HR & Management

Do empolyers need emotional intelligence to inspire staff?

7 min read

07 September 2015

Facial expressions can be key to building business relationships and reading a work situation effectively, according to business neuroscientist Lynda Shaw.

Reading expressions on people’s faces is a useful tool in understanding what to say and, often more importantly, what not to say, said Shaw. For instance, if someone is about to close a sale and there is fear on the customer’s face, this could mean that they are unsure this is the right deal for them.

“If the sales person doesn’t read the expression, he/she would probably continue to close the sale and chase the customer away,” she said. “If, however, the expression was noticed, then the sales person could ask more questions and alleviate any fears the customer may have.”

This sentiment was echoed by Quy Huy, INSEAD associate professor of strategy, who suggested that one of the reasons Nokia lost the smartphone battle was its lack of speed and inability to react to changing circumstances

The reason for Nokia’s sluggish reaction, Huy claimed, was a collective fear among the company’s middle managers, not of the competition, but of losing status and resources within the organisation.

“With the management putting heavy pressure on departments to deliver more and faster, nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news; that the company’s Symbian software platform wasn’t going to cut it in the new world of pocket computers,” he said. 

“As a result of selective upward reporting, the leadership thought Nokia was progressing well against its competitors, when it wasn’t. The oversight of the collective fear in the organisation cost Nokia dearly – its precipitous decline in the smartphone business and loss of about 90 per cent of its market value. But I believe the loss of market value and market share could have been avoided with a better view of the collective emotions of the organisation.”

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In tandem with emotional expression, emotional intelligence requires business leaders to focus on the person in front of them and to communicate effectively with them whether it be with an employee, client or colleague, Shaw explained.

Studies have highlighted that the use of emotional intelligence increases productivity and improves profits

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman first coined the term “emotional intelligence” in 1995, but only applied the concept to business in 1998. He famously said: “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but still won’t make a great leader.”

Leaders must recognise why individuals are working for them and what most motivates them, Shaw said. Used effectively, the motivation and reward systems of the brain will galvanise the workforce into action with enthusiasm.

For example, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is said to be aware that being a woman of colour means she may receive more scrutiny. However, this doesn’t stop her from humming aloud as she works, or walking around barefoot. She even wrote to the parents of 29 senior Pepsi executives to tell them what great kids they’d raised.

While talking to CNN, she explained her decision to face the economic collapse instead of slashing prices and jobs. She said: “Look, this is my company, my living, and my livelihood. And the 300,000 people in PepsiCo depend on the company for their life and their livelihoods. There are pensioners and investors out there who are hoping PepsiCo will remain a successful entity forever.” 

This is one example of exercising emotional intelligence in making leadership decisions.

She confessed that leadership is not easy: “Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”

According to Shaw, being emotionally intelligent means you can ascertain how your employees or clients want to feel – whether it be confident, nurtured, trusted, efficient, pampered, strong, patriotic or happy – and change your business script accordingly. 

Shaw argued that millennium men (18-33 year olds) have better emotional intelligence than any other male generation, but a poor leader can squash this. “If an emotionally unintelligent leader tries to squash our emotional intelligence then we may feel uncomfortable or threatened which affects our happiness and creativity.

“As a generalisation it is no surprise that women understand this naturally because anatomically there are minute differences in the male and female brain that correlate with emotional differences. For instance stereotypically, the emotion centre of the brain, the limbic system is larger in women. We have to be careful of this however, because quite clearly men can improve emotional intelligence very well.”