Leveraging Emotional Intelligence in Higher Education
As we enter the second month of something akin to a global game of FREEZE, most of us, and most institutions, have realized that “business as usual” is months away and are adapting our teaching and research and meeting habits to accommodate our new online-all-the-time reality. This adjustment has been rocky for many, especially those undertaking it without robust personal or institutional supports. For me, the calls from professors across the globe to formulate an ethics of care in their supervisory and pedagogical relationships with students, and in their collegial relationships with fellow members of the academy, have been the most heartening developments to read.
Developing an carefully calibrated and emotionally nuanced response to our professional obligations and needs during this time of crisis requires a deeper awareness of, and attention to, our individual Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the importance we accord it in the course of doing our jobs. Far from being a nice, but not necessary, addition to anyone’s skill set, a high degree of emotional intelligence is a requirement for building the relationships and trust that sustain us and our work.
Emotional Intelligence involves four key areas of behaviour. Becoming familiar with what your strengths and weaknesses are in each area starts with deep self-awareness and a sense of how you want to show up to your job and your life. Developing and growing your EQ is not a matter of checking beliefs or values off of a list, but rather tuning into yourself and your gut-level reactions to people and events and identifying where you are at, emotionally, and where you want to go.
The four elements of EQ are:
Self-awareness — of your triggers and emotional patterns
Self management — giving yourself time to modify those patterns as needed
Social awareness — reading the room, empathizing with others’ needs
Relationship management — understanding our inter-connectedness
Higher education presents a set of human and systemic challenges that underscore the need for high EQ in both faculty and administration. In any given week, you can meet with department chairs or deans, support staff, undergrad students, grad students, research collaborators, TAs, and colleagues in the hall. Each of these interactions is a collaboration of sorts between you and others, and you will find your interactions more successful and your joy in the encounter higher if you key into your own EQ and the insights you can gain from it. Whether you are a department chair, the provost, or a faculty member with a full teaching load, understanding how to build on your innate emotional intelligence will help you accomplish your work with more collaboration, more internal resonance, and more joy.
One way to begin thinking about how EQ plays out in your academic work life comes from Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and In Life, One Conversation at a Time. Scott writes about developing our capacity for truthful and authentic interactions with each other. In doing so, she writes about a sense of awareness that is very much in line with developing a high EQ: awareness of your “emotional wake.”
Your emotional wake, she tells us, is what people remember of you, of their encounter with you, after you have left the room.
“Our emotional wake determines the story that is told about each of us in the organization.”
Take a moment to reflect on the people you admire, or those you love to work with. What kind of emotional wake do they leave behind them? What sense do you have of your own emotional wake? Because so many of our interactions with students and colleagues happen now via video conference, reading the room and having a sense of your impact on others has become even more challenging — and even more crucial.
Take time to set up your virtual interactions with people so that your agenda is clear, your desired outcomes are reasonable, and your expectations around collaboration are in tune with the reality we are all experiencing. While this may seem cumbersome and time consuming, adopting a check-in policy at the outset of meetings, where people indicate how they are showing up to the discussion and what they hope to contribute and take away from it can be one way to do this.
Developing your EQ involves being sensitive to your emotional wake and making deliberate interventions in how you identify and respond to the emotional environment in a class, a meeting, or a task. Having a high EQ means that reading yourself and reading the rooms you are in are not tangential to the work you are doing in those spaces, but rather critical to it.