So you’ve mastered your time management skills, you can use Wrike in your sleep, and you hold the best retrospectives. Now the question is: how do you feel? There’s more to being an effective project manager than the qualifying certificate or the hard skills. Emotional intelligence (commonly known as EI) plays a huge role in your success as a project manager and leader.
Continue reading to find out:
- Why emotional intelligence is such a crucial skill for project managers.
- Actionable tips, tricks, and resources for improving your emotional intelligence.
- How to successfully apply your emotional intelligence.
It’s time to talk about our emotions.
Why project managers need emotional intelligence
Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Meyer coined the term ‘emotional intelligence’ in 1990 with this definition:
“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”
If you think that the workplace is no place for emotions, you’re not alone. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Louise Altman, co-founder of Intentional Communication Consultants says, “I think it’s still viewed as slightly suspect in the average workplace. I’m kind of astonished on a regular basis at how little people really understand about human dynamics in the workplace.”
We’ve been conditioned to believe that when we arrive at work, we need to leave our emotions at the door. The truth is, there’s no benefit to acting like — or treating people like — robots. Emotions are not something to be hidden or ashamed of. Being open and receptive to these feelings is an essential part of building a strong team and a strong leader. As explained by the Project Management Institute, people with high emotional intelligence “weather storms, avoid taking things personally, network effectively and focus their energy and efforts on identified goals.”
Additional benefits of emotional intelligence include:
- Better collaboration amongst team members: When you can recognize and react to the emotions of those around you — such as those of your team members — you can make better and more-informed decisions. For example, if you notice a usually outgoing team member staying silent in a meeting, your emotional intelligence can tell you that something is off. You might find out that the team member is in disagreement with another team member, or that they’re dealing with a personal issue. Regardless of what the problem is, your emotional intelligence helps you take the first step towards solving it.
- Improved stakeholder relationships: Conflict in the workplace isn’t fun for anyone. When you improve your EI, you’re able to spot potential stakeholder issues before they escalate. You can then use your emotional intelligence to diffuse any problems between stakeholders and your team. You’re not just keeping the peace, but building positive relationships for future projects.
- Setting yourself apart from other project managers: Having the professional qualifications of a project manager is only the minimum requirement. You’re competing against countless others in the same job market, and having emotional intelligence is one way to do this. Interpersonal and soft skills can take you from being a good project manager to a truly excellent one. And any hiring manager will see the difference.
- Increased project success: According to The Project Management Institute, “90% of the Critical Success Factors for successful project implementation are directly linked to Emotional Intelligence.” Conflict, a lack of motivation, tired team members, or any other issues that can be tied to emotional factors can seriously derail even the most organized of projects. Solid emotional intelligence helps you go beyond tools or technical skills to minimize these types of distractions to actually help boost business results.
Now that you know exactly why it’s so important to your job, it’s time to find out how you can upgrade your own emotional intelligence.
How to boost your emotional intelligence
Improving your emotional intelligence does not mean changing your personality. It’s something that can be practiced and trained like any other skill.
Here’s how to do it.
Awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. You need to be aware of not only others’ emotions, but your own (through self-awareness).
Some ways you can improve your awareness include:
- Pay attention to your body. Tightness in your chest, butterflies, or a general “gut instinct” usually indicates that something is ‘off ‘. Once you’re aware of these sensations, you can be more active in seeking out the reasons behind them.
- Write down what you’re feeling. Keep a private document on your drive or computer to keep track of your emotions and how they appear and progress. This record can help you improve your awareness by clearly outlining relationships between the emotions you felt and their cause. Tracking these relationships will better prepare you for similar situations in the future.
- Listen. Learn to really listen to others. That means paying attention to the words they’re saying as well as their body language. If somebody brings up a concern with you, take the time to think about what they’re saying and what their intentions might be. Regularly seek input from other people and don’t ignore, brush off, or become defensive if anyone provides you with constructive criticism.
Manage your emotions
There are times when our emotions might take over, but knowing how to manage your emotions is something that will always benefit you in the workplace.
When you’re feeling strong emotions at work, consider the following tips:
- Take a moment. Before you react to a new piece of emotionally-charged information, give yourself permission to take a minute (or day) to process. Perhaps you find out the manager wants to cut down your team’s timeline. Before you react, take some time alone to go through and experience your feelings. Give yourself some distance and you’ll be much more equipped to process the news and react appropriately.
- Be accountable. Take responsibility for your decisions and behavior. Managing your emotions means controlling them enough to make hard choices that may cause an emotional reaction in others. You need to be able to own those decisions and responsibly deal with any reactions that result from them.
- Be someone people can trust. Make sure your actions align with your personal values so that team members and stakeholders alike know that they can trust you. When you’re trustworthy, your team knows they can count on you to stand up for them.
Project managers know that change is an inevitable part of the job. Change can cause a lot of stress and negative emotions for everyone involved, so adaptability is a key skill for project managers.
Be more adaptable by:
- Making flexibility a priority. Adaptable people are flexible and able to see issues from all perspectives. They’re not stubborn or stuck on one aspect or issue but rather open to change and new situations.
- Making sure all working styles are accommodated. You might be used to working with outgoing sales teams but suddenly get assigned to manage a project for the introverted copywriting team. Instead of trying to force them to work your way, build trust by working closely with your new team, empathizing with their concerns, and listening to their experiences.
Resources to help improve emotional intelligence
The tips above are a great starting point for any project manager, but there are many resources available if you’re looking for more thorough information regarding emotional intelligence.
Here are some great ones:
- Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
- Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers, by Anthony Mersino
- Using Emotional Intelligence to Improve Project Performance (Project Management Institute)
- Emotional Intelligence Tools for Smoother Projects (PM Podcast)
- Project Delivery and Emotional Intelligence (Project Management Podcast)
If you’ve ever had a project manager or a mentor you really got along with, chances are that they had a high degree of emotional intelligence. The ability to genuinely connect with others in both a personal and professional setting is something that all project managers can greatly benefit from. Put the above tips to work and you’ll soon see projects flowing more smoothly, team members getting along without fuss, and an overall happier working experience.
Ready for more? Check out our full list of six essential skills for project managers.