- Today’s challenging economic climate and the increase in levels of work-related stress mean that psychological safety at work has never been more important.
- A psychologically safe work environment enables individuals to take interpersonal risks and organizations to become more innovative and creative.
- Organizational leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence can help to foster psychological safety, which can help teams thrive.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand and effectively manage one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions whilst also reacting positively to other people’s emotions. The most emotionally intelligent individuals are generally better able to handle stress, communicate effectively, and build strong relationships at work.
Numerous reports and research have explored the impact of emotional intelligence (EI) in the workplace. This research includes a forty-year study conducted by UC Berkeley — which found that emotional intelligence was four times more powerful at predicting success than general intelligence (IQ). Additionally, research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Stanford Research Center revealed that 85% of job success comes from having well‐developed people skills, while only 15% of job success comes from technical skills.
The Harvard Business Review recently espoused the virtues of emotional intelligence in a report on the link between EI and business success. Allwork.Space has also reported extensively on the significance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
Emotional intelligence lies at the heart of all behaviors required for psychological safety
Psychological safety refers to a shared belief that an individual, team or organization feels comfortable expressing their ideas, asking questions, and making mistakes without fear of negative consequences. It enables interpersonal risk-taking within the workplace and is seen as an essential feature of today’s most successful organizations.
When employees feel psychologically safe at work, they are more likely to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, which can lead to increased collaboration, innovation, and productivity. Psychological safety is required to create high-performing, innovative teams and to engender positive, inclusive and productive work environments where employees feel valued.
A recent webinar hosted by Blue EQ (providers of a renowned emotional intelligence self-assessment and workshop) discussed the link between emotional intelligence and psychological safety. The event highlighted that emotionally intelligent employees are better equipped to understand the emotions of others and more proficient at responding in a psychologically safe manner. Emotionally intelligent people are also better at managing their own emotions in a way that fosters positivity and creates a supportive work environment.
For example, an emotionally intelligent team leader might notice that a team member appears reluctant to share an idea during a collaborative session. The leader might then use their emotional intelligence to identify the source of the hesitancy and take all necessary steps to create a culture in which all employees feel valued enough to present novel ideas or take risks.
What does an emotionally intelligent leader look like?
An Allwork.Space podcast with Dr Michelle McQuaid emphasizes the significance of understanding the role of leaders in creating psychologically safe work environments; however, without emotional intelligence, it is unlikely that any leader will have the ability to provide the climate required for employees to thrive. With challenges such as constant burnout, poor work-life balance, recession and the cost of living crisis, the ability to foster a safe work environment has never been more important.
Some leaders possess innate emotional intelligence, but it is also possible to learn this skill over time (a great deal of self-awareness and reflection is critical to that learning). In a digital world, it is not easy to develop emotionally intelligent connections, yet, according to Blue EQ, those who possess high EQ are more successful at navigating digital relationships.
For example, emotionally intelligent people will detect clues to recognize when someone is lacking confidence on-screen. These high-EQ individuals are aware that in addition to direct communication, people can often convey important messages through their emotional behavior and non-verbal cues. An emotionally intelligent leader will actively listen and only provide counsel when requested by an employee (or required). High-EQ leaders are in control of their emotions and can keep their egos in check.
How do people behave when there are high levels of psychological safety in the workplace?
An emotionally intelligent leader will create a climate of psychological safety, which in turn can boost morale, creativity, and overall team performance. These end goals can be achieved through changes in employee behavior and attitudes towards work. These changes include:
- Improved self-confidence and optimism about the future
- Enhanced decision-making abilities
- Workplace adaptability (open to change)
- Increased tolerance levels
- Higher levels of resilience and perseverance
- Better conflict-resolution skills
- Greater acceptance of responsibility for mistakes (accountability)
Remote and hybrid working rely on digital technology skills, but this does not mean that the importance of soft skills such as emotional intelligence should be dismissed. Current research indicates that organizations need to maintain an emphasis on attracting emotionally intelligent leaders who can create psychologically safe workplaces (and safe online spaces) for their employees.
In light of the study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley (EI is the most significant predictor of future success), educational institutions should place more emphasis on providing young people with the skills required to become emotionally intelligent adults. The future of work is one in which the most emotionally intelligent people will make the most successful business leaders.