Boost your connectivity: Emotional Intelligence for the digital workplace

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From the internet’s earliest chat rooms to today’s wearable tech, we’ve been quick to integrate digital advancements into our personal lives.

These innovations have made us feel closer to the people we interact with, but everyone’s familiar with the emotional ambiguity that can arise when communicating in the digital realm. Something that sounds friendly but decisive in person can come across as curt and aggressive, in an email. Or something said in jest can suddenly seem very unfunny, when the person you’re texting can’t hear you chuckle. While it’s easy enough to clear up these misunderstandings with friends, it’s not always so straight-forward in the workplace.

As the future of work becomes even more digitised, there couldn’t be a better time to develop the skills that help us connect, online. Whether working with people from the same company who are based across the globe, or connecting with clients whose work practices differ from our own, we need to be able to recognise these differences, and communicate accordingly. Because if we can’t read people’s body language and tone of voice, can we effectively build rapport and trust?

With a little practice, we can. It’s the reason why emotional intelligence is proving to be critical for today’s, but especially tomorrow’s, leaders.

 

Building your understanding

Emotional Intelligence (EI) can be defined in two parts. It’s the ability to understand others and identify the things that motivate them, followed by the ability to integrate this information to connect with them effectively. Applying it in the workplace has proven to be so beneficial that some have speculated it’s more effective at enabling and driving career progression, than formal training.

Psychologist and thought-leader Daniel Goldman characterised EI through five pillars; selfawareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and people skills.

These qualities can be developed and refined through all interpersonal interactions, and the workplace has proven to be one of the best arenas for it.

 

Techniques of the trade

From virtual teams to home-based offices and other flexible work practices, the workplace is becoming increasingly agile. We’re all responsible for defining the future of work, and with this greater flexibility, we’re not only determining where we work, we’re also defining ‘how’ we work together.

EI is an important tool for this. By reading body language and interpreting tone of voice, we make lasting connections. So, with the growing digitisation of our interactions, it’s in our interests to continue to utilise and enhance these skills. Here are some examples of how you can.

Self-awareness

A healthy sense of self-awareness gives you more control over your interactions, because it requires self-assessment in relation to others. It involves developing an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and learning how your actions affect others.

In practice, you might observe how people respond through repeated communications. Perhaps a colleague prefers to have several project ‘chat’ updates, rather than one daily email? Adapting your language or behaviour like this can improve your working relationship.

Self-regulation

Being passionate about your work is never a bad thing, but it’s important to work in a way where your enthusiasm doesn’t cloud your ability to work efficiently. Self-regulation is the ability to express your emotions, and react to other people’s emotions, with restraint and control.

Whether you’re excited about a positive result or displeased with a process, you should always be prepared to express your ideas in a clear, measured way. This could be as simple as drafting a message and waiting some time before reviewing, and then sending it.

Motivation

Self-motivation is a valuable tool. It holds the potential to help propel your development, but it can also attract positive attention from people around you. It’s especially important if you’re working flexibly, or in isolation to the rest of your team. By nurturing your motivation levels, you fuel your ambition, but maintain awareness of how your drive impacts those you’re working with – wherever they’re based.

For example, proactively networking with senior colleagues is a great way to foster future relationships, but being sensitive to their time, and understanding how frequent and concise your communications should be, is important. 

Empathy

Being empathetic involves connecting with people on an emotional level, which demonstrates your understanding of their perspective. By developing a genuine concern for others and taking the time to express that, you can strengthen your connection with them.

 

In practice, it can be as simple as asking someone how they are, or using the same phrases in your communications as they use in theirs, to show you’re listening.

People skills

People skills are sometimes looked upon as a given, but networking and building rapport take time, effort and patience. By asking questions, respecting people’s time and space, and being genuine and constructive in your responses to their ideas, you’ll build trust with those around you.

 

The art of conversation

While all of these techniques are essential to building and maintaining interpersonal connections in a digital space, let’s not forget the importance of picking up the phone and speaking to people directly. Many businesses, including EY, have been quick to integrate video and web-conferencing tools as part of their daily practice. So it’s even possible to speak to people, virtually, face-to-face. In fact, in light of how many online messages and texts we receive every day, this human act speaks volumes for building rapport. Congratulating a colleague on a recent success, or clarifying some misunderstanding over the phone instantly conveys clear emotion and intention – so long as it’s genuine.

Taking the time to show someone your relationship matters will ultimately bring more fulfilment to your working experience, while also fuelling your career.  

 

Understanding your differences

Every workplace is different, even ones that are part of the same company. What might seem like a stern approach in some locations might appear lax in others, and when geography and culture are included, these differences can widen further still. At EY, we offer courses internally that enable people to increase their self-awareness, and build the empathy to better understand the people they’re working with. This emotional intelligence is critical as our working practices define, and move in line with those of the future of work.

So, where possible, do what you can to learn about the working culture of the people you interact with, and adapt some of your behaviour to help encourage a closer working relationship.

 

Cobots and the future of emotional intelligence

While the current digital workplace involves lots of online human interaction and communication, technological integration in the workplace is rapidly advancing.

Cobots, or collaborative robots, are robots that are designed to physically interact with humans. Rather than operating autonomously, they respond to human movement and guidance, and are currently being used in industry. But there’s likely to be an application for them beyond this, so the question we’ll soon face is, how do we use emotional intelligence to work with machines – and will we still need it to grow careers?

However bot-driven the future may become, emotional intelligence has never been more relevant. If you’re interested in developing your workplace connections and creating a meaningful impact, you should start here, and now.