Developing emotional competence

How do you become more emotionally competent – more aware of your own and others’ feelings? It can be learned: here’s a primer.


I get a lot of complaints from staff about their bosses being emotionally incompetent. And at the same time I am seeing an increase in the number of managers asking for training for themselves and their team to develop “emotional competence”.


What is emotional competence and how do we help our staff develop emotional competence?


Emotional competence is related to emotional intelligence, a term made popular by Daniel Goleman, which describes an ability to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.


Emotional competence can be learned and developed, and is likely to be a better predictor of success at work than IQ.


There are four aspects to developing emotional competence:


1. Emotional self-awareness


This is an ability to accurately identify your own emotions: acknowledge your feelings and recognise when you are feeling negative (angry, frustrated, depressed or defensive). Some people are not very good at it and seem to have trouble recognising thinking patterns, so they are unaware of their own biases when assessing situations and people. It is useful to be able to recognise your own typical thinking faults, such as exaggerating, catastrophising, blaming.


Perhaps one of the most critical skills to develop is the ability to understand others’ perceptions of yourself. And a great way to do this is to seek feedback about yourself and ask questions to check out your self-perceptions. If you appreciate and understand the impact you have on others you have a greater level of self-awareness. This can be developed by getting feedback, such as through 360 degree feedback surveys.


Another aspect of emotional self-awareness is being intuitive and having the confidence to voice gut reactions to people and events and to use intuition in decision making.


2. Emotional self-control


I am always impressed when I see people remain calm and non-defensive in the face of difficult situations. They control their own emotions and somehow don’t display any inappropriate reactions that could make the situation worse. And the best of this is the ability to talk oneself into a good mood, or never put yourself down. When you have the ability to stay “up” and maintain an optimistic outlook, and persevere even where there are setbacks – that is a sign of great emotional control. These are the skills to be developed, through training, mentoring and counselling.


When people are committed to achieving their goals they show emotional self-control by showing a consistent level of motivation to achieve results, whether it be short or longer-term goals.


People who care about continuous development will be the ones who are eager to learn new ways of doing things and will challenge their thinking and behaving. You will see they are the ones who participate in a range of personal development activities to develop and improve their skills.


3. Understand others’ emotions


A common complaint about some managers is they are “insensitive”. So how can they be more sensitive?


Being sensitive to others’ feelings means being able to interpret accurately their feelings – usually by reading the non-verbal behavior, and then responding with empathy – and understanding others’ emotions.


A person who is highly skilled in this area is concerned to help others. They help others reduce their negative feelings, and are supportive when others are upset. And they also manage to understand group emotions: being sensitive to group or team vibes. And they can articulate a group’s feelings, thoughts or mood.


4. Social skills


It is often the social skills that are first seen as lacking in someone with low emotional competence. To do this well you need to be able to communicate about feelings, openly talking about own feelings (when appropriate) and being comfortable when emotions are being disclosed and discussed.


A person skilled in this area will build collaboration and is competent at managing or mediating conflict situations. They will usually seek to encourage collaborative outcomes. As a manager they will be one to motivate, giving praise and encouragement freely and energising others in a positive way.


They need to be adaptable so they don’t get stuck on a particular view and remain open to a range of opinions on an issue. They will build trust and are invariably sought out by others for support. They build trust by keeping promises and confidences, and will encourage open communication at all levels. They themselves will demonstrate honesty in all communications.


Eve Ash is a psychologist and co-producer with Peter Quarry of Developing Emotional Competence (from the Take Away Training Series), and also the co-creator of the Emotional Competence Indicator, a 360 degree assessment tool now in 15 languages.


Watch the video Developing Emotional Competence

To read more Eve Ash blogs, click here.


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