• Lina Bil

Benefits of Mindfulness - Emotional Intelligence

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

How well do you know yourself? How well do you perform under stress and pressure?

What distinguishes star performers from average performers in team leadership positions? From a human resources perspective, unskilled supervisors can cause a vast array of organizational effectiveness concerns. However, these individuals have been most likely promoted to leadership positions due to their exceptional technical skills and aptitudes. What would be the issue then? Are the managers and leaders primarily responsible for upholding the standards of technical knowledge that are present within the organization? Or are there other levels of accountability required, perhaps involving the less tangible and more variable dimension of human experience? Would, for example, being able to predict the emotional reaction of an individual receiving a temporary lay off or performance management feedback help managers become more effective?

Current research in the field of neuroleadership is focusing on “understanding the role of a leader’s emotion and emotion-management skills and abilities in change management” (Rock and Ringleb, 2013). For the most part, long gone are the days of tall hierarchies and tyrannical bosses who manage their troops through fear, instead organizations are now looking to their leaders to support and inspire their people... especially in difficult times. As per my previous blog post on stress management, stress makes it more difficult for employees to perform at their jobs or make decisions clearly. However, “the capacity for cognitive change [is] the one thing you can never take away from people, no matter what the circumstances” (Ochsner, 2012). Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning described our human “capacity to cognitively change the meaning of what is happening (...) as the most essential personal freedom” (2014).

David Rock offers the following definition of emotional intelligence: “[it] involves the ability to perceive, assess, and positively influence one’s own and other people’s emotions and intentions” (2009). In other words, “emotional intelligence has come to refer to a person’s abilities to perceive, identify, understand, and successfully manage his or her emotions and the emotions of others” (Rock and Ringleb, 2013). As per Dr. Kirk, “self-control frees us from being prisoners of our feelings and emotions, and research shows that utilizing emotional-regulation strategies can change behaviour in dramatic ways” (2013). Since mindfulness training not only allows for greater levels of introspection, but also taps into the brains neuroplasticity and the ability to create new connections / new ways of responding to stressful situations, it supports the expression of more constructive emotional styles.

According to what Daniel Goleman wrote in his book on Emotional Intelligence, people who rate highly on mindfulness scales also rate highly on emotional intelligence and vice versa (2006). In one of his articles for the Harvard Business Review, Goleman also described that based on his standardized workplace observations the most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence (2008). As a matter of fact, when Goleman analyzed executives at nearly 200 companies, he found emotional intelligence to be twice as important as the intelligence quotient and technical ability in driving performance (at the highest levels this difference was even higher).

In the era of knowledge economy, organizations make a greater effort to engage and empower their workforce. However, according to the research conducted by Google, the number one predictor of team performance is actually trust and psychological safety (Bariso, 2018). Simply respecting how others think and feel can help to overcome many barriers to team performance. Goleman summarizes that “harmony allows [groups] to take maximum advantage of its most creative and talented members’ abilities” (2006). Studies of top performers in team-based group projects revealed that these individuals are typically the most effective at establishing connections within other departments of the organization, those informal networks then came into play when unexpected issues arise. Otherwise, the level of technical knowledge, academic talent, or intelligence were not as good predictors of on the job performance in team-based environments.

Herring, Roche, and Masters suggest that “within a workplace [and] in situations where individuals are faced with stressful events, a mindful orientation will reduce the likeliness of these individuals engaging in ruminative thought patterns, (....) [which] will lead to greater recovery from events or situations within the workplace environment, which are identified as negative in nature” (2016). Dr. Ochsner describes various strategies for emotional regulation based on insights from social-cognitive neuroscience, including:

· Situation selection – putting yourself in a situation that will elicit the emotions you want to have;

· Situation modification – change what is within your control about the situation to promote the emotions you want to have;

· Change the focus of attention or awareness – change your attention to distract yourself from unwanted emotions;

· Reappraisal – reinvent the meaning of what is actually happening to you;

· Response modulation – supress the behavioural manifestation of unwanted emotions.

Furthermore, Dr. Ochsner offers that the implications of his research lie in the “power that comes from realizing that our emotions are defined by the way we appraise the meaning of situations” (2013). Furthermore, according to Goleman, the five components of emotional intelligence at work include the following: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill (2008). Guillen describes the following emotional competencies: resilience, outlook, social intuition, self-awareness, sensitivity to context, and attention (2014). Their characteristics involve: quick recovery from adversity, commitment and positive attitude, empathy and compassion, self-knowledge, focus and concentration. Brain areas involved in these dimensions of involve the activation of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, inhibition of the amygdala, increase in oxytocin levels.

To summarize, the benefits of emotional intelligence on work performance span across many dimensions including: conflict management, giving and receiving effective feedback, focus and concentration, organizational culture and teamwork, and diversity and inclusion. As my first three blog posts were all about the benefits of mindfulness training for individuals, in my future posts I will examine the benefits of mindfulness training as applied to leadership development.

Effective leaders are able to connect with their teams even under the most ambiguous and difficult circumstances to bring out the best in them. Goleman further states that “as knowledge-based services and intellectual capital become more central to corporations, improving the way people work together will be a major way to leverage intellectual capital, making a critical competitive difference” (2006). In order for organizations to remain competitive, they must prioritize boosting their collective emotional intelligence.

Stay tuned for my next blog post which will examine the benefits of mindfulness training as applied to one of the toughest job of all - leadership.

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