How Emotional Intelligence Plays Out in the Virtual Context

Posted by Thu Mai on

As more companies offer flexible work arrangements and allow employees to work remotely, whenever and wherever they need to, emotions are becoming increasingly like a luxury item that very few can get their hands on. Or are they? 

How Emotional Intelligence Plays Out in the Virtual Context

Emotional intelligence is the key to success 

Emotional Intelligence (EI/EQ) is crucial in the workplace and can help set your company apart. That is what we have known for some time. 

A study done by the Carnegie Institute of Technology found that EI is directly linked with success. 85% of our financial success was due to "human engineering" skills, personality, and the ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Only 15% was due to technical capability. 

Similarly, Nobel Prize-winning Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, found that people would rather do business with someone they trust, even if the other person offers a better product and price. 

An individual's emotional intelligence level is denoted by how they handle various social interactions, how they focus when talking to others, how they analyse social cues, etc. But that is if we are conversing back and forth with each other in person. 

How can you express your emotional intelligence in a business-as-unusual, work-from-anywhere world? 

Emotional intelligence in a virtual world 

EI is one of the skills that are heavily tested during COVID-19. If anything, it is more important now than ever. 

Even during normal times, leaders still need to be in tune with their own emotional state as well as the state of their team and organisation. It becomes a real challenge when all the nonverbal cues are now very subtle or hidden, and how much we can see a person is limited to the size of our computer screen.  

Read more: 5 key components of Emotional Intelligence for leaders 

A mistake that leaders typically make is treating this "Zoom fatigue" or virtual working arrangements as a temporary change, thus ignoring the EI facet of leadership and putting it on the back burner to focus more on managerial tasks. Often, employees hear their leaders or colleagues ward things off by saying, "Let’s discuss this the next time we see each other in person." 

The harsh truth is that if you are not comfortable talking about it now, virtually, you never will. 

Indeed, leaders are busier now than ever. Much of the communication that typically takes place in person is now carried out online, and they keep overflowing while their emotions are depleting. 

As a result, leaders forget to check in with both the team and themselves. They let their own emotional health and that of their team members slide. Even though the responsibility of looking after one’s health fall on the individual themselves, leaders still have to maintain the emotional balance within the organisation, both in-person and virtually. 

Read more: Communication Problems in the Digital Workplace 

As mentioned in our previous CEO letter, the "Great Resignation" is yet another profound impact that resulted from the pandemic, and businesses are wholly unprepared for it. 

Businesses cannot throw money at the problems in the hope that they will go away. Retaining and nurturing the right type of quality talent, even while working remotely, requires an emotionally intelligent leader who is: 

  • Self-aware of the feelings and emotions they are having and how those can affect others 
  • Self-regulating their emotions instead of letting them run wild 
  • Self-motivated, empowering them to move towards their goals consistently 
  • Empathetic by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes 
  • Conscious of the importance of social skills, i.e., a great communicator with the ability to manage and resolve conflicts. 

Leaders prime the emotional state of the organisation. If organisations do not rectify and shape the climate now, it will shape itself and spill over into the face-to-face environment in the long term. It is also worth noting that while leaders and team members are physically apart, we do not have to be emotionally apart. 

Even prior to the pandemic, EI has already made it to the World Economic Forum’s top 10 list of critical workforce skillsets and landed at the sixth spot in 2020 (WEF 2016), eighth for 2022 (WEF 2018) and eleventh for 2025 (WEF 2020).

How Emotional Intelligence Plays Out in the Virtual Context

This may give you the perception that it’s dropping in importance. On the one hand, yes, as it is a skill more people are acquiring and that could depress the ranking. On the other hand, if one looks at what rates higher than EI and you will notice that they all are other aspects of EI.

Taking in the heavy impact of the recent pandemic, as businesses and their employees are shifting towards more flexible work arrangements, emotional intelligence can very well be in the top 5, or even competing for the top position, sooner rather than later. 

And just as psychometric assessments have become an essential part of the recruitment process, EI assessments can very well be an integral part of a company’s performance evaluation.  

Similar to other skills that one obtains and sharpens over time, EI can also be learned, measured, evaluated, and improved with the right solution: 

  • Through the use of a 360-degree feedback program to gain an understanding of your current situation, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Through coaching. An expert on this subject can work alongside you to identify your problem areas and devise a plan to enhance yourself, so in turn, you can inspire others to do the same.

Being able to express emotions does not make you or me any less worthy. In fact, it makes us more human and helps us connect with others, motivate them, and inspire them. 

Your employees will eventually leave you, whether you like it or not. Be the person that whenever they need to define a "perfect leader", they will think of you. 

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Topics: Talent Management

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Rick Yvanovich

 Rick Yvanovich
 /Founder & CEO/

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