Learn to manage your emotions | HBR

There are many benefits to our ability to recognize and control our own and other people’s emotions.
Learn how to develop emotional intelligence to improve your managerial skills

Konrad was convinced that he had achieved what he had been striving for in his professional life. He was praised for his highly developed managerial skills, he was an excellent strategist, strongly focused on the goal. In the business environment, he was considered a trusted and reliable partner for cooperation. His strengths were also education and the consistency with which he climbed up the career ladder in his industry. Thanks to these qualities, he obtained the position of a partner in a dynamically developing development company, indicated as the future leader on the Polish market. to be in the current place, where he was not only at ease, but had the opportunity to fully use his skills. In the new company, he was enthusiastically welcomed by a well-coordinated team that has been working together for several years. His subordinates liked Konrad’s commitment, the energy with which he tried to learn the details of the projects he ran from day one, and excellent knowledge of the industry. They were impressed by the fact that he often used his experience gained in London, transferring his work ethic and the latest knowledge to Poland. Also, his foreign contacts could not be overestimated.

Symptoms of the problem

After a few months, the atmosphere in the band became tense. Konrad felt that he was losing authority, and the employees were not engaged in the performance of their duties to the extent that he expected. Contacts with colleagues took on a formal character, more and more conflicts and mutual grievances arose, which translated into a reduced efficiency of the team and weaker financial results of the company. An additional problem was the increasingly frequent sick leave, affecting the work of the entire department. Some people isolated themselves from the rest, reluctantly took part in non-obligatory initiatives or avoided direct contact with Konrad. The manager had the impression that even the conversations about private matters, so far casual and frequent, had died down recently. His well-coordinated team ceased to be a perfectly functioning machine, but Konrad did not see the source of the problem. The first person to draw the manager’s attention to the problem with the team was his partner. During an after-hours interview in the break room, he informed him that his subordinates were complaining that he was treating them objectively. Part of the team, especially those on lower-level positions, did not feel motivated to work because they did not receive feedback on the way they approached the task. People had to follow the same command several times just because it was not communicated clearly enough. Employees did not feel as if they were learning new things – on the contrary, working in the office caused them frustration and disappointment. On the other hand, the senior management was not very enthusiastic about Konrad’s strong profit-oriented attitude. The company, which had a close, even friendly, relationship with some of its customers, turned into a money-making machine under the influence of the new manager. Interpersonal relations, which had been the basis of the atmosphere of mutual trust so far, were relegated to the background.

The causes of the problem

Why did a talented, competent and ambitious manager fail to put the company on the path of success? It turned out that Konrad was unable to perceive the emotional signals sent by employees. He did not recognize or understand the emotions of others, nor was he able to manage them. Konrad’s emotional intelligence (EI), i.e. a set of skills from four areas: recognizing emotions in oneself and others, understanding them, using emotions in thinking and acting, and regulating feelings, was at a low level. Meanwhile, according to employers, it is the ability to arouse positive emotions and establish good relationships with people that is the most important feature of a good manager. Thanks to it, the leader is able to create a committed team that works on the company’s results. As shown by the research of the Institute for Emotions Development, conducted in 2018–2019 on a group of 200 members of the management team, business leaders in Poland often have an insufficiently developed emotional intelligence. In self-descriptive questionnaires, 87% of respondents stated that they are aware of their emotions, and 67% were convinced that they knew what other people felt. Meanwhile, the results of the tests (including those containing the opinion of the supervisor and colleagues) prove that only 9% of respondents can correctly recognize emotions in other people. The results on regulating emotions are also not optimistic. As many as 56% of respondents confirm that they sometimes act under the influence of emotions, but only 6% can regulate them. And although half of the respondents admit that e

Contextual strengths allow them to focus on the task at hand, almost 32% are unable to use them. It is even worse with the use of emotions in thinking and acting; 31% of Polish managers consider their skills to be high in this respect, and 48% – to be medium, and the tests show that of managers have low competences in this field. These deficiencies cause incomprehension among colleagues and subordinates, reluctance to joint meetings and lower productivity. However, the latest research by the Institute for the Development of Emotions shows that emotional intelligence can be shaped regardless of age. The four-month training conducted by the institute significantly improved the results of managers. Before training, 30% of leaders had a high overall level of emotional intelligence, after training this percentage jumped to 44%, and 2% of leaders had a very high level of EI.

How to develop emotional intelligence

In order to make progress in this sphere of life, we have to work on ourselves, using the available tools. We can also consider participating in specialized training in four areas:

Recognizing emotions.

This ability brings us many benefits. Thanks to it, we gain important information about people’s attitudes, goals and intentions. We usually learn about our feelings by processing non-verbal information such as facial expressions, voice, body language, and behavior. The Mood Meter, developed by the Center for Emotional Integration at Yale University, facilitates the recognition of one’s own emotional states. This tool distinguishes between four groups of emotional states: anger / fear, sadness, joy and peace. In each of these groups, several dozen well-defined feelings were distinguished. The mood meter is available incl. in the form of an application for mobile devices. It is best to use it 3-5 times a day at fixed times of the day. After a month, we will be able to quite accurately determine how we function in the emotional sphere. To recognize emotional states, we can also use the online atlas of emotions (1) by Paul Ekman, an American psychologist, a pioneer in the field of emotion research.

Understanding emotions

It includes the ability to interpret emotions, recognize complex feelings, and predict likely emotional states. The aforementioned atlas of emotions helps in learning to understand emotions, which allows you to learn the meaning of individual feelings, the reasons for their formation and what needs are behind them. It is also useful to keep a diary of emotions in which we will record events or situations that evoke specific feelings in us. You should answer the following questions: “What happened?” “How do I feel?” “What group of emotions am I in now?” Using emotions. When we become aware of the emotions we succumb to, we can use them to solve problems, work on a change of mood in order to adopt a different perspective and evoke the desired emotions, e.g. for better remembering. The transition from one emotional state to another is facilitated by a mood meter and an emotion diary.

Regulating emotions

It means openness to pleasant and unpleasant emotions, the ability to consciously control emotions, as well as the ability to control one’s own and other people’s emotions by reducing the intensity of negative ones and reinforcing the positive ones. To this end, we can use several strategies, including:

physical activities – take a few breaths, move around to reduce or increase the energy of emotions, a short meditation or mindfulness training can also be helpful;
behavior – distance yourself from the situation or stimulus, try new behavior, do something different from the undesirable behavior, e.g. smile instead of getting angry;
empathy – engage in careful listening to better understand the feelings or point of view of others; show understanding for their views;
cognitive activities – try to interpret the situation positively to change your mood; modify expectations (ask or suggest a change of mindset); explain assumptions (offer new information to correct misconceptions);

• social activities – offer support, cooperation; ask for help from others; build interpersonal relationships (establish rapport with others). In addition, think about other important information that can help you with your analysis. Finally, check the effectiveness of your actions. Consider what other ways can be done to improve the result. The adrenaline that accompanied the achievement of new goals allowed the manager to escape from sadness. On the other hand, suppressing anger and blocking unpleasant emotions led to disturbances in the perception of reality.

Work on internal motivation

Now let’s get back to Konrad. In the first days of the new year, some of the employees attended a three-day training, which Konrad was also directed to. First, the whole group completed a questionnaire to check the level of emotional intelligence. His analysis of the indic

Poor sources of some problems and areas where additional work was necessary.During the training, employees learned the role of emotional intelligence and its components (recognizing, understanding, using and regulating emotions). Konrad, like many other managers, had trouble reading emotions correctly. Not only that – he perceived other people’s emotions as more positive than they really were. He saw no nuances that indicated the dissatisfaction of his colleagues. His self-control played a large part in this – in his private life he tended to suppress unpleasant feelings. He was also unable to regulate his emotions – he avoided not only anger but also sadness, which he considered to be an expression of weakness. He often drank alcohol and avoided confrontation when it came to disputes. At work, he did not admit to himself that he was experiencing difficulties. He unconsciously hid them under the veil of activity, spontaneity and undying enthusiasm, instead of allowing himself to reflect on his condition in times of depression or demotivation. This was due to the quick results orientation he had learned in the business environment which allowed him to achieve satisfactory financial results. Adrenaline accompanying the achievement of new goals allowed for an escape from sadness. Suppressing anger and avoiding unpleasant emotions led to disturbances in the perception of reality. He often inadvertently torpedoed ideas he couldn’t focus on – seeing the overall target he couldn’t see details. In the second stage of work on emotional intelligence, Konrad received an individual, two-month training program. He approached him with reserve and disbelief, assuming the low value and effectiveness of the work he would put into carrying out the exercises. Initially, he delayed the commencement of exercises, but decided to treat them as another challenge that he was to take up as part of his professional duties. He decided that since his worst results were in recognizing emotions and using them, it was precisely on improving these skills that he wanted to focus on. Every day he received an email from the trainer with short exercises to be performed. One of them was to observe your emotions during an important meeting. Konrad was to record his observations in a journal created for the purpose of this training and assign meaning to individual emotions. It helped you stay consistent and make changes effectively, while keeping track of your work progress. The exercises took Konrad less than ten minutes a day – he devoted three minutes to each of the three daily sessions. In addition, he received tools along with instructions helpful in changing the mood that were most beneficial in a given situation (e.g. a mood meter). Before each meeting, he was to put himself in an appropriate emotional state, and during the meeting, he was to observe the emotions of other participants, which he then noted in the same way as he did with his own emotions.

First progress and further work

After a month, Konrad received the first feedback from his trainer. Despite the relatively small improvement in the recognition of emotions – from low to low – Konrad was pleased that the work done was paying off. His awareness of emotions was greater, which puzzled him. Persistence and a strong focus on results motivated him to continue exercising and develop new soft skills that facilitate communication with employees. He got even more involved in working on himself. He even went back to a few articles on people management. He read them again, referring to his new experiences. He was pleased to note that now he perceives their content from a different perspective than a few months ago. His work on himself was reflected in the results of another assessment, which he received two months after starting the training. This time, his results in recognizing emotions reached an average level, and most importantly, he noticed that he liked the time spent in peace and quiet. Until the end of the workshop, he conscientiously followed the program of daily exercises, which became part of his daily work and a kind of ritual performed, for example, before important presentations and conversations accompanied by strong emotions. Until now, before the meeting, he had prepared himself substantially – developed presentations and reports, made sure that the materials were of the highest quality, and tried to update his knowledge on an ongoing basis. He did not spend time catching his breath or reflecting on the emotional state of other participants in the meeting – he required professionalism and commitment to solving the problem at hand. This was also how he distributed tasks to be performed and gave instructions. In recent weeks, however, he has changed his approach – before one of the weekly meetings with staff, he left his room, leaving behind prepared presentations and schedules. He spent five minutes outside, concentrating only on his thoughts and what the people with whom he will talk in a moment feel. Are they satisfied and satisfied with the last successful project? Does the thought of a new and facing challenge make them excited or anxious and insecure? Do they know that Konrad appreciates their skills and respects their professionalism every day? Konrad decided to continue the training. After four months of training under the supervision of a trainer, he achieved satisfactory results.

The study was conducted with the use of MSCEIT tests measuring individual emotional intelligence skills (recognition, understanding, use and regulation of emotions), the PKIE questionnaire – a descriptive tool also used to measure emotional intelligence – and a work environment questionnaire, thanks to which he could find out how he functions in company. His emotional recognition was elevated – above average. The use of emotions, that is, the ability to put yourself and others in the right mood, has also improved to an elevated level, as has the regulation of emotions. On the other hand, the understanding of emotions was at an average level. Thanks to the training, Konrad began to notice people’s needs and better understand the reasons for their behavior. As a result, it was easier to solve problems and prevent con icts. The effort put into improving the recognition of emotions not only contributed to the improvement of his skills, but also influenced the reformulation and change of some goals. Konrad postponed some of them for later, noting that their achievement at the moment was unrealistic, and pursuing them at any cost could cause damage. The new experience unleashed abilities in him that had hitherto been suppressed. The knowledge gained during several years of work, at various courses in the field of team management and working with people, has ceased to be just a theory, and has become an element of everyday life. Under the influence of training in developing emotional intelligence, Konrad also modified the team management model. He introduced a few elements into it that he had not used before, assuming that they were not effective or took too much time. He limited the number of meetings of the entire team to the necessary minimum. He has given employees with more seniority more freedom in managing time and delegating tasks to subordinates, showing them a trust that they have not felt sufficiently before. He systematically had one-on-one conversations with those team members who might feel uncomfortable at larger meetings and not have the opportunity to share their thoughts. The emotional filter that he imposed on the duties he performed allowed him to take care of his own needs as well as the needs of employees. The team was revived, and the company gained wind in its sails.

Marzena Martyniak
psychologist, specialist in the field of emotional intelligence development, associate partner of the International Society for Emotional Intelligence (ISEI). Author of the Polish version of SEL (social emotional learning) and the “Land of Emotions” educational program, a series of guides for parents, Doctor Emocja.

Editorial work: Anna Werner