As we move through a global pandemic, emotions are running especially high. This leaves many people with a sense that they lack control and that stress is really getting to them. For so many, this has been a time filled with changes: work has been lost or moved to the home; kids are heard in the background of virtual meetings; the social experiences that give us joy are now limited.
What does this have to do with change management? So much.
Change can be a very emotional thing. Now, more than ever can be a trying time to introduce or experience change, when the staff members of any organization could be feeling they’ve already reached their capacity for adjusting to something new. This is where emotional intelligence comes in. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotional responses of the people around you.
How Emotional Intelligence Helps Employees
Let’s say that, eight years ago, Manager Zach single-handedly created a new, department-specific tool for your organization. He’s still heavily involved in completing processes using the tool. The organization as a whole, though, wants a new tool to be used and shared across departments. They’re hoping this will encourage consistency in deliverables and create opportunities for employees to move more easily into other areas when their careers advance or interests grow. They’ve hired a consultant to help implement this change.
To Zach, who built the old tool and used it regularly, this could be hard news to take. Because there is a strong personal investment in the existing tool, the change might feel personal. Doesn’t my organization appreciate the work I did to build the existing tool? Do they not feel my deliverables have been adequate? Why wasn’t I consulted before this change was put into action? Will I even be able to learn a new tool?
These questions, deeply rooted in Zach’s emotional response, can quickly turn into beliefs and decisions. The organization doesn’t understand. I’m not appreciated here. I know the new tool will be awful. I’ll use it when they’re watching, but I’m going to keep using my own tool whenever possible. I’m not going to enforce the adoption of the new tool with my reports, either.
These beliefs have the power to make Zach a really unhappy employee because, for the rest of his career, he might feel he’s being forced to use a tool he didn’t need or that he works for a company that doesn’t care. This will inevitably affect his performance and attitude. Because he’s a manager, this will also affect the success and satisfaction level of his employees.
But, what if Zach could take an intentional pause between that emotional response and his subsequent beliefs and decisions? This is where emotional intelligence becomes really helpful because he can find more productive answers to his questions about the change. Let’s look at a couple:
Doesn’t my organization appreciate me?
If Zach applies some emotional intelligence to the scenario, he might think, “I’m feeling unappreciated, but I think it’s because no one asked for my input. This decision was made with eyes on the big-picture, so I have to remember it isn’t about me. Leadership undoubtedly really thought this through. The organization has relied on my tool for almost a decade, and my supervisor has praised it multiple times over the years. I must try not to take it as a personal attack against me or the tool I built.”
Will I even be able to learn a new tool?
Again, with some emotional intelligence, Zach might think, “I’m scared to learn a new tool, because I don’t want to fail. To continue being successful here, I’ll have to do it anyway. Maybe my deep understanding of this type of tool will help me out. To help my reports in their careers, I’m going to have to adopt it and hold them accountable for doing the same. If I stop letting my fear control me, mastering this new tool might even help me obtain a new role in a different department I’m interested in.”
When you can identify and manage your emotions, you’re no longer at their mercy. Emotional intelligence doesn’t mean feeling fewer emotions; it means identifying what you’re feeling and being intentional about how you let those emotions influence your behaviors and attitudes.
How Emotional Intelligence Helps Change Managers
Emotional intelligence helps us identify and manage our own emotions, but it also helps us do so with the emotional responses of others. Working with the same example above, let’s think about how emotional intelligence can help Consultant Juanita as she’s brought on to manage the change.
If emotionally intelligent Juanita hears about Zach’s role in creating the old tool, for example, she might anticipate the change could feel deeply personal to him. She might anticipate the fear and lack of appreciation he’s experiencing. To address it, Juanita might set up a one-on-one meeting, asking Zach to share some of his wisdom and lessons learned. She might even offer him a role in the change roll-out process, thus helping him to feel recognized for his expertise in the area.
Emotional intelligence will also make Juanita careful not to criticize the old tool when talking about the new one. When the emotional response of recipients like Zach is considered, more effective change-related messaging can be crafted. Gaining employee buy-in is such an important step in effecting change successfully. A change is framed or communicated can have substantial influence over how much that change is accepted or resisted.
Zach has a complex, human reaction to the tool change. But Zach is just one staff member. Juanita must navigate the emotionally influenced behaviors and attitudes of multiple departments of people. While this might sound daunting, applying emotional intelligence can truly help.
For more ideas about effectively introducing emotionally intelligent change in your organization, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.