Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor your emotions or the emotions of others and use this to guide your actions. A shorter way to say this is to recognize or regulate emotions in ourselves and others.
As project managers, we deal with people all day, every day, and we rely on them to get the job done. In this article I show you how to use your emotional intelligence in different project management knowledge areas and how you can improve your skills. But, first, let’s take a look at how this branch of management thinking first started.
The History of Emotional Intelligence
Research into emotional intelligence can be traced back to about 1964 when Michael Beldoch first wrote a paper on the subject. In 1989 Stanley Greenspan created a model to help describe what emotional intelligence was, which was then expounded on by Peter Salovey and John Mayer.
Then we get to Daniel Goleman, whom you will probably see more of in search results about “emotional intelligence” than any of the other authors. He’s often the go-to resource for emotional intelligence in the business world because he writes articles for Harvard Business Review, Forbes and other periodicals on a regular basis.
“EQ” vs. “Emotional Intelligence”: Which Is Right?
You might hear emotional intelligence called EQ, which stands for emotional quotient. Generally, the terms used to mean the same thing, so you can use either one. However, my reading has found that one researcher has used them to mean something slightly different. He used EI to discuss the potential that we are born with and EQ to talk about our actual practical application of those skills. The difference is slight, so feel free to use either of these terms and you will never be incorrect. In this article I use EQ (emotional quotient) and EI (emotional intelligence) interchangeably.
Emotional Intelligence and Project Management
Why is emotional intelligence important to us as project managers? Because it’s a significant differentiator in our success. Travis Bradberry, a researcher in this area, says that 58 percent of our success ties to our ability to be emotionally intelligent. If you look at people who are top performers, 90 percent of them rate high in EQ or higher than their colleagues. Having said that, being highly emotionally intelligent as a project manager doesn’t negate the need for you to have excellent technical skills.
EQ is the ultimate integration of soft skills and technical skills. You can use your emotional intelligence to make the best judgment calls for the team and to communicate effectively about what you’ve used your technical skills to calculate, such as earned value and schedule dates.
EQ and the Project Management Knowledge Areas
My primary goal in writing this article is to give students who are preparing for their Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification a basic understanding of how EQ plays into the exam. But even if you aren’t currently in the middle of your PMP Exam Prep, this should still be a helpful guide.
So how do the components of emotional intelligence relate to the PMBOK® Guide project management knowledge areas? Well, we don’t have space here to go through them all in detail, but here are some high-level examples of how you can apply EI to your daily project management activities.
- Scope management: Oftentimes, people feel pressured to sign off on project scope that isn’t exactly what they want because they don’t want to hold up the process. EI can help you notice this and do something about it. An emotionally intelligent project manager will follow up afterwards because he or she will recognize how this might cause problems later on.
- Time management: When your team faces time pressures, knowing how they think and how to get the best out of them can help you work out a solution to help them deliver more. Being emotionally intelligent can help you frame a request to a sponsor in a way that gets you more time or more money to pay for extra resources.
- Cost management: Incorrect estimates can cause headaches on projects. EI gives you the tools to deal with them. Do you just not use the incorrect estimates and hope the estimator doesn’t notice? Do you sit down with them privately? Do you need to bring another estimator into the conversation or is that going to embarrass the original expert? EI gives you an insight into what is going to work best.
- Quality management: Working with auditors can involve difficult negotiations. EI can help you balance the needs of the team and the auditor to get the audit completed successfully.
- Human resource management: This is perhaps the most obvious area in which to apply EI. You can use it for conflict resolution, negotiations and building good working relationships with your colleagues and peers.
- Communications management: You should always adjust your communication method to what the recipient needs, not what you need. EI helps you identify what they need and therefore makes your communications more successful.
- Risk management: EI is a tool to assist in risk brainstorming and is especially useful when you have to prioritize risks and the team can’t come to a consensus on the highest priorities.
- Procurement management: If you haven’t had much experience negotiating contracts or facilitating the process, your own self-awareness will come into play here. Being aware of deadlines and the role of others on the team will help you navigate the procurement timelines.
- Stakeholder management: EI lets you work through challenges with stakeholders. Think office politics!
- Integration management: EI is the thread that ties together all of your working relationships. It’s the basis behind how you present information, how you work with someone who’s experiencing challenges and how you choose to communicate. It’s at the core of everything we do because I don’t see a world where we can truly separate our soft skills from our technical skills. We use them to support one another.
Improving Emotional Intelligence
Improving your EI capabilities is possible. Here are four things you can do to improve your EI:
First, observe those who you see being successful. Note how they behave and understand what it is they do. Then find your own way to do the same thing: Imitation will come across as insincere.
Second, be self-aware. Talk to others about how you come across. Take an EI assessment. This can highlight areas where you can improve.
Third, keep a journal. I don’t mean that you have to keep a personal diary, but keeping track of conversations can be incredibly useful. If you know that on this date, during this conversation, this occurred, you can then go back to see if there’s an evident pattern where things don’t go as smoothly as you may have thought. That might let you trace it to a specific behavior or trigger.
Fourth and finally, develop a broad range of project management skills. It’s often easier to be confident at using your EI if you are already confident at the technical skills of project management, because you can use those and your facts to support difficult conversations.