A leader can fall too easily into the trap of seeing the people who work for them as employees first and people second. Yet, it’s the people who determines whether or not your company will be successful.
How can leaders better understand what drives employees and how to deal with their feelings? It isn’t easy, but the payoff can be huge. Being emotionally aware lets you balance your workforce to meet new challenges, get day-to-day work done and innovate. Plus, emotionally aware leaders build engagement with employees. In turn, these employees are more committed to the organization, deliver better results, please customers and drive value, according to a report by the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Fail to build engagement, and employee retention and business results will suffer.
While being emotionally aware can be pivotal to a company’s strategy, it can be tricky to execute. The best leaders are aware of the emotional state and cues people are sending all the time. Decoding emotion takes an understanding of different communications and personality styles.
For those looking for a little guidance, here is a bit of advice.
- Self-awareness: understanding their own emotional state
- Self-management: the ability to control their own emotions and reactions
- Social-awareness: the ability to pick up emotional cues from others
- Relationship-management: an approach combines communications and team building with the ability to manage conflict and influence employees.
If you are aware of your emotional state, you are living in the now, connected to your feelings and less likely to let them influence perceptions of others. You’ll be open to the emotional states of your employees and able to understand where they are performing well and where they’re experiencing difficulty.
Identify the emotional cues you might be missing. Many people are experts at hiding their emotional states. While this skill may help them feel more in control, it can have a toxic effect on the organization, which is why it’s so important to be sensitive to non-verbal and verbal emotional cues.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries talks about four toxic leadership styles, which could easily be employee behaviors with emotional cues:
- Narcissist: These people are entitled, selfish, and inconsiderate. They need attention and put themselves above the needs of others. Emotionally aware leaders can spot narcissists for their self-focus, charm, lack of awareness of others’ needs, and self-directed world view. They’ll often start every sentence with “I,” redirect conversations to be about themselves, resent other’s successes and scheme to discredit other employees they view as being “against” them. Try to avoid them. If you can’t, be sure to think before you act with these personality types.
- Manic-depressive: An illness and a way of behaving. Manic-depressives swing wildly between moods and typically have some awareness of their condition but little motivation to change. They love the highs and blame others for the lows. Recognize them for their volatility, lack of insight, disruptive behavior, and tendency to micro-manage yet be erratic. This behavior drives other employees away – you could end up having severe retention problems. What’s the best day to talk to them? You will have to sense it out every day.
- Passive-aggressive: Probably the biggest employee cohort. Difficult to deal with since they avoid confrontation and express emotions indirectly. How to spot them easily? They suffer from low self-esteem and act passively. They may take it out on others by promising to do work, procrastinating and missing deadlines. Then they’re defensive and make up excuses. Don’t challenge them. Instead, help them find more direct ways to deal with their anger and resentment.
- Emotionally disconnected: Recognize them for their flat manner, inability to read the emotional cues of others, and their chill. They may experience emotion as physical distress. For instance, frequent headaches or stomachaches. Drawn to hierarchy and order, this group will be less productive in an environment of change and creativity. Either put them in a work situation where there’s lots of order and tactical work or try to help them see the links between their physical symptoms and the emotional needs of others.
Avoid the emotional traps. Emotionally aware leaders will be on the alert for emotional traps. The rest of us, on the other hand, need to learn to spot them and adapt. The big traps I see in my consultation with clients are:
Passivity. Employees who agree with everything you say then miss deadlines and try to shift the blame drain a leader’s energy, alienate co-workers, and disappoint clients. Deal with passivity swiftly: Here are a few pointers.
Manipulation. Many personality types will turn to manipulation to get what they want. Be on the lookout for employees who suck up to you, rat out other employees, or try to control meetings, interactions, and relationships. Manipulation, as this article points out, is not the same as persuasion. Know the difference.
Bullying. Some people have a mean streak. They generally have poor self-esteem and issues with authority and control. They compensate by bullying others — co-workers, vendors, and probably family members. Deal with a bully head-on — not in a confrontational mode, but by neutrally informing them you are on to their methods and won’t tolerate the behavior. More tips here.
Drama. Every workplace has a drama queen or king. This person has outsize reactions to everything, gossips about everyone, starts rumors, and listens in to private conversations. They complain incessantly. Don’t reward the drama queen — call his or her bluff, pointing out the negative effect their behavior has on their co-workers.
It may seem impossible to avoid emotional traps and deal with people of varying personality types, but it’s possible if you are tuned in to your own emotional state, willing to address issues head-on, and aware your business will suffer if you don’t take action. Tune in and become an emotionally aware leader — you’ll be rewarded with better hires, higher employee engagement, more customer satisfaction, and better business results.
Want more non-traditional leadership advice? See 4 Leadership Lessons From Nine-Year-Olds.
A version of this article was first published on Entrepreneur.com on 4/6/14
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