The Power of Emotional Intelligence in a Crisis
As we continue to navigate life in a pandemic, many of us are spending more time working in crisis communications mode. Through talking with my clients, I’m finding a trend – those with strong emotional intelligence are not only weathering the storm better, but also standing out from the crowd (in a good way).
Now here’s what’s interesting about emotional intelligence in a crisis. The people who exhibit this skill are not always the same people who have high emotional intelligence during times of non-crisis.
Why is this? Some people are better equipped to deal with a crisis based on their personality, experience (professional and personal), connection to the crisis, as well as personal circumstances (family, health, emotional and physical wellbeing).
Basically, some people are hardwired to thrive in a crisis while others fall apart. Often those who are successful leaders in a crisis also have higher emotional intelligence and aren’t afraid to lead with their heart.
Going beyond self
Why is this important? Individuals with high emotional intelligence are naturally tuned into the needs of others. They recognize that success is a team effort, and for the team to succeed, each member must have their individual needs met (remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
By not only recognizing, but also acknowledging and supporting the needs of those around you, you are better able to identify issues and mitigate problems.
Let me give you an example. I remember one emergency I worked on. All the leaders were brought into the emergency centre. This is where we would get updates from staff, assess the current situation, and prepare our operational and communications response.
There were some strong personalities in the room. I walked in thinking there would be a power struggle.
It wasn’t the case. Some of the loudest voices shut down. They sat at the table saying little.
Looking back, I believe they were overwhelmed by all the information being thrown at them, along with the pressure to provide answers and guidance. It was too much.
I was aware that if something wasn’t done soon, we were at risk of having huge knowledge and leadership gaps at a crucial time.
And then something magical happened. A team member who often played a supporting role, stepped into the spotlight. As someone with high emotional intelligence, she recognized that people were struggling. Instead of focusing on the work, she took the time to address the individual and collective needs.
By pausing to take the pulse of the room and address these needs, she was able to turn the event around.
The first order of business was getting food. The crisis had hit around 4 pm, so no one had eaten supper. She realized part of the problem was linked to low blood sugar.
While everyone was hungry, no one wanted to ask for something to eat, afraid it would seem like they weren’t focused on their work. She assigned a staff member was assigned to bring in healthy food for the team (make sure it’s healthy to keep energy levels from crashing).
She then identified and set aside designated quiet spaces. Spaces for quiet reflection, a place to cry, or just escape the noise. These spaces were secluded to ensure privacy was maintained.
Finally, she talked to the team as a whole, stating some of the emotions she was feeling and how she was coping. She was open and vulnerable. It was through this vulnerability that some of the shoulders dropped and faces relaxed around the room.
She gave people permission to be overwhelmed, afraid, frustrated, angry and all the other emotions they were feeling. By knowing they weren’t alone, they were able to ask for the help they needed (which was a new experience for some) or step out of the room to regroup.
While these may seem like small or obvious steps, they are often overlooked in a crisis.
Too often we are focused on the doing not the being.
The work will always be there, but if people do not have their needs met or feel supported, they will not have the capacity to do the work. Everyone suffers.
When I conduct crisis communications training, I always recommend organizations identify and have conversations with team members who have high emotional intelligence. Ask them to tap into this valued skill, and watch over the team as they respond to a crisis.
While some organization may assign this role to their risk manager, I’ve found this person may be more focused on policies, procedures and legal requirements versus the personal element.
By giving someone permission to use their gifts to identify and voice the individual and collective needs of the team, everyone benefits.
This is true for teams of 2 people to 200 people.
Having emotional support is crucial to responding to and recovering from a crisis.
Know your strengths
In the scenario above, where do you fit in? Are you comfortable stating your needs or do you keep quiet? Do you take the time to check in on those around you or have know someone who could fill this role?
We all fit into one of these categories, and that’s okay. What’s important is you identify the team member who will tap into their emotional intelligence during a crisis. Give them permission to use it to help others.
Also, think about your own emotional intelligence. How can you use it not only during the crisis stage, but also recovery? If this isn’t your area of strength, who on your team can support you?
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