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Book Review: "Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads: On Emotional Intelligence"

This collection of essays published in the Harvard Business Review describes the importance of emotional intelligence and how it impacts businesses financially, legally, and in other ways. This trait is especially important when somebody is directing an organization’s direction, working in an organization without a clear command-and-control hierarchy, or dealing with knowledge workers. Emotional intelligence comes into play at many different levels: from self-introspection, to dealing with others within the same organization, to dealing with outsiders (other divisions within the same company, other companies, and external stakeholders like customers).

There were a number of emotional intelligence notions that I thought I could apply in day-to-day life:

  • Process fairness: The notion that people are treated justly, based on how much input they have in business decisions, how much weight their input has in said decisions, and how those decisions are communicated. An academic study by Duke and Ohio State put the expected cost savings of practicing process fairness for $1.28 million per 100 employees dismissed in the year 2000 (measuring cost of wrongful termination claims). Practicing process fairness can reduce employee turnover, boost performance, and increase team cohesion, all of which increases organizational fitness.

  • Pattern recognition and emotional tagging: When encountering situations highly similar to those in the past, our System 1 may be activated, returning a cached result triggering a particular decision to execute. This may be disastrous depending on how big the differences are between the mentally stored solution and the appropriate one. Emotional information may also be tied with factual information, which may generate an inappropriate response as well.

  • Emotional resilience: Possessing a hard-nosed understanding of the situation (rather than looking through an optimistic lens), holding a deep belief that life is meaningful (and hence giving up is not an option), and improvising with the resources at hand are the three defining traits of emotional resilience. Viktor Frankl’s authored works served as a focal point for resilience training.

The book notes several solutions for the described problems at hand, but they can largely be summarized as “feedback, feedback, feedback”. The more feedback loops there are, and the more types of mediums involved, the better. For example, feedback loops may entail:

  • Recording yourself interacting with others, then playing back the video three times: once with audio and video, once with audio turned off to examine body and facial movements and gesturing, and once with video turned off to pay attention to vocal tone and mood.

  • Having a coach or trainer shadow you when interacting with others, and pull you aside when a particular behavior should be identified and rectified.

  • Instituting organizational processes like steering committees when large, impactful decisions are made by leadership to ensure no emotional bias comes into play (e.g. when the CEO who was VP of an unprofitable division makes the decision to sell or shut down said division), firing jerks, rewarding civil behavior, and adding other checks and balances as needed by discovery.

  • Receiving 360-degree feedback and combining that information with self-introspection.

I think this book is chock-full of good advice, but it is a bit academic in tone. It’s also tailored more towards managers, particularly senior managers, rather than employees and lower-level managers. A useful read with good lessons to be implemented in time.