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Hearts versus minds: the importance of being emotionally intelligent when managing change by Karen Fearon

Since Daniel Goleman’s book popularising the concept in the mid-1990’s, emotional intelligence, or EQ as it is commonly known, is widely accepted as a key competency for workplace leaders and managers to have and develop.

Put simply, EQ is understanding yourself and others. The various elements of EQ: knowing and managing your emotions; motivating yourself, perceiving other people’s emotions and managing relationships, are of particular importance when thinking about your approach to managing change.

Consider any major change programme you have been a part of at work. The vision may have been set by the most senior in the organisation, and (hopefully) communicated to the workforce to set out the path towards the new world. As a manager, you may have been asked to play a role in helping your team understand what the change would mean for them, and helping them through the process. To effectively do so requires EQ.

As much as change programmes are planned to the nth degree, with gantt charts, project status meetings, and team briefs, they can’t account for how people will respond to change. The ability of managers to effectively recognise and empathise with their team members’ emotional states during times of change is key in successfully moving through change.

During a major change, when the pressure to deliver and demonstrate benefits is high, it can be easy to neglect EQ and risk leaving your team behind. If you are tasked with managing a new initiative on top of your business as usual activities, you may feel that it’s more productive to focus on what is known, tangible and measurable. Taking this approach exposes you to more risk of your project being derailed or failing because the people you need to make the change stick are ignored.

So how can you can maintain a good level of EQ when managing the pressures of managing change? Here are some tips:

  1. Be empathetic: consider when you have been on the receiving end of wanted and unwanted change. How did you react? How do you experience the change curve?
  2. Encourage people to open up: genuinely seek to understand how people are feeling, tune into their emotions and the language they are using, and react sensitively.
  3. Be open too: if you don’t have an answer, acknowledge the question and state that you don’t know and take steps to find out.
  4. Check yourself: Stay mindful of how you are feeling. You may find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you are helping to make changes that you personally disagree with. If so, ensuring you have someone to share your experience with is key.
  5. Review your timescales: the pace at which people digest and adapt to change varies with the length of a piece of string, but you can consider whether some time and space is being allowed for people to digest information they are receiving. For example, could you offer drop-in sessions or Q and As following announcements? Conversely, if your programme affects job security, are you ‘pulling the plaster off’ slower than is necessary and inadvertently increasing ambiguity and stress?


About the author


Karen Fearon is the founder of Change Lab Consulting. Karen is a Chartered Psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society. She also holds a Certificate in Occupational Testing (Level A & B) and is a licensed career coach.

Karen became a psychologist because she enjoys applying her understanding of psychology to the workplace to benefit employees and organisations. Karen has extensive experience in organisational development and change management, within both the private and public sector. Prior to setting up Change Lab Consulting, Karen worked as a consultant for IBM, BAE Applied Intelligence, and a learning and development consultancy, as well as internal roles within local government and a magic circle law firm.

For more information about Change Lab, and to read other articles, visit www.changelabconsulting.com or email karen@changelabconsulting.com


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