Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Emotional Intelligence and Innovation

A few weeks ago, my two boys engaged in a heated argument about whether reading Harry Potter, then watching the movie, was a tradition or a condition. My kindergartener started by saying watching a movie, only after reading a book, was a tradition. He pointed to the fact we had read three Harry Potter books, then watched the three movies as proof. Conversely, my second-grader rationalized that watching a movie after reading a book was a condition. He surmised the fact we never watched the movie first, made movie watching conditional to reading.

In the end, I surprised my boys by sharing they were both right. Watching the movie was both a tradition and a condition. This rocked my boys worlds. As I explained why it was both a tradition and condition, they simmered down and listened intently. As emotions subsided, they were able to take in alternative points of view.

As I thought about Harry Potter, I felt there was an important lesson that also applied to innovation. Namely, the importance of emotional intelligence when it comes to innovation. Let's face it, innovation is not easy and can sometimes lead to emotionally charged situations.

Here are three questions to ask when it comes to emotional intelligence and innovation.

  1. What emotions are you perceiving? Using verbal and nonverbal cues, think about what you are picking up about yourself and interactions with others. Nonverbal cues include body language and facial expressions. Once you've identified the emotions, think about what is underlying them. What values, things that matter, or beliefs do you and others hold special. Innovation means change. As change can be tough for those who are impacted, thinking about values can help you better read the situation.
  2. Why are emotions running high? Once you've identified the values, the next step is to understand why. Though it is natural to interpret people's emotions, take caution to not fill in the story with your personal perceptions. Be sure to ask open ended questions and to listen with an open mind. Innovation isn't a one answer situation. Deferring judgment (for just a bit) can help open up new thinking.
  3. How to help the situation? Helping doesn't mean telling the person who is unhappy to "calm down." LOL. Anyone who has tried that tactic, knows it is likely to backfire. To help, start with finding a commonality and letting folks know that you've heard them. Restating the other side's position and letting them know you understand their point of view goes a long way. To be successful, it can be helpful to go back to the problem you're looking to solve. Similar to the situation with my kids, you may find a simple way to diffuse the conversation.

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