Matt Connell, Workplace Harmony Solutions
Matt Connell, Workplace Harmony Solutions

Many leaders are masking their lack of emotional intelligence by putting off difficult conversations in favour of emails, a specialist says.

Emotional intelligence competencies come to the fore during difficult workplace conversations where emotions can run high, Workplace Harmony Solutions executive workplace consultant Matt Connell tells an HR Daily Premium webcast.

Assertiveness, in particular, is an EI competency that directlys assist in dealing with challenging or confrontational conversations, because "our ability or inability to deal with conflict will be directly impacted by our levels of perception of assertiveness", he says.

By way of example, a difficult conversation with a staff member might start well, but can quickly be derailed when met with an emotional response, such as crying.

"This is where your emotional intelligence is going to be challenged. It is assertiveness, self-control, [and] self-awareness [that are] going to help us get back to the point of the conversation."

Conversations can also take a negative turn if met with a reaction such as anger, Connell warns, and "without a handle on self-control and assertiveness, the issue is that we're going to be dragged further and further away from the point".

"Our conversations will naturally have highs and lows in any confrontational conversation, but if you understand firstly what's driving your emotional reactions, you will be a lot more effective."

Emails signal lack of assertiveness

It's often poor relationships and communication that pave the way to the Fair Work Commission and other tribunals and commissions, Connell says.

Therefore, when employees reach out to HR after an incident has occurred or there's been friction, "what did they say when you asked them about it?" is the first question to ask the manager or team leader responsible for that employee, he suggests.

The common response is a variation of "it's not a good time right now", he explains, adding, "in my mind, that translates to something more along these lines: I will send an email when I know they've left for the day rather than having an actual conversation, because I'm challenged by that staff member's assertiveness, which is significantly stronger than my own".

A more self-aware, emotionally intelligent person, however, would realise that they are avoiding the conflict because their assertiveness is challenged by that topic or the reaction that they are expecting to get, Connell says.

The full webcast, accessible with HR Daily Premium membership, outlines typical EI competencies, workplace applications, HR takeaways, and more – upgrade here if you're not a premium member.

Next June, Matt Connell is hosting an eight-day experiential learning trip along the Camino de Santiago with a focus on emotional intelligence. The trip will help professionals "grow, develop and discover". Click here for details.