21st century finance: Emotional Intelligence
It's not just another soft skill or HR buzzword; emotional intelligence (EI) is a skill proven time and time again to be synonymous with career and relationship success.
And because much of an accountant or FD's work relies on relationships, whether its clients, colleagues or other businesses, having good EI is crucial.
The following article is part of a series AccountingWEB is running on the importance of 21st century finance skills.
Having good EI can enable you to tackle stressful situations by recognising your emotions and the emotions of others, and learning to step back and deal with them in a calm and rational manner.
As accounting professionals experience many stressful scenarios, knowing how to deal with these occurrences in the most effective way can take much of the pain out of your working life.
Business psychologist Viv Thackray, CABA trainer and owner of Koha Consultancy, spoke to AccountingWEB about what EI is, what accountants can do to improve it and about further resources for self-development.
According to Thackray, this is the ability to recognise, reason with, understand and manage emotions in both yourself and others.
There are two key skills people need to have, to develop their EI.
"One is the ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment. For example, someone shouts at you in work. This is very stressful, and sometimes our response might not be the one we'd like," the psychologist said.
Therefore, improving your EI to deal with situations such as this, i.e. taking a step back, assessing the situation before emotionally responding will improve the impact they have on you and on others.
In addition, people need to be comfortable with their own emotions to act in constructive ways, she added.
That's a brief overview of what EI is. But how do you recognise whether yours is good or bad and therefore whether its in need of improvement?
Losing your temper quite often and having an inability to recognise how both you and others feel could be an indicator of poor EI, according to Thackray.
"When people come on a session with us, I ask them at the start to take a few minutes to pause, take a breath and recognise how they are feeling. Some really cannot do that."
Recognition of emotions is the first thing people need to do. If they can't recognise how they're feeling, it needs to be worked on.
There are many ways of improving your EI, from seeking help from a psychologist specialising in this area, to educating yourself by taking a look at the online resources at the bottom of this article.
But Thackray advised that practicing mindfulness is one of the best techniques for improving EI skills.
Mindfulness is a state of being in the here-and-now, rather than worrying about the past or future. It's a skill that allows us to know what's going on inside and around us, kind of like meditation.
Thackray advises those wishing to improve their EI to start by using a simple breathing exercise.
"Stop, take a breath, observe your emotion and react the way you want to react instead of allowing emotions to dictate how you reply," she said.
"Be aware of yourself in the moment when stressful opportunities arise and quickly reduce stress by performing that simple breathing exercise.
Take it one step at a time, too, and don't overload yourself with things to work on. Trying to do too much will lead you to being less likely to achieve anything.
"Make sure you have good motivation, and you are committed to the goal. For example, if its wanting to reduce your dependency on your mobile phone, commit first to not having it on the table for a specific period of time.
"You may identify lots of things about your EI you want to work on but pick the simplest, most basic thing first. Once you have mastered this, move onto the bigger areas.
One programme that already exists, based on mindfulness is Google's own training project, Search Inside Yourself.
Other resources include author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman's Ted talk: Why aren't we more compassionate?
In addition to mindfulness, mental rehearsal of situations and reactions is just as effective as literally doing something, Thackray said.
At the 2020 Group conference in Birmingham recently, Gordon Gilchrist spoke of the importance of hiring someone or some people into your firm who have emotional intelligence.
Sure, there are accountants and FDs out there who are incredible with numbers but not great when it comes to having empathy with a client or colleagues. And many more may simply feel uncomfortable when discussing emotions in the context of work.
Perhaps there is a lesson here. EI is a skill that everyone needs to improve, and there is so much that can be done - even in private and self-supported - to better it. But perhaps those in the firm with better EI should be the ones to provide client care, while the others improve their soft skills?
For more on emotional intelligence, see: