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  • The term “emotional intelligence,” popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name, has come into common use in organizational life. It is a good thing that emotions are being more widely recognized as part of human experience—even at work.

    But, as often happens with popular concepts, the precision of some definitions has suffered somewhat through wide use. Here are realities about emotional intelligence that will help you use its principles more effectively to build aligned teams.

    First, emotional expression is highly variable across individuals as well as groups. “Intelligence” may suggest a single ranked scale of ability. Instead as a complex product of bodily sensation, memory, values, culture and much more, emotional expression is a particularly rich resource for accessing diverse points of view and experiences of life.

    Second, emotions are a positive good in many situations, rather than an annoyance to be managed. Thinking of emotional intelligence as “intelligent use of emotions” suggests that emotions are somehow inferior to cognitive activity. Emotional responses do take time to process, and they are often not initially or primarily verbal. But teams who attempt to suppress, discount or reason past the unique perspectives and points of view that emotions provide, run the risk of missing valuable insights. Just the simple act of regarding emotions as important dimensions of team life, rather than a “cost center” to be endured, opens up many more possibilities.

    Third, the capacity to work effectively with emotions is not an innate ability: it can be developed by any individual. “Intelligence” connotes an inborn ability (though we now know that cognitive intelligence is much more fluid in adulthood than we ever imagined). But the capacity to have awareness of emotions, find effective ways of articulating them, and put them to use to solve problems and generate insight is something any individual can develop. This is in fact what makes team life so interesting: a group of individuals, each with his or her own emotional capacity (developed as a result of genetics, upbringing, and other environmental factors), coming together to grow that capacity further in collaboration with others. It’s exciting!

    Try It: If you or others on your team are resistant to factoring emotions into your communications and decision-making process, consider moving them to benefit side of the ledger. When emotions arise in group contexts, welcome them. Regardless of whatever else is happening, stay calm, open, and non-judgmental.  Examine the emotions that have arisen, in yourself or others, with curiosity.  Give them a little room to breathe, so their unique gifts can be identified. Let them become part of the conversation.

    Image:  https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1011671 CC0 Public Domain