Emotional Intelligence : Reality Testing

It is not uncommon for new managers to make a mistake or two (with the absolute best of intentions) by demonstrating responsiveness. Sounds odd, perhaps, but it is a frequent occurrence. Typically, that scenario plays out something like this:

  • Recently promoted manager (RPM) is in their new office coming to grips with the fact that they have no idea what they are doing and that this job is going to be much more difficult than they had anticipated
  • There is a knock on the door and one of the RPM’s direct reports (DR) sticks his head in and asks an ominous (but seemingly harmless) question: “Got a minute?”
  • The RPM barely allows the DR to finish before blurting out something like: “Absolutely! Always! Come on in!”
  • The DR enters the confines of the RPM’s office and closes the door behind him (bad sign). He then proceeds to tell the RPM about something somebody else has done that has precluded him from finishing his deliverable on a high visibility project. Evidently, this other person works in another department and has a history that would suggest they are anything but a team player. This frustrates the DR … because all he wants to do is finish his contribution on time and above standard so that everyone can advance and achieve greatness
  • As the RPM listens (intently), a plan to demonstrate responsiveness is simultaneously being hatched. Nobody from another department is going to stand in the way of this DR finishing his deliverable!
  • “Hair on fire,” the RPM charges off to confront the manager of the “non-team player” in active support of the DR. In the process the RPM “ruffles feathers,” creates tension and eventually gains access to a different perspective that (suffice to say) is drastically different than the one the DR provided

So much of Emotional Intelligence (EI) is focused on self-awareness in combination with awareness of, and empathy for, others. But the bottom-line contribution of EI to the world at large is that the people who practice it, and master it, make better decisions. Those decisions are better because they acknowledge and account for human emotion, without being held hostage by it.

In the scenario above, the RPM’s perspective is significantly skewed by the emotion and perspective of the DR. Based on that singular line of inquiry, the RPM is ready to act! Seasoned managers, and students of EI, possess the ability to recognize and empathize with emotion without forfeiting the opportunity to test reality and enhance their point of view.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to this dynamic as his “40- 70 rule”:

  • He never made a decision unless he had 40% of what he considered to be the available information (to do so would have been irresponsible)
  • He also never made a decision if he waited until he had what he considered to be more than 70% of the available information (he would have lost tactical advantage)

Wherever that line falls for you, understand that listening, empathizing and caring are in no way at odds with assessing the plausibility of the perspective being articulated.