I have always thought of myself as a very rational person. Frankly, I have been quite proud of that trait. It did me a lot of good in a world where IQ and hard skills is essential for growth. When asked to describe myself, I would say I was a left-brained guy. I got interested in human behavior and mindset early on during my MBA days. I learnt that along with analytical intelligence was a need to develop something called Emotional Intelligence.
But I had trouble embracing that idea. Being rational, I told myself that emotions should be kept aside as much as possible as it would only interfere with sound decision-making and ability to convince others. In other words, emotions always remained something of secondary importance to me. Then one interesting thing happened.
For one of my job interviews, I underwent a pretty intensive leadership competency assessment which was required by the company for high potential hires. One of the exercises was a case-study – long and detailed and included multiple dimensions. I had to analyze the case-study and arrive at a certain decision. Then I had to do a role play wherein I was a manager and I had to convince my boss (the assessor) on why we should go ahead with the decision.
At the end of the role-play, this is what my assessor had to say “Suman, you did an excellent job in analysing the situation but I am not convinced because the energy was missing”. Energy, what energy? Listen to my facts! I started pondering over his response over and over again in the days and months ahead. Eventually, it left a profound impact on me and helped me finally understand this thing called EQ!
We all have a rational side and an emotional side. How much is the rational part and how much is the emotional part? What is the ideal mix? Does the ratio vary depending on the situation? Is it ok to display emotions?
It is not only ok but absolutely essential to bring out emotions in our interactions. Human interactions are based on emotional connection. To make conversation, we first have to make a connection. It is like dialling someone on your cellphone. You first dial (connect) and then speak. If the line drops, you redial and reconnect. The same is true of real engagement – we need to check if we are emotionally connected before exchanging information. If that connection drops, we would be talking without the other side listening!
The ability to think is what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom. We have a thinking brain also known as the executive centre. In terms of evolution, this part is relatively new. The Emotional brain triggers first. Hence, we first feel and then think. And often, our response or behaviour is determined by how we feel even before our executive centre has processed the information! If the feelings are negative, it can hijack the thinking part. This is why we are often more emotion-driven rather than logic- driven.
This has huge implications for leadership. For one, we need to be cautious of not just what we say but how we say it. In case how I say something brings in negative feelings in the other person, it could shut down their thinking and make them defensive and not open to my suggestions or feedback. The emotional connection would have broken!