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We’ve all had to work with that person: The clueless colleague who keeps putting her foot in her mouth because she can’t read the tension in the conference room. Or that strange boss who latches onto an idea as “the next best thing” when everyone else agrees it’s a walking disaster.
If your day at work regularly plays out like a scene from The Office, you’re not alone. A whopping 94% of managers surveyed by the authors of Toxic Workplace! Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power said that they worked with a “toxic” person. And the behaviors that drove them crazy weren’t necessarily as obvious as bullying or harassment; acts like passive hostility or team sabotage were among the causes for stress.
It’s possible that the executive who constantly gives you backhanded compliments isn’t just being Ms. Insensitivity. She may lack emotional intelligence, or EQ, defined as the ability to read the social signals around you and react appropriately. Those with a high EQ have greater self awareness, better control over their emotions, and the ability to motivate themselves, as well as show greater empathy toward others, which is useful in areas like conflict resolution and team building.
Remember, however, that a high EQ doesn’t necessarily mean you are virtuous (as Fast Company’s Drake Baer points out, both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adolf Hitler had high EQs)—it’s more about whether you can read your environment and react accordingly. Still, those with high EQs are more likely to be successful in their jobs. And those with low EQs can make others feel like they are talking to a brick wall.
So how can you get across to your emotionally unintelligent bosses and co-workers who can’t seem to get a clue? Follow these tips to improve communications.
Don’t Condemn Them
Most people want to vilify low-EQ co-workers, but don’t fault them for skills they don’t have. “Emotions are information,” organizational psychologist Sigal Barsade tells Fast Company. “In essence, people who are low in [emotional intelligence] are lacking the ability to take in, understand, or process a really critical part of the way that we communicate in the world. If they can’t read your emotions, they won’t be getting all the info you’re naturally sending them.”
Be as Clear as Possible
This means saying what you mean, without the frills. In other words, don’t use sarcasm; the co-workers you’re trying to reach aren’t going to pick up on that. And always tell the whole story; Barsade explains that emotionally unintelligent people need to know what data or information they are missing.
Give Constructive Criticism
As awkward as it may be, people with low EQs need feedback, and even in real-time, if possible. And you should always give it with a calm demeanor, because they are more likely to mirror that behavior back. If you need to schedule a time with your manager for a more sensitive conversation, read author and consultant Judith Glaser’s seven tips for how to prepare for the talk on Fast Company.
Now about that co-worker who won’t stop clipping his nails in the office…
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