In tech – where numbers, statistics, machines, devices and automation rules – it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that people are at the heart of it all. People working together to get things done. If each of us invests in strengthening our working relationships, we collectively establish a foundation and environment for creativity and productivity to flourish. The following are six thought processes, tools and tips that I use to develop emotional intelligence and build productive relationships at Axioned.
1) You’re human. Your team members are human.
When I was a young spring chicken in my 20s, I “othered”. A lot. The definition of “othering” is viewing or treating a person or group of people as intrinsically different and alien to oneself.
I’m not saying that I no longer do this. I know I still have work to do. But my 20-something-year-old self? She often thought that her ideas, solutions and ways of doing things were “right”, and others were “wrong”. Thinking this way often meant that I would disrespect my fellow team members in obvious ways (with words) or not so obvious ways (with facial expressions).
I often joke that my karma-tic deliverance came in the form of growing out Axioned’s teams in Mumbai and, subsequently, NYC.
Throughout the years, my teachers have come in all shapes and sizes from all directions (juniors, seniors, peers, etc.). One such teacher was a lovely chap called Sanksshep Mahendra. He showed me the power of treating everyone you’re working with as equals. Never did I see Sanksshep treat the Axioned team members working with him and his team differently from his non-Axioned team members. He got the best performance out of his team as a result.
Anyone who treats a fellow team member as a fellow human being of equal footing gets the best results. Easy to understand, harder to practice. And not everyone, including myself, will master this in this lifetime.
2) Listen to your team member’s VOICE.
We have to talk WITH each other, not AT each other. If all we rely on is email and non-verbal communication… eek!
When and where possible, have that conversation in person or by phone. Listening to the voice of the person you want to connect with is super-powerful. You can absorb informational cues in intonation and silence that you can’t always grasp from text. This is imperative for avoiding negative misinterpretations and assumptions that could derail you and your teammate’s creativity and productivity.
A study by Michael Kraus of the Yale University School of Management has found that our sense of hearing may be even stronger than our sight when it comes to accurately detecting emotion!
3) Don’t just “listen”. Actively listen.
Active listening requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. The problem many of us have (myself included) is that we think we’re listening, but we’re actually listening to our own random thoughts, “interesting replies” and “amazing solutions”.
So, how can you turn the volume on your thoughts DOWN and the volume of you who you should be listening to UP?
Breath. “When in doubt, breath out.” Use your breath as a reminder and signal to bring your attention back to whomever or whatever it is that you’re listening to.
Take notes. When taking notes, I personally suggest the following.
Tips for incorporating emotional intelligence and active listening:
- Use a pen AND a highlighter, so that you can highlight the important stuff.
- Carry a lightweight notebook that’s never a drag to carry.
- Don’t be restrictive with your notetaking. Draw. Make connections. Get messy. Scratch things out that are no longer relevant. Take up MULTIPLE pages.
- If there hasn’t been a respectable gap in the conversation, and there’s something you really want to say or an idea that you really want to share, write it down. Wait for the appropriate gap or the end of the conversation.
Being a great listener is yet another way in which you can build stronger working relationships. It sounds simple and looks easy, but it’s not. Listening is an art form that requires constant practice. But you’re in luck – you can practice it with fellow human beings, anywhere!
4) See your team. Let your team see you. Keep your camera on.
If you work remotely, using video is one of the most underrated tips for developing emotional intelligence and connecting with your team. When possible, try to acknowledge the faces of whom you’re working with and let them see you.
It’s better for everyone involved when your fellow team members can easily visualize your face when they see your name and email address in their inbox.
From my experience, frequent face-to-face interactions increase respect between team members and the ownership of work (aka everyone working together to “get things done”). If you can’t achieve face-to-face connections in person, the next best option is to use tools such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Appear.in, etc.
An added benefit of video calls over voice-only calls is that they force you to be fully present and attentive. You’re being watched! You’re also giving your audience visual proof that they have your attention and your ear. They have visual proof that you’re doing the same.
A video call also gives you the ability to use your face and body to give your teammates clues as to how you feel about a situation. You can watch their facial and body expressions for clues, too.
5) Give your team members explicit permission to ask for what they need and communicate your needs.
In the 1960s, Marshall Rosenberg developed a process for practicing called “Non-Violent Communication” (NVC). His idea was that clearly identifying, communicating, understanding and listening to each other’s specific needs helps us achieve deeper levels of cooperation.
Like myself, you probably grew up learning and seeing a WIDE array of “bad examples” when it comes to communication. It’s a long and difficult journey (for me at least) to unlearn the bad.
Rosenberg gives a framework for avoiding violent communication and toxic language by learning how to communicate what you need and why, and how to listen for what others need and why.
Rosenberg references a great story in his book about what happens when one does not communicate what they need:
“Mother, are you all right?” “Yes,” she answered, “but I just had a sudden realization that’s very hard for me to take in… I’ve just become aware that I was angry for 36 years with your father for not meeting my needs, and now I realize that I never once clearly told him what I needed.”
Rosenberg goes onto say that he never remembers her clearly expressing her needs to his father. “She’d hint around and go through all kinds of convolutions, but never would she ask directly for what she needed.”
In summary: study the NVC model. Start getting specific with what you want or need, and why (through emotions and self-observation), without blaming or criticizing.
6) Recognize what upsets you and manage negative thought processes.
When I get overwhelmed or see a negative thought process edge its way into my cranium (which they do!), I try to invoke Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N technique. The game-changer for me has been the word “accept”: allowing the experience to be there, just as it is. When I accept, I’m naturally led into the process of investigation with compassion.
I have learned that if I accept something, I may experience that negative emotion or thought process again. Letting go of control over the outcome – what happens after “accept” – has been key.
As a result of this ongoing practice of self-compassion and acceptance, I believe I’ve become more empathetic towards and accepting of others, especially in the workplace. I also have a lot more mind space to focus on activities aligned with fostering greater creativity, productivity and growth for myself and those I work with.
With the right foundation, the right things grow…
The goal with many of these relationship-building techniques is not about reducing human conflict to zero. That’s impossible. It’s about learning how to RESPOND to conflict or discomfort so that it doesn’t negatively impact you or those around you.
As touched upon by Thomas Friedman, in his NYTimes opinion piece, Tiger Woods and the Game of Life:
“And so much of success in golf, as in life, is about how you react to those good and bad bounces. Do you quit? Do you throw your club? Do you cheat? Do you whine? Do you blame your caddie? Or…”
If we ALL spend a little more time thinking about the human element of our workplaces, and we each take the time to invest in thought processes, tools and methods creativity and productivity gains await us all.
Editor’s note: this article discussing tips for emotional intelligence was originally posted on Medium in 2019.
About the author
When companies like The Economist Group, PwC, NBC and Big Spaceship need help in overcoming growth blockers, barriers and drag-factors – with respect to actioning technology projects and solutions – they turn to Libby Swan and Team Axioned for help.
Swan co-founded Axioned (formerly PRDXN) in 2006 with the goal of helping clients scale through the creation of fiscally responsible technology solutions. When Swan speaks in front of these same audiences (as well as companies looking to emulate their growth), she’s serving up innovative solutions and business elevating strategies, with a hefty side order of team-building tactics and values.
Swan and her team have developed several strategies that have earned Axioned the trust of some of the biggest names in the business. Axioned provides a “Swiss army knife” as a cut-to-the-chase solution to growth blockers of all kinds. (Many happy clients enthusiastically endorse this concept.) Companies struggling with tech-product launches or tech-team stagnation, utilize Swan’s and Team Axioned’s expertise to meet their next critical milestone.
Looks for more tips on the power of emotional intelligence? Learn How To Use Your Emotional Intelligence To Wield Your Power And Garner Influence.