Do you notice yourself wanting to avoid uncomfortable team dynamics or difficult conversations? You are not alone.
Working on a team can come with many challenges. We may need to navigate different and sometimes opposing personalities. We need to consistently communicate with one another— sharing feedback, making requests, and at the same time remaining open to other team member’s perspectives.
None of these challenges are easy - and that’s where strategies based in developing and applying emotional intelligence can help.
Emotional intelligence, or EI, is our ability to recognize our own feelings/emotions as well as the feelings of those around us, and to better manage our interactions from this awareness.
Over the last decade, companies worldwide have begun to recognize the value of emotional intelligence at work. EI was ranked sixth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 10 skills that employees will need to possess in order to thrive in the workplace of the future.
So how can we avoid the pitfalls of either working in a silo or engaging in unhealthy dynamics with others, and instead grow more productive, collaborative and emotionally intelligent teams? These 3 simple tools can make a big difference:
1. Slow Things Down
Most likely, everyone on your team is facing heavy expectations to produce results, and quickly. When we consistently operate at a rapid pace, mistakes can increase and communication breakdowns can occur. That’s because when we are consistently operating at a stressful pace, the brain’s hardwired ‘threat response’ can take over.
An essential aspect of developing emotional intelligence involves slowing things down, so we can re-engage the wiser, more aware and creative part of our brain - the prefrontal cortex. When we slow down, we can improve our communication, see more clearly and work more effectively as a team.
So how do we slow things down?
Start by taking some deep breaths. Obvious, right? But breathing is usually the first thing we forget when we feel stressed. That’s because our brain’s fight/flight response has taken over and slow, deep breaths are counter to our body’s instinct to fight or flee a stressful situation.
If you are starting to feel some frustration or stress with a coworker, taking a few breaths or even pausing the conversation and coming back to it later can be useful strategies. How often are you glad you took a break instead of firing off that angry email or making that indignant phone call?
2. Notice and Adjust Your “Listening Filters”
Are you listening to prove someone wrong? Are you listening only so that you can make your point? Are you listening to ‘fix’ someone or something?
Try paying attention to the unconscious and habitual ‘listening filters’ you use when communicating with your colleagues. Notice when you are using one of these filters, and instead try listening with genuine curiosity and creativity.
Practicing and modeling this kind of listening can be a game changer for teams. Asking genuine questions and truly listening can be a great way to slow things down in a meeting and reduce any tensions that may be simmering. Effective listening can also open up creativity and improved collaboration, instead of ‘I’m-right-you’re-wrong’ dynamics.
3. Respond Instead of React
Stress fosters reactivity, reflexive and patterned behaviors that may make us feel safer in the moment but often lead to misdirected energy and unhealthy conflict with others. So how do we fend off our worst impulses and instead respond from our better and wiser natures?
A well-known study conducted at UCLA found that when we name our emotions, we begin to re-engage our prefrontal cortex. When something stressful is happening on your team or someone says something you disagree with, instead of reacting with a dismissive email or harsh words, try pausing, taking a deep breath and silently naming your emotions.
Without judgment, ask yourself if you are feeling frustrated, worried or stressed. For example, while taking deep breaths you might say to yourself, “I am feeling stressed right now” or “I am feeling frustrated.” See how you feel and how you are tempted to respond after that.
Developing emotional intelligence takes practice and repetition, and the work really never ends. But the good news is, research in neuroplasticity has shown that we can in fact break old habits and truly rewire our brain through continued practice.
Slowing things down, practicing effective listening with team members and naming our emotions helps us gain access to the prefrontal cortex, the wiser part of our brain. When we do this, we not only reduce tensions with others, we become more open to creative ideas, collaboration and solutions. We stop pouring fuel on the conflict fire, model a better way for others, and notice ourselves responding more and reacting less. We are often happier and more fulfilled as a result.
Juna and The People Piece team
Juna Mustad is a communication, relationship and emotional intelligence trainer and coach at The People Piece.