Emotional Intelligence in Handling Crisis Situations
Author: Jovanka Srdija, HR Konsultant @Assert
21st century challenges
We live in a complex world and crisis periods cause even more confusion due to changes in many factors of everyday functioning. The challenges we encounter nowadays are largely determined by VUCA conditions (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity). Although this acronym originates from the military industry, it was quickly accepted in the business world due to great importance of an adequate response to such circumstances for achieving business results.
The question that arises is: how can we do our business in a stable, secure, straightforward, and simple way when the circumstances are everything but that? How can we be prepared for and handle different circumstances skillfully and how can we ensure victory even when the odds are against us?
To respond to challenges in an optimal way, we need resources that include more than just classic skills, such as technical competencies. Although emotions are not the first thing that comes to our mind when we try to explain phenomena existing in an organization, it has been proved that emotional intelligence plays a very important role in explaining the potential of both an individual and organization for handling a crisis.
Resilience as an indispensable tool for tackling crisis
Human resources make a key difference. If we look around to find an answer, we’ll see different reactions to one and the same stressful situation. We’ll notice different emotions, attitudes and, more importantly, different behaviors which yield different contributions.
The following and similar questions arise: How bad is the situation? What’s next? How long will it last? How will the situation affect our organization – employees, buyers, partners, supply chain? What’s the right reaction?
A natural reaction to abrupt changes in circumstances of almost all aspects of functioning are most certainly emotions like anxiety, fear, anger, feeling of helplessness. Although these emotions are a normal response to almost instant changes in demands, it’s very intuitive to conclude that such emotions may be counterproductive at the time when creativity, resourcefulness, proactiveness and the ability to see a bigger picture while keeping a cool head are essential.
What we need to understand is how to overcome this and unlock full potential by boosting our employees’ resilience.
“The key goal in managing dynamic and unpredictable challenges is resilience – the ability to survive and thrive through unpredictable, changing, and potentially unfavorable events.”
Reeves, Lang and Carlsson-Szlezak – Harvard Business Review.
How do emotions modify our behavior?
According to scientists, there are two types of reactions to stress, namely a challenge-response and threat-response. A challenge-response is what stress causes in surgeons during critical moments of surgery, pilots when a plane breaks down, athletes in deciding moments of a game, when they are ready to show their maximum performance. On the other hand, a threat-response prepares us for danger that we might not be able to overcome. When we perceive danger, we can fight, flight, or freeze, i.e. have no reaction. As a result, our reaction may have multiple negative consequences both on the outcome of the situation and our mental and physical health.
Let’s see what experts say about this. Experts from prestigious universities Harvard and Yale came to a conclusion that the difference between a threat- and challenge-response lies in the way of thinking during a stressful situation. The connection between external events and our reaction lies within and entails emotional intelligence. It is exactly emotional intelligence that increasingly attracts attention in modern business due to awareness of the wide range of its positive effects. Developed EI enables emotionally intelligent responses to negative feelings, and use of soft skills for provoking positive emotions in oneself and others through presence, empathy, authenticity, resilience and reinforcement of positive behavior. If we look at demands of modern business, it is not surprising that emotional intelligence is more useful for predicting business performance than classic intelligence, especially when it comes to leading positions and those which involve constantly working with people. The good news is that this is a skill that may be developed, which makes an individual or organization stronger.
Role of emotional intelligence in successful capacity management
Imagine the part of your brain in charge of emotions as an automated filter for external events. It classifies events into two groups: reward or threat. Depending on the filter, different responses activate in the part in charge of thinking. The reward signal enables seeing the big picture and unlocks creativity in finding a solution, reinforcing our potential. On the other hand, the threat signal results in a narrow, restricted perspective which further leads to impulsive reactions. (Figure 1)
Figure 1 Brain processing of external events (Genos International)
When uncertain, people tend to make assumptions. Let’s take the current situation as an example. Many worry about the uncertainty around store supply, which in turn leads to panic and mass buying of groceries based on the assumed supply shortages. When people are under a lot of stress, they tend to be more aggressive, and when they feel anxious, they become more reactive. If we’re worried, we’ll focus too much on the problem, which will hinder us from seeing possible solutions. When fear overwhelms us, we tend to blame it on external factors.
If you want to unlock your team’s potential, it is extremely important to generate emotions which will empower them.
- A sense of purpose has a positive effect on individual’s involvement and commitment
- A sense of being appreciated makes people take care of each other
- When informed, people strive to focus on the solution
- When empowered, they strive to find innovative solutions
In addition, if we take a look at the internationally-acclaimed Genos Emotional Intelligence Model (Figure 2), designed specifically for the organization context, we’ll find the answer in competencies like self-awareness and self-management, which help us become aware of our emotions and manage them. Self-awareness means awareness of our own behavior, personal strengths and weaknesses, and the effect we have on others. Self-management is the ability to control our own moods, emotions, time and behavior, and tendency to constantly work on ourselves. If we get a command over these two basic skills, we’ll get more capacity to apply competencies like awareness of others, emotional reasoning, and positive influence on other people
Figure 2 The Genos model
What are the next steps?
Our emotions are very important and significant whether they’re pleasant or not. What is crucial in the VUCA conditions is to pay attention to how we feel and manage our emotions consciously and intentionally. We all have a choice. We can let emotions that drive our behavior overwhelm us without any conscious control. However, what we can also do is learn how to recognize these emotions, manage them and transform our mental capacities.
To manage our emotions successfully, we need to focus on proactive strategies which will help us do this, and they refer to our way of thinking, physical activity, strategies we apply in relations with people and use to handle our environment.
When it comes to systemic improvement of emotional intelligence in an organization, we advise an objective assessment of the current situation, followed by defining of steps for development of this important skill for more successful tackling of challenges in the 21st century.
We want to share with you the strategies for successful handling of challenges related to COVID-19 pandemic, so we decided to give three webinars:
- Mental Health and EI
- Tips&Tricks for Remote Efficiency
- Successful Remote Leader
Jovanka Srdija, HR Consultant @Assert
Jovanka has an M.A. in Business Psychology and more than three years of experience in human resource management. Since the beginning of her career, she has been gaining experience in assessment in multinational companies of various industries (distribution of IT products, FMCG, staffing). In early 2018, she joined ManpowerGroup, where she held the position of Client Support Consultant. Owing to her great aptitude for assessment, she specialized in assessment projects, creating and implementing various assessment centers. In 2020, she joined Assert as HR Consultant in the field of assessment. She is certified to apply international assessment methodologies, such as SHL, Harrison Assessment, Great People Inside, Revelian, as well as GENOS methodologies for assessing emotional intelligence. Jovanka is also getting education in REBT coaching and psychotherapy.