The covid pandemic has proved to be a formidable crisis. Fortunately, mankind has a mighty resource that it can rely on to handle such challenges – Emotional Intelligence (EI). But, EI does not come naturally or easily to everyone. Sneha Agrawal from Banking Frontiers interviewed 8 women leaders on how they enhance their emotional intelligence, who opened up and shared freely about their understanding, their approaches and their techniques:
It is important to understand what exactly emotional intelligence is before discussing methods used by people to enhance it and derive benefits. Psychologists Mayer and Salovey define emotional intelligence, or EI for short, as one’s capacity to (i) perceive, process and regulate emotional information accurately and effectively, both within oneself and among others, and (ii) to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions and to influence those of others. Simply put, EI encompasses self-awareness, self-regulation/management, social skills, empathy, motivation and passion.
Now, here are the views that the interviewees have on EI, its many facets and the varied uses.
Shikha Bagai, Country Managing Director – India at VISTRA Group, shares an overview. She says that while EI is an all-encompassing dimension of how we live our life, it is a fancy term that we have overhyped in the modern days of formal psychology. She sees it as a basic trait to live our lives. “For me, EI is about how you experience life, and how you enable other people to experience you as a human being in various roles that you play,” she explains.
She also believes that human beings are social animals and social interactions are one of the basic expressions. For any social experience, emotional intelligence is crucial, she adds.
On the personal side, she focuses on building and improving life skills every single day to create a life which is more pleasant for herself and the people around her. “I start my day with meditation, and to me it’s a key element of how I experience life. Other things would include life lessons, the more we live life with complete involvement, the more we optimize our expression, we keep getting better at IE,” she elaborates.
Rajashree Nambiar, Former MD & CEO at Fullerton India Credit Company, gives a work perspective. She says that she invests a lot in personal relations in order to enhance her EI. “When I work with someone, I spend time consciously to know about them, their background, family, after-hours interests. It really helps me to understand the person,” she elaborates.
Is EI a solution to stress?
Loveena Khatwani, Head – Client Experience at Edelweiss Wealth Management, believes it is. Says she: “Over the last few years, I have developed more awareness about what triggers stress within myself. Once you know the trigger, managing the same is fairly simple. This has taken time, introspection and a lot of efforts on my part. Additionally, empathizing with others came naturally to me, but I had to work on my social skills to help others look up to me.”
She insists that understanding about EI has helped her deal with many difficult situations that have come her way.
Sunita Handa. Chief General Manager, (IT Channels & Ops), Global IT Centre at State Bank of India narrates her experiences in her present assignment: “Working in IT usually means working under pressure and responding many times to ambiguous, vague and frequently changing requirements. Technologies you use change faster than you can imbibe them, and problems often have a wide range of possible solutions, or no clear solutions at all. A high EQ is essential for working effectively and sustainably in such an environment, as it helps you regulate your thought process and behavioural tendencies and consciously choose your responses, especially under pressure.”
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY
Rishika Dasgupta, Head – Customer Experience (Cards & Payments Business) at Axis Bank, looks at things with a positive frame of mind, which goes a long way in enhancing EI. “Over the years, I have learnt to listen more and talk less, respond more and react less. However, I still have a long way to go,” she says, highlighting that the real challenge is to learn to listen for understanding and respond instead of reacting to create a conflict. “I religiously try to follow a ‘Don’t worry, Be Happy’ modus operandi,” she asserts.
Ritu Nazir, Chief Marketing Officer at Raheja QBE General Insurance, agrees and adds: “It is not always important to answer. First you have to listen. In conflict situations, responding instead of reacting plays a huge role.”
Rishika gives a simple example about seeing the positive side. She says the year 2020 was a washout and everyone seems to be complaining about not getting a raise, not able to go on vacations, not able to socialize, etc. “But I believe we all need to take a pause and be thankful that while nothing good happened, well nothing bad happened either!”
On a personal note, she says: “I haven’t met my parents for 15 months and it made me really depressed at times. But after that momentary unhappiness, I always make it a point to feel grateful that they are safe and in good health.”
Relationship management, effective listening, ability to connect, identifying the triggers which impacts emotions and most importantly managing those emotions are what EI is all about, she summarizes.
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCES
The best way to improve emotional intelligence is observing closely your inner-self as well as your surroundings, recommends Sunita. “Life is full of examples and experiences, some good some not so good. But each example or experience is a learning. Some leaders become your role models and you tend to imbibe their social management traits. There are some others observing whom you will learn what not to do. You are at an advantage when you learn from others’ mistakes rather than your own,” she says.
She also reminds that Improving EQ is a matter of changing behaviors that were learnt, many of which have their roots in early childhood and have been hard-wired as default, as automatic responses in the neural pathways in our brains. Changing those behaviors is a matter of consciously creating new behaviors and repeating those until they become new defaults, overriding the older habits, she adds.
EI AT WORK
Rajashree Nambiar, Former MD & CEO at Fullerton India Credit Company, says she improves her EI at the workplace by looking at each member differently as she understands that each person has a different driver, and needs to be understood and treated differently. “I make a conscious effort to understand the driver – which could be power or money or status or work life-balance. Many times, I tend to be judgmental, but then I also try to suspend it. Much of it comes from being a mother.”
Rupa Balsekar, Managing Director & Head Transaction Banking, BNP Paribas India understands EI as a continuous learning journey. “As the leader of transaction banking for BNP Paribas in India, my job requires me to be adept at people management and be a keen listener. I have always attempted to put myself in other’s shoes,” says she.
Arguably, the pandemic has been the biggest teacher for them all, she says, as it did make everyone a remote worker for months at a stretch. Consequently, in the last one year, Rupa has made conscious efforts to stay connected even more with teams and individuals. And she always stands ready to challenge her comfort zone by interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Ritu Nazir contends that EI is far more important than IQ. EI helps you to be competitive in terms of relationship management, understanding, listening, skill building, empathizing and being approachable, she says, and this is important not just professionally, but also personally, especially for women. And she is of the confirmed view that to women, this comes very naturally.
She advises that before enhancing EI, one must look at few aspects: “It is important for me to have empathy and be approachable to my team. Relationship building is limited not only to the organization, but also being a home maker and family member.”
Ritu also emphasizes that small things like knowing about the team and having conversations with the team members and ‘understanding the human more than the professional’ are musts. Also, one must take the key elements into consideration, which helps in building equations with the team members. She avers that social awareness is very important at home and in office and in the digital world and emphasizes building the networks that have elements of empathy.
How does one improve social awareness? She answers: “You need to understand people and recognize those emotional cues through body language, voice modulation, behavior and actions. You also need to understand the power dynamics.”
She then goes on to explain the last stepping-stone, which is relationship management. One must learn how to communicate effectively and how to clearly convey your words. For this, you must have clarity of thought and vision, you must inspire others and you must manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable.
She also gives the inward perspective: “Being aware of yourself is very very important. Being able to control your emotions and impulsive feelings is very important. Adapting to changing circumstances, being agile and being flexible and being aware of your own self is very important.”
All this, she insists, improves productivity and accelerates career growth.
Purvi Bhavsar, Managing Director at Pahal Financial Services, believes that emotions and intelligence, when put together in the right harmony, can form an effective tool, not only for one’s personal life but for professional success too. She has 4 straight-forward suggestions: “First, try and be very organized to put less pressure on oneself for trivial things. This reduces stress substantially to enable focusing on macro management. Second, move on from little things choking your bandwidth emotionally. Third, connect with people, places and interesting things that you personally would love. This is a solid key to remain happy. Fourth, keep yourself updated – it could be something relevant to your business or hobby or anything.”
She then moves on from practices to perspective: “Love yourself the way you are – you may not be perfect! But learn to improve yourself and feel good about even smallest of progress that you are making. It helps you evolve as an individual.”
EI OR EC – A PERSPECTIVE
Sunita’s perspective is slightly different. She explains: “For enhancing my EI, first of all I have to be convinced that EI or a component of it can actually be enhanced. My take on this is that one’s EI is something one cannot fundamentally change. However, we can train ourselves to improve our levels of emotional competence (EC).”
She also believes that Emotional Competence is a learned capability based on EI, and she calls it a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we:
1. perceive and express ourselves,
2. develop and maintain our social relationships
3. cope with challenges, manage stress and make decisions,
4. use emotional information to effectively guide our thinking and action.
After having defined emotional quotient or emotional competence, does one have to ask oneself how much importance should one give it in professional life to determine whether investing time, energy and effort is worth it?
Sunita responds: “In my case, the echo of my father’s words when I started my career proved to be the guiding light. ‘While IQ is important for entering into a profession, it’s the EQ which will bring you the sense of fulfilment and success going forward.’ So, here I am, whether leading business teams or the techies or the mixed ones, continuously working on my emotional competence has become a sort of habit.”
So, what competencies does Sunita consider, monitor and work on for improvement? She puts emotional self-awareness at the top, that is, recognizing how emotions affect performance. Accurate self-assessment comes next, ie, knowing one’s own inner resources, abilities and limits.
“I find self-assessment of myself acquiring different value in different situations. Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check helps me develop emotional self-control. I consistently remind myself to continue to maintain a growth mindset that readily adapts to changes, strives for excellence and pursues goals despite obstacles and setbacks,” she adds.
On social awareness side, Sunita puts empathy at the top. She strongly believes in knowing others’ feelings and perspectives and taking an active interest in their concerns, which, according to her is something a team leader cannot lose sight of for a moment. Adding to that, is reading the team’s emotional currents and power relationships.
“Apart from making one’s own observations, it is important to create a mechanism to get honest feedback for continuous learning and improvement,” she emphasizes.
She advocates that a leader’s social management skills like negotiating, resolving conflicts and building collaborative teams must improve with each and every task and experience.
Sunita says in conclusion: “All my efforts are aimed at enhancing my emotional competence. I believe that the ability to motivate, inspire, lead and unite a group of intelligent, well-educated and often quite strong-willed individuals into a high-performing team depends on my ability to recognize and regulate emotions in myself and others as well. This complements rational problem solving and cognitive skills.”
Literally, she has echoed the definition of EI.
TIPS FOR LEADERS
Loveena share some tips, especially for leaders:
1. Stay assertive – People who are Emotionally Intelligent know how to communicate. I tend to do it in a direct way while still respecting others.
2. During conflicts stay calm and don’t react. Listen actively to what the other person has to say and don’t rush for your turn. Instead of getting defensive always try to take a few moments to understand where the other person is coming from and how are things affecting them and try to understand how to resolve issues together.
3. It is important as a leader while you floor walk or talk to individuals, to pay attention to nonverbal details to gain an awareness of the moods of your team members. Emotionally intelligent people have an awareness of the moods of those around them.
4. Walking with a smile on your face gives that positive presence.
5. Finally, being aware of one’s own emotions and how they affect the surrounding is very important.