20 Tips to Build an Emotionally Intelligent Team

Posted by Kristin Arnold on May 3, 2016

Last month, we held an amazing virtual panel on Emotional Intelligence (EI) and teamwork with Scott Halford and Pamela Jett. Thought I would recap some of the key messages so that you can build the EI within your team (and thanks to Steve Rutan for encouraging me to do this!)


  1. Communicating With EI. “It’s all about the ability to be the master of your emotions and not let your emotions master you – or to hijack your thinking processes. In a team environment, it’s incredibly important to be able to know when it’s appropriate to say something not appropriate or to be able to minimize the times you say things you will later regret. These things can do tremendous relational damage.”
  2. Awareness is the biggest key to EI…You have to be aware and understand your own feelings, and also recognize and understand the emotions of others…Pay attention to what is really going on in the team dynamics.”
  3. It is the team leader’s responsibility to be aware of how important the concept of EI is for themselves and for the team’s effectiveness and productivity. A goal is to gradually raise the team’s awareness as to the impact of EI on all group interactions.
  4. Trust is the lynchpin to all great relationships. “EI teams have trust at their core.”
  5. “We need to work on our own emotional vocabulary.  A lot of people have very limited emotional vocabularies.” Someone might express that they are “angry,” when more accurately, they are frustrated, disappointed, feel ignored/undervalued, etc.  Those who have high EI make more accurate assessments of their own emotional state, and can more effectively communicate and get their needs met. Similarly, they don’t jump to conclusions and assume someone is angry.
  6. “You can’t manage other people’s emotions when you can’t understand your own.”
  7. Decision-Making. All decisions involve some “emotional weight” – even for those members of the team who (ignorantly) believe that they are always unemotional and objective about their professional actions.  Clearly, the higher the stakes of any decision, the more emotionally charged they are likely to be…
  8. Check Your Emotional State: Enter a meeting (or return home) and deliberately check your emotional state (tired, excited, frustrated, calm, etc.) and take a moment to recalibrate so that you can be effective in the meeting.  This is a moment of extreme volatility/vulnerability to allowing your emotional state to positively or negatively affect your pending performance and your business and/or personal relationships.  Combine the potential for your being emotionally unfocused with the potential emotional states of everyone at the meeting in the middle of a busy day…
  9. Fake It Until You Make It. “One of the best ways to develop EI is to take a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach. Behave like an EI person and you not only come across as EI, but you will start to rewire your brain.”
  10. “Create habits and rituals to check in at key times. What am I feeling? Why am I feeling that way? By using this label, how do I want this to go forward? How much does this impact those around me?”
  11. Power of Questions. “I believe in the power of questions and the quality of your questions can determine the quality of your life.” Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” to touch base with what you are feeling.
  12. Bad Behavior. “You can’t be responsible for other people’s bad behavior…but you bring the emotional juice down by asking exploratory questions.” DON’T say, “Calm down!” Pamela’s favorite? “That’s interesting…tell me more.” “If they are really off the rails, say, “This is important. We as a team need to discuss this – but not this way.”
    1. Really bad? “It’s the team leader’s responsibility to have those difficult one-on-one coaching conversations to help the person understand how the behavior is impacting the team and the team metrics.”
  13. Business is Emotional. “This was never about getting rid of emotion. Emotion, energy and passion drives commitment.”
  14. Measure Your EI. What gets measured, gets done. Yes, folks, there are actual tools to help you learn about your EI and the EI of your fellow workers. Check out EQI 2.0 (com or CompleteIntelligence.com) Get a baseline and understanding of your triggers so you can instill some rituals that will help you be more emotionally intelligent.
  15. Set Ground Rules. “An emotionally intelligent leader is the exemplar. He or she sets ground rules and won’t put up with conversation that is not respectful.”
  16. 3 Steps to an EI Conversation.
    1. I understand/know/agree this is important.
    2. I want to talk about it.
    3. Sometimes called boundary statements, you are setting the terms for the continued discussion e.g. “Not this way….not while you’re yelling etc.”
  17. Content and Relationship. Messages have two components – and many leaders just focus on the content component leaving the relationships to wither.
  18. “The team leader’s job is to enlarge, not diminish the interactions on the team.”
  19. Big Shift. “One of the toughest things leaders wrestle with, especially if they were superstar performers in their previous jobs, is that leadership requires the leader to have a public driver (decisions made for the good of the whole) versus a private driver (decisions that are good for me alone). This mindset shift requires a good deal of EI.”
  20. Keep Learning. Check out our panelists’ books:
    1. Scott Halford’s, Activate Your Brain
    2. Pamela Jett’s Got EQ.

Thanks Pamela and Scott for sharing your wisdom with us!


Be sure to register for our next webinar: Using Creative Training Techniques to Engage the Audience During a Panel Discussion featuring the master of creative training techniques, Becky Pike Pluth.

Kristin Arnold is a professional meeting facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping leaders and their teams think things through, make better decisions and achieve sustainable results. The Extraordinary Team’s approach to building high performance teams combines consulting, coaching, training and process facilitation within the context of working real issues. 

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