Emotional Intelligence

Picture this. The project manager calls a meeting but they are late, grumpy, don’t make eye contact, don’t listen to participants, become angry when questioned or challenged, thump the table and then leave. The team are left disillusioned and unmotivated. The project limps on…

Historically “soft skills” was the term given to any skill set that involved the management of or communicating with people. Soft skills or people skills were historically defined as a sociological term relating to a person’s EQ, or Emotional Intelligence Quotient, that is the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterise relationships with other people. These attributes are contrasted with the hard or technical skills, such as the ability to create your Gantt chart and balance your project budget.

This article seeks to discuss renaming of the traditional soft skills and a paradigm shift for the necessary skills required for a project manager. This contends that the term should now been renamed to “behavioural skills”, as we all know there is nothing soft about them and how these skills have actually transgressed the hard skills.

While it has been argued academically and across the profession that behavioural skills are necessary for a Project Manager to successfully deliver a project, little discussion has been around how to develop those skills in our project managers and project professionals. This presentation discusses those skills:

What behavioural skills are found in a project environment? Behavioural skills are the skills that give the project manager the ability to work with people, and the ability to motivate people involved in the project. The 12 essential behaviours for project managers are:

Communication and Consultation – Interacting with people about ideas, thoughts, facts, emotions, challenges and successes alongside hard facts such as project progress. Having the ability to convey complex ideas easily, clearly articulate what must be accomplished, keep the team moving toward a common goal, and to foster an environment that allows team members to communicate openly and honestly are just some of the behavioural skills required.

Conflict and Crisis Management – Listening and responding to the needs and views of all team members to anticipate any potential areas of conflict. The ability to diffuse situations where conflict has arisen helps to maintain a healthy project environment.

Flexibility and Creativity – Thinking in original and imaginative ways to widen the scope of problem solving when issues arise. Encourage project teams to find the best solution and outcomes without slavishly following generic delivery methods or solutions. Adapting a project’s different components, templates, tools, and techniques.

Leadership – Understanding the vision and direction of the project and aligning the team to work towards it. Skills include delegating, coaching, motivating and leading by example.

Learning and Development – Continual improvement of both your own skills and those of your team. Assessment of skills and capabilities, encouraging participation in learning activities and evaluating how the learning is applied in the project environment.

Negotiation – Analysis of information, decision making, establishing the desired outcome and developing a strategy for the negotiation alongside understanding the optimal outcome from several options. Gaining agreement through consensus of positions from both parties.

Organisational Effectiveness – Understanding and applying people management processes and policies. Understanding the corporate culture, the organisational dynamics, and the individuals that work within it lead to getting the best from your team.

Problem Solving and Decision Making – Resolving issues and solving problems that are a normal part of every project.

Professionalism and ethics – Demonstrated through knowledge, skills and behaviour alongside appropriate conduct and moral principles for both the organisation’s and project’s environments.

Self-control – Self-control and selfmanagement to ensure day-to-day stresses are addressed and a work/life balance is maintained.

Teamwork – Creating a team atmosphere where the team believes that ‘we are all in this together’ is a critical component to project success.

Trustworthiness – Do what you say you’re going to do. Build trust with stakeholders involved and convey they can be trusted day-to-day to do what is right at the right time to keep the project successful and the sponsor satisfied.

Do they belong in project environments? Definitely, behavioural skills are also known as people skills and these skills are needed in the project due to the large and varied number of people the project interfaces with. Behavioural or people skills, it’s the ability to build cooperation between the project team, other project stakeholders and the project organisation. These skills involve communication, team building, leadership, influencing, understanding perceptions and attitudes, which help improve the morale of individuals and groups.

The behavioural skills include dealing with how a person relates to others. It means having effective communication skills, knowing how to articulate and how to present information. An element of communication skills is having good listening skills, a project manager should be an active listener which makes the overall communication skills more effective.

Behavioural skills are undoubtedly needed by project managers. Across the Project Management profession, there is debate about what these skills are and how they should be measured.

Generally speaking, behavioural skills are the skills an individual has in relation to their EQ. These cover a breadth of skills including communications, interpersonal skills and how an individual builds and maintains relationships with others. In a project environment, getting others to work with you towards a common goal is a foundation stone to delivering a project.

What are the benefits of employing behavioural skills?

The importance and priority of the competencies will be influenced by a project or organisation’s culture and environment, however developing and improving these behaviours will help a project manager to deliver successful projects no matter where they are being applied.

Here are some practical strategies on how to deal with difficult personalities:

Be calm – Losing your temper and flaring out at the other person typically isn’t the best way to get them to collaborate with you. Unless you know that anger will trigger the person into action and you are consciously using it as a strategy to move them, it is better to assume a calm persona. Someone who is calm is seen as being in control, centred and more respectable. Would you prefer to work with someone who is predominantly calm, or someone who is always on edge? When the person you are dealing with sees that you are calm despite whatever they are doing, you will start getting their attention.

Understand the person’s intention – I’d like to believe that no one is difficult for the sake of being difficult. Even when it may seem that the person is just out to get you, there is always some underlying reason that is motivating them to act this way. Rarely is this motivation apparent. Try to identify the person’s trigger, what is making them act in this manner? What is stopping them from cooperating with you? How can you help to meet their needs and resolve the situation?

Get some perspective from others – In all likelihood, your colleagues, managers and friends must have experienced similar situations in one way or another. They will be able to see things from a different angle and offer a different take on the situation. Seek them out, share your story and listen to what they have to say. You might very well find some golden advice in amidst of the conversation.

Let the person know where you are coming from – One thing that has worked for me is to let the person know my intentions behind what I am doing. Sometimes, they are being resistant because they think that you are just being difficult with them. Letting them in on the reason behind your actions and the full background of what is happening will enable them to empathise with your situation. This lets them get them onboard much easier.

Build a rapport – With all the computers, emails and messaging systems, work sometimes turn into a mechanical process. Re-install the human touch by connecting with your colleagues on a personal level. Go out with them for lunches or dinners. Get to know them as people, not just colleagues. Learn more about their hobbies, their family, their lives. Foster strong connections. These will go a long way in your work.

Treat the person with respect – Nobody likes to be treated as if they are stupid, incapable or incompetent. If you are going to treat the person with disrespect, it’s not going to be surprising if they treat you the same way as well. As the golden rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Focus on what can be actioned upon – Sometimes, you may be put into hot soup by your difficult colleagues, such as not receiving a piece of work they promised to give or being wrongly held responsible for something you didn’t do. Whatever it is, acknowledge that the situation has already occurred. Rather than harp on what you cannot change, focus on the actionable steps you can take to forward yourself in the situation.

Ignore – If you have already tried everything above and the person is still not being receptive, the best way might be to just ignore. After all, you have already done all that you can within your means. Get on your daily tasks and interact with the person only where needed. Of course, this isn’t feasible in situations where the person plays a critical role in your work – this leads us to our last tip.

Escalate to a higher authority for resolution – When all else fails, escalate. This is considered the trump card and shouldn’t be used unless you’ve completely exhausted your means. Sometimes, the only way to get someone moving is through the top-down approach, especially in bureaucratic organisations.

The benefits of EQ – to become a better project leader

“All learning has an emotional base” – Plato Salovey and Mayer proposed a model that identified four different factors of emotional intelligence: the perception of emotion, the ability reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotion and the ability to manage emotions.

Perceiving Emotions – The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding non-verbal signals such as body language and facial expressions

Reasoning with Emotions – The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritise what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention

Understanding Emotions – The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could be because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he’s been fighting with his wife.

Managing Emotions – The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.

The rules for work are changing. We are being judged by not just how smart we are, but also by how well we handle each other and ourselves. Our every action is systematically controlled by emotions; this is the essential premise of EQ. To be successful requires effective awareness, control and management of one’s own emotions and those of other people. EQ embraces two aspects of intelligence:

  • Understanding yourself, your goals, responses and behaviour create possibilities and intentions.
  • Understanding others and their feelings.

Emotional Intelligence Quotient is increasingly relevant to organisational development and developing people, because EQ principles provide a new way to understand and assess people’s behaviours, management styles, attitudes, interpersonal skills, and potential. Emotional Intelligence Quotient is an important consideration in all aspects of an organisation: human resources planning, job profiling, recruitment interviewing and selection, management development, customer relations and customer service. The good news is, unlike IQ, EQ skills can be developed and improved over time.

This article seeks to dispel the image of project managers being controlling, ill-tempered tyrants. Rather, with appropriate training and development we can all become behavioural experts and accelerate our chance of achieving results. The next question is, how do we provide Project Professionals with the skills and tools to develop these behavioural skills?

Picture of Lisa Twyford

Lisa Twyford

At the start of my career, I learned quickly that many organisations were full of good intentions, but all too often lacking the skills and know-how to execute effectively. That’s why I founded clear decisions™ over 12 years ago. My vision was simple, I had a desire to help businesses and their people move through change projects with great success.


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