By Gloria Lombardi

“Do you measure emotional intelligence (EQ) when you recruit and build internal communications teams?” The recruitment agency Ellwood Atfield surveyed over 1200 internal communications leaders in their latest Pulse Check with Question & Retain.

The results were discussed at the elegant Ellwood Atfield Gallery this week with a panel of professionals in the industry. I was there to delve into the topic and learn more about the use of EQ in building high performing teams. Here are a few personal take-aways.

Not a rosy picture

Studies have began to provide evidence that EQ – known as the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions – drives leadership performance. Assessing candidates’ emotional intelligence when recruiting for internal communications roles can help to understand how they will perform once in the job.

However, the findings presented by Imogen Osborne of Question & Retain were not too optimistic. Only 3% of respondents valued emotional intelligence and had a tested method for measuring it inside their organisation. Anonymous comments from the research read: “It is very important for understanding individual and team dynamics.”

“EQ matters to me, to the team and to the organisation as a whole. I’m interested in the relationship between the candidate and me, the fit with the rest of the team and the reputation of internal communications in the organisation – approachable, available, business-like, credible, helpful, honest, human, professional, reliable, trust-worthy, and wise.”

For as many as 33% of respondents emotional intelligence was not relevant at all. “We don’t believe it exists!” someone commented.

The majority (39%) believed that they needed to do more around this. “It is done through behavioural questioning and the evaluation of responses takes some training to analyse. It is not a face factor but as empirical as possible.”

“We are working with a specialist to build our capability to assess emotional intelligence in both our recruitment and talent development programmes. We expect this to be happening by April 2015.”

“We did measure this at leadership level. However, they don’t really utilise the learning.”

Building a champion mindset through emotional intelligence

Still, there were plenty of practitioners at the debate who were ready to fight for the importance of EQ in building internal communications teams. One of them was executive leadership coach and international speaker Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood.

She pointed out that talented professionals often struggle when someone else from a position of power is blocking them at work. Ultimately, they leave the company as they stop believing they can flourish in such an alienating environment. Greenwood’s view? We have to change what is currently happening in the workplace, and nurture a ‘champion mindset’.

Doing so calls for new leadership skills. While we still need the qualities of vision, courage and strength of character, we also have to develop our emotional, social and intuitive intelligences.

“The world is changing fast. We have a more emotionally aware workforce, whose talent demands intellectual creative autonomy. We are living in a global world, which requires empathy to communicate across cultural boundaries. We are in a world that is increasingly dependent on intuitive intelligence, that right-brain combination of imagination and intuition. Anything that threatens this new ‘champion mindset’ has to be challenged.”

Ultimately, we have to start with ourselves and lead from the front. “The more we model and nurture this way of thinking in ourselves, the more we will inspire others to follow. It is about our values. And, the core value is always our integrity.”

The same applies to the ability of being a great team player. “I have seen talented stars hit their own glass ceiling and derail because they cannot make the necessary transition into the peer matrix.”

According to Greenwood, the best team members are capable of accommodating their own needs and hopes while simultaneously fight for the well-being of their colleagues. It is this relationship that brings them the happiest successes. “For how we are in a relationship where there is no given authority says much about how we are in relationships extending beyond our professional life deep into our personal one.

“To learn how to connect intimately with others and stay connected with our core ‘self’. The resolution of this paradox will ultimately bring us our greatest joy and fulfilment.”

Internal comms needs emotional literacy

Liam FitzPatrick, author of ‘Internal Communication’ and Chief Executive at Agenda Strategies, claimed that internal communicators cannot do their job without a natural emotional intelligence.

“We’re paid to understand how people interpret or react to different types of information and to advise leaders on how to explain things in an influential way.” Facts alone have relatively little impact on how people think. “It’s about talking to their motivations and emotions.”

FitzPatrick made an important distinction between the organisation and its individual. “It is tempting to take a theory about individual human psychology and apply it to an organisation as if it was a single personality. I don’t think you can do it. People don’t see things all the same way. Communicators have to shape and segment messages to reach optimists, pessimists, cynics, introverts, extroverts, socialites and sociopaths at the same time!”

Another observation he made was around using EQ in narrative. “Drawing out the emotional components in storytelling is an essential skill. At its basics it’s about bringing facts to live while showing their impacts on colleagues.”

When working with senior leaders, internal communicators have to suggest ways in which they can engage their audiences “by sharing ideas and touching on the emotional as much as on the rational.” They should think about how staff feel with regards to an issue, and address that. “Internal communicators can help by explaining how their colleagues are thinking, and making sure the boss is able to sense the atmosphere and work with it.”

Attitude is key

“In a communications role I would expect someone to understand and drive emotions – both theirs and for their audiences.” The new Director of Communications at GSK Howard Krais, concurred with the other speakers that emotional intelligence is a core skill these days and something particularly relevant for roles involved with change. “I think you would struggle if you didn’t have that.”

He also pointed out the importance of attitude: “In roles that include a big change agenda and an expectation of making a significant contribution, both to the internal client and within the team, a lot is expected of the person who comes in. It is a challenge with plenty of opportunities for stretch and development. And, this is where attitude is key. The candidate needs to demonstrate that they are ambitious and keen to test themselves in this type of environment.”

That ‘gut feeling’

During the panel discussion there were many other relevant contributions, which indicated an appetite for measuring EQ when recruiting and building teams. Current best practice seems to ensure the recruiter themselves have a good level of understanding of emotional intelligence in order to ‘tune in’ to a potential candidate during the interview process. However, the debate also highlighted uncertainty about how exactly to implement this.

Perhaps we should leave the last comment to Annabel Dunstan of Question & Retain who worked on the pulse check commissioned for this event.

“My advice to recruiters in internal communications is to work on themselves and to develop their own EQ. Hence their antennae for spotting it in others. Noticing how you feel in the presence of another person is often a good indicator.”

In her experience of interviewing and recruiting, Dunstan found she had a strong sense of whether a candidate was the right fit for the culture within the first minute of meeting. “It can be as simple as genuine eye contact, a firm but not overly handshake, and the type of energy they give off in the room that provide so many clues as to someone’s EQ.”

She suggested considering to build on this unscientific ‘gut feel’ approach, together with a series of well thought out questions that challenge a candidate to be honest about themselves. Plus, bringing in a coach of psychology might be wise and help to avoid costly recruitment mistakes.

“There is certainly a gap in the market for an off the shelf product to measure EQ that is easy for internal communications practitioners to adopt. But, until that day, identifying candidates with high emotional intelligence may well rely upon the instinctive skills of the recruiter.”