3 Downsides of Emotional Intelligence

Over the past decade “emotional intelligence” has become a big buzz word. Managers thrive when they have it. Marriages end when they don’t. And if you aren’t in touch with your cat’s emotions, you don’t deserve to call yourself a cat person.

That’s all fine and good.

But what about the downsides of emotional intelligence? Isn’t it time these got some attention?

I think so. And here are the big three:

1. The Downside of Compassion

Compassion asks a lot of us. People confuse it with sympathy or empathy, but they’re very different. Sympathy means being concerned about someone else. Empathy involves this and feeling their emotions. Yes, I know, that’s a lot to ask, but compassion provides an even greater challenge. When you feel compassion, you are concerned about someone and you feel their emotions and you want to do something about it. The origin is Latin: to “suffer with.”

If you can’t join them, beat them

In 1979, the Ann Arbor Arsenal soccer team held tryouts. Twelve boys showed up to compete for a single open spot on the team. I was one of them.

kids soccer

The morning started with demonstrations of individual skills. We passed, trapped, dribbled, and shot the ball. Bonus points went to anyone who could juggle more than ten times on his head. Truth be told, the specifics of what we did have receded into memory. The passage of twenty five years can do that. What I do remember clearly is how much all of us wanted to win that spot on the team. So much that we fought hard to show that we were better, faster, and stronger than the kid next to us. For me, the other eleven boys were the enemy. If one of them got picked for the team, that would mean that I hadn’t. And I would be team-less.

More deliberate practice for managers, not less

Professor Phil Rosenzweig of IMD thinks that deliberate practice—using feedback and correction to improve skills—can can help executives perform better. I couldn’t agree more.

However, he cautions against applying the laws of deliberate practice too widely. “We do ourselves a disservice,” he writes at strategy-business.com, “by implying that we can practice our way to success in all circumstances.”

I beg to differ.

The reality I see in organizations today is not too much deliberate practice, but too little. How many managers do you know who spend excessive amounts of time practicing new skills, asking others for feedback, and reflecting on how to improve? How many are applying the laws of deliberate practice to situations that don’t call for them and therefore producing negative business results?

These problems don’t exist in any of the organizations where I’ve spent time over the past twenty years. In these organizations, managers spend 99 percent of their time in performance mode. Intentionally practicing managerial skills, reflecting, and getting feedback  are, at best, afterthoughts.

Accountability and reliable promises, pt. 2

Part 2 in a 3-part series

What does it mean to have accountability? As we observed in an earlier post, piggybacking off of Mark Graban, if a hospital manager expect nurses to be responsible for filling foam canisters to increase the odds of hand washing to protect patients, there needs to be an explicit promise between that manager and the nurses. Such a promise requires both a clear request (or offer) and an acceptance. Promise = Request + Acceptance.

Now, what can we say about the components of an effective request or offer? Let’s make explicit what was partly implicit in the above example. An effective request or offer consists of the following:

  • Clear conditions for satisfaction. There needs to be a shared understanding of what it means to restock a canister.
  • Clear timeframe or deadline. What days and what times of day will the nurse restock the canister—or at least check to see if it needs restocking?
  • A specific speaker. What do we mean by this? If a vague pronouncement comes out from “management” about who is responsible for restocking the canisters, there is not a specific speaker. The nurse doesn’t have anybody to respond to (by accepting, declining, counter-offering, or promising to promise). Another way that a speaker can be “missing” is if a manager holds uncommunicated expectations; they want the nurses to refill the canisters, and maybe even mention it in passing, but never actually make a request.
  • A specific listener. On the other hand, let’s say a particular manager makes the request but communicates it vaguely to a full team of nurses. Now, we have a specific speaker but not a specific listener.
  • A shared “background of obviousness.” This is a fancy way of saying that when the manager says “restock the canisters in the middle hallway”, both the manager and the nurse understand which canisters these are and which hallway is the middle hallway.

Accountability and reliable promises, pt. 1

Part 1 in a 3-part series

What do we mean by accountability? In a recent post, I suggested that it’s silly to hold someone responsible for fulfilling a promise when they never actually made a promise. After all, request + acceptance = promise.

Let’s connect this to an insightful take on the same question provided by Mark Graban of Lean Blog. He suggests that it’s unfair to hold accountable someone who isn’t responsible and quotes Deming’s advice to “fix the processes, not the people.”

Can we hold nurses and other staff accountable for not always following proper hand hygiene procedures when coming in and out of patient rooms?

Let’s say the foam canisters are empty outside a few rooms in a row (something I’ve seen recently). We can’t hold the nurses accountable. This is a system problem. “Writing up” or punishing the nurses would be counterproductive. We need to ask why the canisters are empty? Is there somebody to hold accountable for not restocking the canisters? Maybe not – what if it’s a bad process, where there’s no “standardized work” and no clear cut assignment of who refills the canisters (“everybody?”).

Why you need more sleep and how to get it

“Like a drunk, a person who is sleep-deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is.”

—Charles Czeisler, Harvard Medical School

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of us need 7-8 hours per night. Think you need only 5? Maybe you are superhuman. However, research shows that superhuman performers in many fields get more sleep than everyone else. A more likely explanation is that you are deceiving yourself. Has it been so long since you got a good night’s sleep that you forgot how it actually feels to be fully rested?

I’ve never been an outstanding sleeper. In fact, it takes concerted effort for me just to sleep adequately. As a result, I’ve invested a fair amount of time learning about what keeps me from sleeping well and how to remedy the situation. Here is what I learned: