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Emotional Intelligence & Empathy

Have you ever delivered feedback to someone only to have them become defensive and refuse to accept what you are saying or even get angry and storm out of the room?   

Equally, have you ever been on the receiving end of feedback where you just felt that the other person didn’t ‘get’ the challenges that you were facing and had set unreasonably high expectations which you were unable to meet? 

In both cases, emotional intelligence could assist both the person delivering the feedback and the recipient to ensure that the message has the desired impact. 

What is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence (often referred to as EI) is the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you, and to use that information to guide your thinking and behaviour. 

The term was popularised by Daniel Goleman who described it as the “sine qua non of leadership”.  He went on to suggest that: 

 “Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” 

Four types of EI 

Goleman identified four aspects of EI:  

1. Self-awareness  
2. Self-management including emotional self-control and motivation 
3. Social awareness including empathy  
4. Relationship management. 

Importance of feedback in EI 

In this article, we will look at how developing each of these aspects can help you to improve how you give and receive feedback. 

We know that performance feedback is one of the best ways to help employees learn and develop, and regular performance feedback also contributes to an individual's overall motivation, commitment and engagement in the workplace. 

1. Self-awareness

We all have our own perspective about what our strengths and weaknesses are and what areas we think that we need to develop. We also have our own perspective on our personal values, behaviours and motivations. However, understanding how others view us, is a crucial element of self-awareness and the best way to find out how others see us is through feedback. 

Approach feedback as an opportunity to learn. Don’t see it as personal criticism but as an opportunity to gain valuable information. Show that you are willing to listen to what they are saying rather than trying to justify yourself or be defensive.  Ask questions if necessary, to clarify your understanding and thank them for their feedback.  You can then reflect on their observations and decide what, if any, action you want to take.  Share your actions with those who provided the feedback and commit to making the necessary changes. 


Download your 10-step guide to giving constructive feedback here


2. Self-management 

Often our own feelings and emotions can be a barrier that stops us giving effective feedback.  For example, we don’t want to upset people or we simply want to be ‘liked’ by our team.  As a result, we can end up ignoring, avoiding and not dealing with poor performance which can allow issues to escalate. 



Equally receiving ‘negative’ feedback can cause parts of our brain to switch off because we think that we are under attack. Our defensive mechanisms are engaged, causing a fight or flight reaction that makes it difficult to think clearly. 

Drawing on our emotional self-control can help us to deliver difficult feedback or tackle challenging behaviour whilst remaining calm and in control of the conversation, and equally can help us to recognise when we are being ‘hijacked’ by our emotions and allow us to regain our composure. 


3. Social awareness

Studies consistently show that people who receive constructive feedback from a leader who expresses empathy are more likely to respond positively. 

Empathy is a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence whereby we are able to listen and understand others’ feelings and see situations from their perspective.   

By putting yourself in their shoes and taking time to understand why goals are not being met and what more is needed to help team members to achieve their objectives, you can demonstrate that you are giving feedback through a desire to understand and help them deliver a better performance rather than to criticise which in turn makes them more willing to accept your feedback. 


4. Relationship management 

Goleman described relationship management as the ability where the triad of self-awareness, self-management and empathy all come together: 

“Managing relationships skilfully boils down to handling other people’s emotions” (The New Leaders, 2007)  

Influence, communication, developing others and conflict management are all aspects of relationship management which are relevant for leaders and managers looking to deliver effective performance feedback.  

By giving specific, timely and useful feedback you can help to influence team members to take steps to develop and improve their performance.   

Rather than avoid potentially difficult or awkward conversations, people with strong conflict management skills confidently tackle the issue in a timely and constructive way.  Preparing for and effectively structuring the conversation can help to keep it focused on fact, behaviour and the desired performance outcome. 


How you can improve performance 

A leader’s emotional intelligence therefore plays a crucial role in their ability to give effective feedback and to receive constructive feedback.  As a leader, by developing, practising and honing this skill and by focusing on your emotional intelligence, you can improve your own effective leadership performance as well as helping your team to achieve their best potential. 


Learn more about our Giving Effective Feedback to Improve Performance course on our QuoLux™ Online Leadership & Management Centre.

Click here to access a free sample of the course. 



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