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23. Emotional intelligence in local government

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and international leader in emotional intelligence coaching.

What is emotional intelligence and why should it matter in local government? The essence is this: Emotions drive the way ratepayers, councillors, ministers, executives, visitors and staff behave. All local government organisations experience emotionally driven people problems. Problems, such as gossip, friction and complaints, are emotionally driven. Every local government organisation therefore needs to have emotionally intelligent strategies to reduce and manage them.

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Do emotions make any difference in local government?

Local government involves more than managing rates, roads and rubbish – it involves collaborating with, managing and serving people. People are not robots, they have emotions. They do not therefore simply respond to or act on information alone. Rather their responses are driven by their emotional reactions to the information or ideas presented.

On their own, facts and figures do not influence people; feeling convinced (an emotion) of the value or importance of the facts and figures does.

Emotions drive your council, don't they?

Anyone who has watched their council make a decision can observe the influence that emotions make when a lobby group is pushing for a certain decision to be made.

For instance, if they feel passionate (an emotion) about dog control and want tougher controls put in place, they are more likely to vote in favour of money being allocated to this cause than someone who feels indifferent towards dog control; and someone who resents (an emotion) controlling dogs in their district is likely to vote against it.

All will have been presented with the same facts and figures.

Each will respond differently.

The ultimate skill in ensuring that a vote is passed or your key messages and recommendations are acted upon is to manage the emotions involved, both in creating the desireable ones and reducing the unhelpful ones. This requires high levels of emotional intelligence, skills that many of us may not have, as we are unlikely to have received tuition at school on such topics.

Emotional intelligence involves a vital set of skills impacting on the success of local government that we now need to develop as adults.

Which emotions matter in local government?

Emotions are at the core of emotional intelligence and are relevant in any workplace.

If you or your staff, contractors or councillors felt determined, motivated, confident or enthusiastic it would impact positively on work output, wouldn’t it?

Similarly, productivity may be lower if you all felt complacent, apathetic, humiliated, unwanted, shafted or stressed.

Research has clearly shown that emotions impact on work productivity.

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Emotional intelligence and hope in local government

Feeling hopeful, is one such example. Hope, as defined by Dr Shane Lopez is, "the belief that the future will be better than the present and that you have the power to make it so".  Hope, by the way, is not the same as feeling optimistic or engaging in wishing or positive thinking. Feeling hopeful leads people to take action to make the future better, whereas wishing is just a longing for a positive future without the backup action. Positive thinking is saying something positive to yourself but also may involve no action.

Lopez found that employees who are excited about organisational goals and their own future in the organisation miss less work.

In fact, he found that employees who feel hopeful at work have an increase in productivity of 14% over their less hopeful colleagues.

He specifically researched a group of engineers and found that, "the more hopeful the engineer, the more likely he or she was to go to work.

Over a course of twelve months, the high-hope engineers missed an average of 20 hours of work only, with many of them missing no days at all; the low-hope engineers missed more than ten days of work each, on average".

Hope matters in local government. How much hope are you spreading and inspiring at work?

Where does that leave emotional intelligence in local government?

In summary: Which emotions you recognise, acknowledge, manage and foster in yourself and others could make a big difference to the ease with which your local government functions and which of your projects are completed and which fail.

Suffice it to say, ignoring emotions may be possible, but there are negative consequences if you do, such as less buy-in on decisions, more conflicts and misunderstandings, and diminished levels of employee engagement. Are you willing to risk this or will you pay more attention to developing the emotional intelligence skills of your top team and staff?

This is just part of an article published in Statewide magazine in 2014, to read the full article click here: Emotional intelligence: Important applications in local government.

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