment of your firm.
Brackett's research has identified five reasons why employers should care about emotional intelligence:
- Decision-making and judgment: In business and in investing, we are taught never to allow emotions to influence decisions, yet Brackett's research has found that they frequently do. Whether we realize it or not, emotions have a profound effect on our judgment.
- Attention memory learning: How you feel drives your capacity to focus. If you’re bored, you may not be paying attention to a presentation. If you’re stressed, you may not be able to process what you’re hearing. If you're angry, you may simply not be able to listen at all.
- Relationship quality: Your emotions can affect how coworkers interact with you. If you’re negative, venting, or complaining, they may be less willing to ask for your input. How you carry yourself can affect whether colleagues approach you with a problem. If you’re quick to anger, they may simply try to avoid you, which can lead to poor communication and other workplace dysfunctions.
- Everyday effectiveness: Negative feelings such as frustration, disappointment, stress, and anger can inhibit your creativity. Brackett has found that people who regulate their emotions tend to produce the best products and the most innovative thinking, and they exhibit higher-level problem-solving skills.
- Physical and mental health: Stress and other negative emotions can increase your body's cortisol levels, deplete your immune system, and affect heart function.
"The first step in managing our emotions is to acknowledge that we are not always good at recognizing how they influence our behaviors and then understanding how those emotions can affect others."
Monitoring and managing your own emotions
The first step in managing our emotions is to acknowledge that we are not always good at recognizing how they influence our behaviors and then understanding how those emotions can affect others. For example, when we’re feeling frustrated or overworked, we tend to take out those feelings on other people, perhaps by withdrawing from social settings or by growing terse during challenging conversations. We may not even realize we’re doing these things, but our peers and clients do—and our attitudes can elicit similar attitudes in return.
To help people identify what they’re feeling at any given time, Brackett developed an application called the Mood Meter, which measures and plots “pleasantness” and “energy” on a scale from positive five to negative five. Pleasantness measures your attitude or how you feel, while energy measures your physical and mental energy. Brackett uses colors to plot the different quadrants: Yellow is high energy and pleasant, green is pleasant but low energy, red is unhappy but energetic, and blue is unpleasant and low energy.
Mood Meter: Quadrants of emotions
Once you have greater awareness of your emotions, you can start to use that awareness as a tool to increase your productivity. For example, using the Mood Meter, you can identify the quadrant that best describes your emotions at any given time. The key to improving workplace relationships and productivity is to get close to the yellow quadrant—high energy and pleasant. If you want people to agree with you, you want them to be in green—pleasant but low energy. Obviously, blue and red don't necessary work well in these settings, but they do have their places. For some days and some tasks, Brackett argues, you would benefit from being in a different quadrant.
"Blue actually is a great place for doing budgets—low energy, slight disappointment—because it induces more convergent, more deductive reasoning," he says. "You're going to be more nitpicky and more aware of errors when you’re in a blue mood." Red, too, has its purpose, especially if you want to persuade someone or tackle an injustice. "The red that I have, for example, is about the nation's funding for schools," Brackett says. "It drives me crazy, and if I didn’t have the anger, I wouldn't have the motivation to make change. So you need the anger to drive change. It's not a bad thing; it's how you deal with it that matters."
Emotion management is about knowing how to regulate the full range of emotions, Brackett says. Specifically, he notes that developing emotional intelligence takes five essential skills:
- Recognizing: Accurately identifying your emotions and those of others. "Are you reading people's emotions accurately in their face, in their body, in their voice?" Brackett asks.
- Understanding: Knowing the causes and the consequences of emotions, including how they affect your thinking, judgments, and behavior.
- Labeling: Using words to describe what you're feeling. "You have to name it to tame it," Brackett says. "If you don't have the vocabulary, if you don't know what you’re actually feeling, it's hard to know how to regulate it."
- Expressing: Knowing how and when to express emotions with different people across different contexts and demonstrating sensitivity to their backgrounds and culture.
- Regulating: Matching your emotional expression to the situation and using thought and action strategies to prevent, reduce, initiate, maintain, and/or enhance emotions.
Like any skills, these take time and practice to develop. The hard part, Brackett says, is trying not to get bogged down in negative statements, avoidance, and the blame game. "It's easy to point fingers," he says. "It's easy to yell. It’s easy to scream. It's easy to deny and avoid. But it's effortful to engage in healthy emotion regulation. You have to be deliberate and conscious and want to do it."
Brackett recommends certain strategies to take ownership over emotions. For example, understanding your emotional triggers can help you look out for them and decide how you might respond differently. For some, breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can help you step back and reflect on how to better manage your response. In addition, positive self-talk and positive reappraisals can help mute negative sentiments and mitigate the impulse to blame others. Finally, importing images—such as memories that make you feel happy or fulfilled—can shift your mindset from negative emotions.
Bringing emotional intelligence into the workplace
Improving individual awareness of emotions is only the first step. Individuals' emotions can play a key role in the culture of a firm. Bracket recommends what he calls the Emotional Intelligence Charter, which is a collaborative document outlining how members of your team aspire to treat each other. This collaboration across the firm can create a sense of accountability, build common goals, and strengthen workplace culture.
"Why not ask people you work with how they want to feel? My hunch is they want to feel respected and supported and motivated and appreciated," he said. "And then the question is, 'What can we do as an organization to create those kinds of emotions? How do we interact to make sure that people feel safe, feel respected, feel supported?'"
Adopting an emotional-intelligence strategy requires patience and practice. Financial professionals who hone their emotion-management skills can create positive outcomes that could improve personal and team performance and productivity and generate a healthier work environment—ultimately enhancing firm performance.
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