4 Ways to Show Emotional Intelligence in a Crisis

COVID-19 has thrown the entire world into crisis, which means that emotional intelligence in the workplace matters more than ever. Here’s why (and how to show it).

by Emily Goodson, Founder of CultureSmart

You’ve probably heard of the terms “emotional intelligence” and “soft skills.” Why are these terms important? And how can they help us during times of crisis?

When I’m advising company leaders on HR in the COVID-19 crisis, we often reflect back to Maslow’s pyramid of needs to frame our thinking. As a reminder, the bottom levels of that pyramid focus on psychological and basic needs. As those needs are satisfied and met, people move up the pyramid into greater self-fulfillment and growth.

COVID-19 caused everyone’s pyramid to shift (if not crumble). As leaders, people managers and colleagues, we should now use emotional intelligence skills to rebuild our pyramids. The question at hand then: how do we do that?

Emotional intelligence is broadly defined in four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. 

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that two of these emotional intelligence domains are internal-focused and two are external-focused.  In the coming weeks and months, paying attention to both of these lenses is vital. Having worked as a Head of People in fast-growth startups, I know that we can’t take care of others unless we’re taking care of ourselves first.

With that in mind, I want to share several emotional intelligence skills that will help you and your colleagues thrive.

1. What can I do for myself? Name your emotions. If you have nightmares or often wake up with your mind racing, as I did last night, try to name the emotion. Can you internally admit to yourself that you’re scared and anxious? And as a result, your thinking is skewed to the “worst-case scenario”? Once you name that emotion, there are a number of mindfulness exercises you should do to focus your thoughts more on the present and less on the past or future.

2. What can I do for my colleagues? Support each other by admitting vulnerability. I often advise clients on creating psychological safety in their workplaces. One of the ways to do that is to admit that we all make mistakes. In the same way, vulnerability can create an open invitation to talk without people feeling you are overly nosy. For example, if you sense a colleague is struggling, don’t be afraid to send them a Slack message to check in. If you’re worried about how they’ll receive it, lean into your own experience. For example, can you share that you’re having a hard time managing the priorities of childcare and work, and wondered if they are feeling the same? Or share that you know they have an elderly parent and you can imagine that’s causing a lot of worry for them, too. When you reach out to offer support, don’t expect a response or “thank you,” but know that approaching your colleague with vulnerability will help frame your intent.

3. What can I do as a people manager? Shift 1:1 meeting content. People managers need to shift the content they are focusing on in one-on-one meetings with direct reports. If their conversation focused on tactical items and project updates before COVID-19, they should now shift course, apply empathy as needed, and make sure people’s basic psychological needs are being met. Ask your team members questions like: “Do you feel safe?” or “Do we need to shift that deadline given all you’re juggling?” or “Do you have the resources and information you need to be successful?”

4. What can I do as an executive leader? Inspirational leadership. Two things that our leaders need to be doing now are listening and inspiring. Leaders need to listen to the ever-changing needs of their workplaces through one on one meetings, town halls, pulse surveys, and other vehicles. They also need to promote resilience by publicly reminding employees that their companies have overcome challenges before and recognizing the successful pivots they are seeing teams make.

What is your team doing to help show compassion and empathy during this crisis? Feel free to reach out – I’d welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation.


Emily Goodson is a leadership coach, HR consultant, and the Founder of CultureSmart. Get in touch with Emily via email.


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