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« 14. How to build team emotional intelligence »

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and internationally recognised Emotional Intelligence Coach.

One of the difficulties of having to live and work with other people is that they are different.

Others vary in age, cultural background, country of origin, personality type, communication style, education, family upbringing, jobs, size, shape, gender, opinions, religious orientation, eating habits, punctuality and emotional intelligence. The list is long.

So how can we tolerate these differences and work and live together in ways that bring out the best in each of us... and ensure productive teams and happy relationships? Team emotional intelligence can help. It can be developed and increased through some simple techniques.

Want to develop your own emotional intelligence or that of your team members? Enrol in our 5 star emotional intelligence coaching package now.


Team Emotional Intelligence Tip 1: Talk to each other about what's important

One vital step in forming work-based, social and intimate relationships is to talk about and discover each other's perspectives.

One of my friends visited us recently and was explaining how he and his relatively new girlfriend were discussing many difficult topics early in their relationship. They had already discovered each other's views on children, marriage, upbringing, family of origin - even their views on sharing the same toothbrush!

Then he was explaining that one of his sisters was unhappy at the moment because she had never discussed topics such as children with her husband. Now four years into her marriage she had finally broached the subject and discovered to her dismay that he did not want any. She had simply assumed that children come along as part of the marital package deal. Sadly she'd never bothered to check.

It can be easy not to talk to each other about important issues as there are often emotions involved or we just take for granted that other people think the same way that we do.

Consequently the first step towards understanding and tolerance can be discussion and investigation, actually asking people what their views are.

We can be interested in their backgrounds, experiences or upbringing. We can be willing to explore their beliefs, cultural background or values. You might be amazed with what you hear.

Many of us are not at all as other people imagine.

Team Emotional Intelligence Tip 2: Listening without ridicule

A second step in being able to build a productive team or relationship is being able to allow people to talk about their values, upbringing and interests without ridicule. What you do with the information you hear and how you respond influences whether people will continue to talk with you or not and whether they will work with you well or not.

For instance, I conducted a team building programme with a dynamic team of eleven people, made up predominantly of Extraverts. One person in the group disclosed that she likes to do two things to relax after work, one of which was basket weaving. Later she commented to me that she thought she'd disclosed too much. Why?

Well, firstly, because she was an introvert she regarded personal information as private and not for the public domain. Secondly because one of the Extraverts in the group started making fun of the fact that she did basket weaving. Not in a malicious way but enough to draw attention to it.

By not accepting the information in the generous way that it was given, he was reducing the chance she would disclose more information to him or the rest of the team. If, instead of making fun of the comment, he had shown a genuine interest such as, "Really, what does basket weaving involve?" or, "How did you get involved in that?", he would have shown greater respect and therefore increased the likelihood of her sharing more in the future.

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Team Emotional Intelligence Tip 3: Moderate how you explain yourself

A third factor in building successful working or personal relationships is adapting the way you explain yourself, so that it makes it easy for other people to hear you. How you say something influences whether someone else in your team is willing to listen.

Saying something "as it is" or "bluntly", can, for example, just be a lazy excuse for saying you can't be bothered to accommodate another person's feelings or personal needs.

As an example, I sometimes hear people make comments such as, "That's just the way I am and you can take it or leave it." This can be said by people who are wanting to protect their identities or who feel they need to defend themselves.

However it can make it hard for another person because it sounds like the person saying it is totally uncompromising. As an alternative, such feedback could be given clearly, yet include possible avenues for discussion or more information about the exact issues involved.

For instance, imagine a team member is receiving complaints about the fact that he or she clocks off at 5pm each night. Instead of saying, "This is who I am, and you'll have to cope", the person might rephrase his/her explanation more along the lines of, "I really want to contribute to the team, at the moment though I have a sick child at home and I need to leave by 5pm each night and can't work back late on the project."

The extra information makes her response easier to hear and her behaviour easier to tolerate.

Team Emotional Intelligence Tip 4: Provide feedback with sensitivity

A further way to build good relationships is to be sensitive when providing feedback to people.

I have heard people give very blunt feedback and then say, "Well if you didn't like what I said why did you ask?"

The point is often not the content of the feedback but the manner in which it is delivered.

Team Emotional Intelligence Tip 5: Know your own personality type and the impact it has on others

A fifth step in building better teams at work and home is to understand how your personality impacts on others. Different personality types have different communication styles. The ways that different types express their opinions may put off the other types.

For example, for those of you who know the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, "Thinking Judgers" (TJs) will often give critical information as an opening comment in response to people's comments. The reasons these are given vary.

For example, an ENTJ (Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging) may express a negative opinion expecting someone else to stand their ground and argue back because they enjoy the verbal sparring.

If another TJ, an ISTJ for example (Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging), hears an idea and expresses a series of negative comments in response, it may be because they can see the practical problems and want to express these in order to save the person from facing failure in the future.

Two different styles with two different reasons for expressing a negative opinion. Sadly, other types such as feeling types (Fs), who value harmony, may feel put down by these styles and find it hard to cope with. They may get exhausted and stressed working or living in an environment that they see as negative and their best work may not be produced.

If as a TJ you don't know the impact your style has on other members of your team - you may find your team self destructs. If as a feeling type you don't understand the reasoning behind the negative comments and instead take it personally you may be misjudging people and taking hurt that is not intended.

Therefore, knowing your own type and those of others on your team can be critical for team effectiveness and relationship building. If you don't know each other's type, talking to each other about what lies behind the opinions can be useful. Alternatively, accept the first answer and then seek more information.

For example, I have learnt with ISTJs to listen first to the negative problems that are described and then to say, "Thanks for pointing out the practical problems, what now do you see the merits of the idea to be?"

Team Emotional Intelligence Tip 6: Encourage each other's strengths

One final way to help build a tolerant team or relationship is to build into your time together the opportunity for each person to utilise their strengths.

For example, I am married to someone who is very practical, down to earth and realistic (a Sensate). He is excellent at building things which hold together, look good and fit where they're supposed to. Me? I am not the sort of person who is good on exact measurements, nor at making things. What I am good at is finding relationships between things, creating different options for tackling a problem and for producing plans for the future (an iNtuitive).

We can work well as a team by my "dreaming up an idea" and my partner "making it". It would make no sense to ask him to produce a five year plan or for me to go and fix the broken door. By using the strengths of each person the best work is the result. Learning to live and work together despite our differences is what adds the richness to life.

I hope tolerance can increase amongst people. After all if the Myers Briggs Type Indicator is in any way accurate and if there really are 16 different types, and no one type is better than the other, then it also means there are 16 right opinions! That takes some tolerance!

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