Emotional Intelligence during COVID

Being able to control most aspects of your life is a strong internal drive for most healthy engaged adults. These past six months have challenged this basic human drive and it’s far from over. 

It should not surprise anyone that employee well being is eroding amid the pandemic, paired with the fight for racial equality and social justice a lot of extra weight has been added to an already stressed workforce in the city. 

On various calls and in the media I keep hearing "new normal", but, as the writer from Gallup.com suggests, considering the pace of change, "now” normal is more apt. I agree. 

Most leaders have their eyes on the horizon for the next phase of “normal" while they balance the stress around revenue and expenses. 

Not to add on, but there's an equally critical item that’s been pushed aside for many years in Construction and I feel it’s going to cause much more disruption as we manage our teams into the Fall; Employees' Emotional Wellbeing. 

This wellbeing has very little to do with salary or workload. A great deal has to do with the emotional and psychological well being of your workers and managers. 

Gallup’s poll from June 8-14, 2020 shows employee preparedness for the continued management of business during COVID-19, and alignment with these same management ideals, which, for the most part, remain vague and undefined, are trending down. U.S. employees and managers are about 20% less likely than they were in May 2020 to strongly agree that:

  • they feel well prepared to do their job

  • their employer has communicated a clear plan of action in response to COVID-19

  • their immediate supervisor keeps them informed about what's going on in their organization

  • their organization cares about their overall well being

To me this sounds like a lack of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace. 

In their article, Gallup urges Leaders to “start with the Managers” when it comes to communication, but I think they are missing the mark on what is needed. People are already talking AT THEM, just not to or with them. The conversations I have with Project Managers, Executives, VP’s of Operation, and jobsite Supers show the same feeling. They have enough TO DO and too many people telling them what the next task is, the next deadline, goal or Strategy. 

There is a difference between speaking with someone and being talked at. The difference is stark, especially when you’ve been on the receiving end of both types of communication. 

I’d be surprised to find anyone unaware that Managers are feeling extraordinarily stressed. Compared with May 2020, they're less engaged, informed, or prepared. They also have worse work-life balance and physical well being than their team members lower on the chain of command, who’s well being will also start taking a nosedive once Managers can no longer cope.  

Don’t get me wrong, Leaders SHOULD be communicating and engaging with their Managers, but unless they understand how Emotional Intelligence works, their influence will feel autocratic and can, at times, dictatorial. 

This trend will only continue unless Leaders start engaging in a human way and the fastest way to learn is through Emotional Intelligence. Each is broken down and builds on the others; it’s a 5 step process to reconnecting with your teams. 

According to the same Gallup article, Managers account for an astounding 70% of the variance in team engagement. 

“Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.” But what does that mean?

For years we have heard business and executive coaching talking about emotional intelligence but even in Gallups article from June 23rd, 2020 there was only one mention of the word “emotion” and it came from this sentence;  “Financial wellbeing is about more than financial health; rather, it reflects a person's emotional relationship with their money and how it contributes to their life experience.” What? 

Talk about missing the mark. We are SOCIAL and emotional creatures. Humans are not disposable, replaceable or interchangeable. No two are the same. It’s time we started seeing, appreciating and harnessing those differences 

As Leaders of your organizations now is your opportunity to break old habits. Start talking with your managers and employees, person to person. 

We, as an industry are desperate for real leadership right now. Leadership that sees, understands and demonstrates that everyone matters, everyone has the capability of leading in different ways and at different times and they are not disposable, interchangeable cogs in an unfeeling corporate environment. 

And THAT’s what it feels like right now. 

Managers don’t need more “Communication” as Gallup suggests. We have inboxes overflowing with To Do’s and urgent requirements, Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting and Virtual Happy Hours that drag on for hours, but still we feel disconnected. We need authentic and intentional communication.

What’s a leader to do? 

Learn about Emotional Intelligence.  Then TEACH your Managers about Emotional Intelligence. 

Whether relationships are dyadic - between two people-, in teams, or assembled in organizations,career success will depend more than ever on having the emotional and social skills essential to developing strong, trusting, and resonant relationships with others (Boyatzis and McKee, 2005). Notes between hyphens are mine. 

Additionally, Emotional Intelligence is a strong predictor of job performance, according to a study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University;The Relation Between Emotional Intelligence and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis,” published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior, builds upon years of existing studies in the area of emotional intelligence. 

Recent research highlights the importance of EI as a predictor in important domains such as academic performance, job performance, negotiation, leadership, emotional labor, trust, work–family conflict, and stress (Ashkanasy & Daus, 2002; Fulmer & Barry, 2004; Humphrey, 2002, 2006; Humphrey, Pollack, & Hawver, 2008; Jordan, Ashkanasy, & Hartel, 2002).

As you can see, Emotional Intelligence is not an idea left over from either the 60’s or early 2000’s. It’s the scientifically proven system of emotional connection that’s shown to improve performance, engagement and strengthen ties. It’s also a skill set. One that can be taught and strengthened over time.

And it’s sorely overlooked in the AEC Industry as a fundamental business skill. These skills are the most effective and efficient way to connect with your teams as humans, so they feel seen, heard, and understood. Authentically. 

This was written by Laura K. Murray, PhD, MA, a clinical psychologist and a senior scientist in Mental Health at the Bloomberg School John Hopkins;

There is no doubt that leadership will be one of the most heavily tested skills throughout the coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy to read articles about how leaders “should” or “should not” behave or “be.” In real practice, however, behavioral changes are hard and take practice, little by little.

Emotional intelligence is at the core of being able to make these behavioral shifts and ultimately helping you attain all those adjectives describing stellar leadership. Research shows that EI accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from others with similar technical skills and knowledge.

The Emotional Intelligence's are as follows:

  1. Self awareness

  2. Self Management: Includes stress management

  3. Motivation

  4. Empathy

  5. Social Skills

Management Training from Loop Consulting Group adds “Influence”, not because it’s seen as an Emotional Intelligence, but because “once someone learns EI skills, they need to know how to utilize them to help their teams.” 

If you “can harness your emotions in a productive way, you can be more creative and collaborative,” said University of Alabama School of Medicine Leadership Development Officer Jean Ann Larson, Ed.D. “It helps you perform better and remain productive in stressful situations. We are all going through a stressful situation right now with COVID–19, but we’ll continue to have stressful situations all our lives.” 

Although nothing quite like this again, I hope. 

As we continue to make our way through this increasingly challenging time, pretending there is a “normal” just around the corner is only worsening the toll. Right now, we need Managers and Teams, whether they are in the office or field, to feel heard, understood and connected with. Clearly, this is not happening. 

If you want to lead, engage, and inspire your team or organization, I would suggest learning these Intelligence's. 

As we move from Summer into the Fall it’s becoming clear, we have little control over what the rest of the country does, and as we start to plan and move forward, I fear we will continue to be tested.

We need to start addressing emotional and social skills NOW so our Leaders, Managers and Teams will have the skillset to COPE with their individual realities, especially as families add the struggle of social distanced school into the mix. 

Here is a quick exercise Dr. Murray suggested; 

Change your internal thoughts. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are intricately connected. Changing thoughts to be more helpful will have a huge impact on the intensity of your emotions and shift your behaviors to be much more productive. This sets off a chain of events leading to more positive thoughts and even changes in neurochemistry.

For example, try shifting from:

  • Thought: My business is going to go under. I will probably get fired.

  • Feeling: Anger (10/10), Frustration (10/10), Fear (9/10)

  • Behavior: Yelling at people, taking a long time to make a decision


  • Thought: My business and many others are going to struggle a lot.

  • Feeling: Anger (7/10), Frustration (8/10), Fear (5/10)

  • Behavior: Calling on mentors or board members to discuss creative solutions

Regardless of HOW you choose to educate yourself AND your team, I would urge you to start exploring options but, as always with Emotional Intelligence, start with yourself. 

As a leader, your role is critical. Not only do you hold the line when it comes to standards and expectations around your profession within AEC, but you have a new psychological dimension that demands helping others get through these times. 

As with all other challenges, they can shape you into a more engaged, connected and influential leader. And your teams can do the same. Emotional intelligence will be at the forefront of this growth and is worth the investment.

Whether that investment is taking Loop Consulting Group’s online course, Harnessing Emotional Intelligence, reading Christopher Connors Emotional Intelligence for the Modern Leader, or encouraging your own leadership to do both, I would suggest taking serious steps towards addressing the emotional and psychological needs of your Managers and Teams as soon as you can. 

Vivian Mandala is a Management & Leadership Coach and the Interim Executive Director at CMC Workforce

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