am I overstepping when I try to be emotionally intelligent?

A reader writes:

Is it inappropriate to leverage emotional intelligence in the workplace? I am a part of a team that is tasked with changing the way my company approaches analytics. As such, we are often in the position of reworking old ways of measuring effectiveness and proposing new perspectives and KPIs. Sometimes people are excited and willing to change, and in other cases people are hesitant or even approaching defiance. One of the primary challenges of my job other than the technical side of things is managing human relationships and promoting constructive change.

One of the tools I use in my day to day is emotional intelligence. For example, if I can sense that a person is uncomfortable in a meeting where we are proposing replacing a spreadsheet that they developed and have been using for years, I’ll advise my team to considerate of the fact that person feels a lot of personal ownership of the old process. I’ll propose that we should reinforce what worked about that solution at the time it was developed rather than only discussing its flaws and why it must be replaced. In my experience, this gives the person time to come around and feel included in the solution.

There is one member of my team who has been scolding me when I make these sorts of comments, asserting that it’s none of my business, and that it’s rude and inappropriate to speculate on how someone might feel while in the workplace. I’m trying to take this criticism constructively and consider if I’m somehow overstepping my bounds, but at the same time, I feel like this approach yields good results and that people seem happier with the results when I consider the emotive dimension. In fact people are more willing to collaborate when they’re not steamrolled by change — and the more people are willing to collaborate, the more we do actually change! Additionally, the person who is offering this criticism has a pattern of offending people and setting up work relationships in a needlessly adversarial manner.

I’m not interested in criticizing this person’s style, and I understand that a diversity of opinions helps a team thrive, so I’m happy for them to take a different approach. Honestly I do not think I am being inappropriate at work, and it seems like I would be ignoring useful data to not consider these sorts of observations. I’m willing to adjust the way I communicate about it if it’s indeed “none of my business” that someone is having a bad day and that we should ask them to sign off tomorrow instead of today. This seems perfectly normal to me. What do you think? Am I being inappropriate? Should I just keep it to myself?

Emotional intelligence absolutely is useful in the workplace, and in fact most people who are successful employ it in one way or another (at least in roles that involve working with others, which most do). You can find exceptions to that, of course, but generally those exceptions are people who achieved success despite having low emotional intelligence. In other words, it’s relevant and it’s useful.

That said, there’s such a thing as taking it too far — or, perhaps more accurately, misapplying it. You need to be sure that the comments you’re making aren’t inadvertently undermining the people you’re talking about, or treating them too delicately, or implying that they need to be treated delicately. I’d be pretty dismayed to find that a coworker told someone to hold off talking to me about something because I was having a bad day, if in fact I wasn’t having a particularly bad day — or if the topic in question was important or time-sensitive.

A good test is to think about how the person would likely react if they overheard the comment, or if it was repeated to them. Would it feel condescending or like you’re managing their reaction too heavily? If so, that’s a signal to reframe the way you’re presenting it. It’s the difference between something like:

“Jane worked really hard on creating the old system, and she’s going to be upset that we’re changing it. Let’s be sure to emphasize how valuable it was for a time, and try to give her some time to come around on the change.”


“Jane worked really hard on creating the old system, so I want to be sure she understands why we’re moving to the new system.”

All of which is to say, use emotional intelligence about the way you’re using emotional intelligence.

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. OP*

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks again for you response! I think you really nailed it. I was getting stuck on whether or not it’s appropriate AT ALL to use emotional intelligence/intuition — since that’s how my coworker framed it — when really the issue is HOW to use it.

    One thing I forgot to mention is that I try to keep my comments to things I could reasonably infer or observe from the situation, rather than simply “feeling vibes.” Not that I don’t pick up on that sort of thing as well, but I do draw a line there.

    1. OP*

      So I just thought of a follow up question (maybe readers can help):

      How should I respond to my coworker when she scolds me for this? Assume that it’s the within appropriate bounds Alison outlined.

      1. amaranth16*

        I would just say that you appreciate the feedback and you’ll give it some thought, just the way you would any other critical feedback.

      2. Gail L*

        I’d probably say something along the lines, “I’ve found this approach works with my style, and I like the results I get out of it.” You could also inquire further, “What is it in particular that bothers you about it? From my perspective, I’m trying to be sensitive to the feelings of others so that I don’t always come across as critical 100% of the time – which can impede progress.”

        I’d hazard a guess that the coworker thinks it is manipulative and treats the other party like a strategy rather than a person. You might never see eye to eye on it. Personally, I don’t know how anyone can expect to manage another person without getting a sense of their work style and adjusting the management style to fit, which is very similar to the situation here. The above discussion might not get you on the same page, but maybe you’ll both understand the other perspective a bit better.

        1. NK*

          I wonder if it’s the words “feelings” and “feel” that are off-putting to the coworker? Maybe if the word “perceive” or “perceptions” was used with him, it would come off as more work-appropriate to him? While I completely agree with OP’s approach and I’m not particularly averse to those words, if they were being used all the time in a work environment I might think it was a little too touchy-feely for my taste.

          1. CrazyCatLady*

            What about removing feelings/perceptions completely? Just “She worked very hard on XYZ and I want her to know how valuable it was to us at the time, and to understand why we’re moving to this other way of doing things.” That’s more factual, less emotional even if you are using emotional intelligence skills.

            1. CrazyCatLady*

              I realize that’s very similar to what Alison said in her second example – it’s basically a combination of both. :)

          2. hildi*

            “perspective” is a good substitute for “feelings/emotions.” Because that’s basically what feelings are – someone’s perspective. It’s a neutral word that still gets the point across.

      3. Lexie*

        From your original letter, I would guess that the coworker is responding to times when you are specifically point out other’s emotions. I would think if you used wording like Alison’s second example then you would no longer get the same reaction from the coworker. If you do, then I would respond with the ways that the adjustment to your output will enhance results. Focus on the increase in collaboration and the more positive team outlook rather than on the emotional attachment and hurt feelings. Personally, I would be more on-board with using emotional intelligence if it was framed in terms of how it helps me. I would find it distracting and condescending if it was framed in terms of tiptoeing around someone’s ego.

        1. iseeshiny*

          +1 Yes. Nothing wrong with trying to be considerate of other people’s feelings, but acting patronizing or condescending is just going to get everyone’s hackles up.

          Also, there is a big difference between MY HIGH EQ MEANS I AM RIGHT THAT THIS PERSON IS FEELING THIS WAY ABOUT THIS ISSUE and Well, let’s be sensitive to the fact that this might be true and not try to steamroll people as we roll out this new process.

        2. PJ*

          This. It would make me feel squirly if I were the person being discussed in your spreadsheet example. In my experience, it’s best to let people manage their own feelings, unless they prove themselves incapable or unwilling to do so. If I’m uncomfortable because my spreadsheet is no longer in use, you need to be OK with that and not make it a focus of discussion. Lexie nailed it.

          1. Jess*

            Totally agree. While I certainly appreciate when others treat me considerately, I really wouldn’t love others discussing or focusing on my possible feelings so much. It comes off too much like you’re “being handled,” if that makes sense.

            1. Anon for this*

              That makes perfect sense to me. My partner, who worked with me for a while and was able to observe some of the office dynamics, once told me that others sometimes see me as someone “fragile” who needs to be “handled,” and I was horrified. It feels like an insult; even if they’re trying to be nice, it’s patronizing. Part of it is outside of my control- I am a female who is small in stature, younger, and more introverted than others in my department (my group knows me better than that, but others see me as “the soft, quiet one”). I also have a terrible poker face, so his insights helped me to be aware of that and try to counter the perception that I can’t handle negative information. Maybe I don’t like it, but I CAN deal with it, I just need a second to think sometimes. Being emotionally intelligent is just a function of genuine respect for the other person. OP should make sure that element comes across- “I know and respect YOU, therefore I’m taking this action to address your needs” not “I know how people like this think, and they’re going to need that.”

      4. Joey*

        I’d say you’re just trying to ensure you get buy in from as many people as possible on the change. And a part of that is ensuring you get buy in from key people who put a lot of time and effort into the previous methods by trying to recognize their contributions.

      5. A Bug!*

        I’m wondering whether your coworker’s scolding, while inappropriate (if it was truly scolding), might have some reasonable grounding.

        The example you gave makes me wonder how much reliance you’re putting on your own ability to infer others’ feelings, and that there might be a certain amount of presumptuousness on your part.

        When you infer, for example, that Jane’s taking it personally that her spreadsheet is being replaced with a new process, why not just take a mental note of it and follow up with Jane directly, before deciding what action you may need to take with others?

        I mean, ultimately, what’s the risk of doing that? You might find that Jane would be really uncomfortable with you telling your team members something that suggests she’s not able to deal with the transition professionally without coddling. (I certainly would be.) Or maybe once she got out of the meeting and had a chance to think about it, all her issues were resolved. Or maybe she farted in the meeting and wasn’t sure if anyone noticed.

        Basically, you don’t know what you don’t know, so why not get some input from the only person who actually does?

  2. Gail L*

    I’m actually kind of confused. I don’t think I’d be upset if I (as Jane) overheard either of these comments. I think I could imagine some that would be condescending or sound manipulative, so the overall point still seems relevant, but…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the first example, if you actually weren’t going to be particularly upset and in fact understood why the new system was an improvement, you might be annoyed to hear yourself painted as more delicate than that, or not being able to see what solution made the most sense for the company just because you’d worked on a different one.

      1. Gail L*

        Oh. I guess it’s just perception again. If someone said that to me, I’d probably be pleased they were thinking about my history with the work, and that they were thinking so strategically about how to implement a change. (For both versions)

        I guess it is kind of annoying when someone treats you too delicately, though, as in when men assume women can’t carry things just because they’re women. I have a friend who looks small but is very strong, and she complains about this all the time at her workplace!

      2. L McD*

        Yeah, I’ve been “Jane” in that kind of situation, and it can absolutely reflect negatively on her. No matter how emotionally intelligent the person trying to help is, some of the audience might not be. They could hear “Jane can’t handle change” or “Jane has obviously been complaining to OP behind our backs” even if that’s not being said, or even implied.

        It’s possible that the critical coworker has been in that situation too, and is sensitive to the possible backlash against someone who might not even care to be involved in the situation at all. As the “Jane,” these situations can be particularly difficult to untangle, since they can involve all sorts of conversations and speculation that happens before you even find out about it. By that time, you may have already developed a reputation based on hearsay, and can no longer effectively advocate for your actual point of view.

        This might be lightyears away from happening in this particular workplace/situation, but I can see someone getting upset about it regardless.

    2. Chinook*

      I also think that you are assuming their feelings for a work related task that may not be there. For example, I am working hard to develop a computer program with our IT department and others may think I am emotionally invested in it success and be worried at my being upset if they replaces it with somethign better. I, on the other hand, am more interested in the end goal and would have no issues with the program being scrapped if somethign better/more efficient came along and would be insulted if someone thought I would be hurt by such a change (especially because, as a woman who has let out tears of frustration, I know the landmines that can be found when it comes to emotion in the workplace.)

      Basically, do not patronize me by doing somethign based on my feeligns – my job here is to ensure the work is completed. Sure, my ego may take a beating but I am matuer enough to know that work should not be personal.

      1. Gail L*

        Well, I got the sense from OP that s/he tries to gauge this based on what s/he picks up from the other person. As in, try to be more appreciative to past work if the other person appeared sensitive about it. Isn’t that what being emotionally sensitive is about? To pick up on cues and react accordingly?

        1. fposte*

          I’m going with “sort of” :-). If you’re going to openly define somebody by their reaction, I think it should be a pretty darn explicit cue, like Jane saying “I spent years creating the old database–what the hell do we need a new one for?” If the cues are strictly nonverbal or can’t be quantified, there’s a high risk of misreading or projection.

          And that’s another reason why I think it can work better to talk about responses as general rather than individual.

  3. Anonymous Educator*

    I would say in this particular situation, it should depend on the person. Part of emotional intelligence should also involve knowing that treating people equally does not mean treating them all the same.

    Personally, I would be extremely embarrassed if someone made a point of talking about all sorts of great things about my old system and how it was useful at the time, in order to spare my feelings. I don’t take things like that personally, and it would actually rub me the wrong way to know that my manager thought I would take it personally.

    On the other hand, some people do get extremely emotionally invested in the projects that proposed or got up and running, so not acknowledging that investment for those people would be horrible.

    1. OP*

      I agree with this completely. Did not mean to imply that those were blanket situations. In my opening paragraph I described the variety of reactions we receive and I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate or even smart to treat everyone the same way.

      It’s interesting how emotions in the workplace can be kind of touchy issue. Part of me thinks that it’s because emotional intelligence is something generally associated with women and “feminine” traits, and workplaces have traditionally been dominated by men and “masculine” traits. My coworker has actually outright said to me that considering peoples’ emotions is a weakness.

      Disclaimer: I do not think in such simplistic terms personally.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Sorry. Didn’t mean to imply this is what you were necessarily doing. I just thought it was a bit of nuance to add to the discussion.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Not factoring in people’s emotions is shortsighted. If you fail to acknowledge concerns (read: “dislike”) regarding a new method a number of things will happen. Some will directly sabotage the effort. Others will misunderstand and perhaps throw a monkey wrench into the works. And yet others, may see problems in the new plan that they know how to fix and yet, say nothing and do nothing.

        FWIW- the weakest people I know HAVE to hold themselves perfectly rigid. This is because if they bend a little bit, they will not break, but rather they will shatter into pieces. It is that fear of flexing that causes people to be so rigid.

        I think your doubter would benefit from some introduction to appropriate uses of emotion in the work place. For example: I have seen bosses confronted with some disturbing situations. I have seen bosses get angry. Some of the bosses take that energy from anger and use it to build an action plan to help ease or fix the disturbing situation. (Use examples of fire companies and police involved in the WTC.)
        In another example is a work place that is faced with a sad situation- such as the loss of a coworker. That work place could rally around the surviving family with casseroles, rides, and other low cost ideas. It is in these small gestures that a employees grieve as a group. (Many examples in the news.)

        Yes, extreme examples but sometimes in the extreme examples it is very easy to see how emotions do enter a work place and how to process them appropriately.

        Frankly, I would not want to work in a place where there was never any expression of emotion. I would quit. Because where do you draw the line at being emotionless before you become a cold, heartless person?

      3. The RO-Cat*

        It’s interesting how emotions in the workplace can be kind of touchy issue.

        I tend to think that emotions are a touchy issue in (at least my) society at large (and we’re not *that* different, I think, so some may apply also to the US). Maybe it is because there is an ongoing conditioning in tracing gender roles (“Boys don’t cry”, for example), maybe it’s because a fuzzy, non-cartesian issue like affect does not squarely fall into our 1-and-0, cartesian upbringing… I don’t know. All I know is that when I touch this subject in my trainings I always get two gasps: one when I start speaking, the second after the EI activities, when people realize what valuable things remain unknown yet.

      4. Joey*

        That’s crap. People are more likely to support and champion change if they know they had a part in creating it. And recognizing that someone’s previous work played a part in helping determine the change being pitched is a great way to do that.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      I do ERP implementations, and I can say that people absolutely DO get very attached to their old systems and processes. One of the biggest challenges in this line of work is getting people to step back and consider different ways of doing things.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I think this is because there is a multi-year transition in which the ERP system is total crap and you have to use some bastardized version of your old way and the new way. Once something works, I’m down with it!

        (OTOH, I have seen the non-technical end-users get upset, like a sales guy who is now upset that HE has to enter CRM data instead of emailing it to an admin and having HER enter it, but that’s not because he created the old system.)

        1. AnotherAlison*

          (I didn’t mean the ERP end-results aren’t good. They can be. It just is necessary because of resources that it takes a while before the Grand Final Product is operating like it was designed. The interim period is tough.)

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            Oh yes, it really is. I like to just charge forward and get right into things. I do have to constantly remind myself that I’m coming in and essentially changing everything about how people do their jobs. That is an overwhelming and intimidating thing for the person on the receiving end.

      2. Jamie*

        That’s because an ERP implementation, even for the world’s most perfect software, takes years off the life of everyone involved.

        Huge payoff in terms of workplace victories…but depending on your number and level of non-technical users certainly a challenge worth bragging about.

        I’m having the dates of my go-lives noted on my marker when I die – I did not go through all that for nothing!

    3. AnotherAlison*

      ITA! I created several spreadsheets & have used them for reporting for years. . .now our BI tools are finally usable, and I will retire my spreadsheets. I’m happy to kick them to the curb. I’m a very unemotional type. I barely get visibly upset when something major happens to my family, never mind my damn spreadsheets. Lol. I just thinkthis letter is funny because of the particular example used. The type of person who thrives doing Excel is not likely the type to get emotional, in my experience. It’s great that the OP is concerned, but it’s just one of those clashes of personalities and style, where you need to recognize that the “Analytical” and “Driver” types react differently than “Expressive” and “Amiable” types. (Had to take that training back in the day. . .)

      1. OP*

        See to me this is another example of casting emotions as a bad thing. Something that reasonable, productive — analytical — people don’t have and think that’s totally false. I disagree with your blanket observations about Excel users as there are all different types, of varying styles and skill levels. This sort of perspective is something that limits some women (and men!) from entering technical roles because they’re told they aren’t the right “type” of thinker.

        I write code all day long, and am fortunate enough to be one of the top two developers in my particular field that my company has. Yet I still have empathy for others. I really don’t see it as a weakness, in fact, it helps with creatively addressing both technical and process challenges.

        1. fposte*

          Hmm. I’m not seeing Another Alison’s response the way you are. Is it possible that you’re tending to prioritize an emotional approach regardless of the approach of the person you’re working with? Because sure, everybody has emotions, but people are very different in how significant that is to their work buy-in, and if you’re resisting letting the emotional priority go regardless of who you’re dealing with, I can see that that might be a concern for a colleague.

          1. Koko*

            I think she was responding to the comment that “The type of person who thrives doing Excel is not likely the type to get emotional, in my experience.” Being more emotional than average doesn’t preclude someone from being skilled at data analysis. As I noted below, I score as an Expressive personality style (highly emotive) but I also live in Excel, have created lots of custom reports for my team, and live by the question, “Does the data support it?”

            I’m still very sensitive to folks’ perception of me, but one thing that came out in our Social Styles training at work was people misunderstanding and thinking that meant that emotional people need all their feedback sugar-coated or minimized. I’m very receptive to feedback and will take ownership of my mistakes without ego…unless I sense that there’s an underlying tone of, “And you made this mistake because you’re an idiot,” or “And I hate working with you because you make mistakes like this.” I’ve rarely actually encountered that attitude in my working life, but I know less emotional people who wouldn’t be bothered even if someone did say that or feel that way.

            I, on the other hand, would be extremely upset by it. I don’t need my coworkers to like every *thing* I do, but to come to work in a cheery mood every day I do need to feel that *as a person* they at least think I’m OK.

            1. fposte*

              I can see challenging the statement as incorrect–I just don’t see it as saying emotions are a bad thing.

        2. Chinook*

          I am an emotional person but I have learned to differentiate crying for things that can cry me and things that can’t. Somethign happens to a coworker or a family member or a pet – let the emotions roll. Crying over a spreadsheet or procedure that doesn’t understand that I exist? That is a waste of energy.

          That being said, I am someone who does cry as an uncontrollable reaction to frustration but that doesn’t mean I want someone to pussy foot around me. In fact, such a reactino would make it worse!

        3. AnotherAlison*

          Well, I never said emotions were a BAD thing, I just am not particularly emotional. Where did you get that I said emotions were bad? My point was just that you wouldn’t generally need to be concerned about hurting the feelings of someone like me, and many analysts are like me. It’s disproportionate, actually, so while I agree Analysts aren’t all necessarily Analytical types, the ones who are true to that personality style wouldn’t be upset. We’re more about what is most efficient and works best, than an attachment to stuff we built.

          1. Jamie*

            Fwiw I got what you were saying, Alison.

            I’m pretty emotional under certain circumstances, but this kind of thing? Show me a better more efficient way of doing anything and I’ll happily embrace it and my old method will be kicked to the curb with yours.

            I have never known a technical person to get emotional over a technical improvement – because we embrace the elegant and life is one long journey to X efficiency. Very emotional about “technical improvements” that don’t improve anything – but it’s still about the work.

            Doesn’t mean I don’t cry during every single viewing of Christmas at Plum Creek when Laura goes to give Bunny to Nellie…

            Ma: “Charles, we can’t…”
            Pa: Caroline, she has the right…
            Ma: But she loves Bunny so…
            Pa: I think she loves you more..

            Crap – I could cry now, and I kick 7 kinds of ass at Excel. But that doesn’t mean I’d be triggered by any work issue, nor does it mean I’d appreciate anyone assuming I was a precious dew drop in need of kid glove handling.

            1. OP*

              I’m sorry, I’d like to believe it’s true that:

              “I have never known a technical person to get emotional over a technical improvement – because we embrace the elegant and life is one long journey to X efficiency. Very emotional about “technical improvements” that don’t improve anything – but it’s still about the work.”

              But this is what I do full time and I can attest that’s not always the case! When I take on a new project the first step is always to understand the current universe. What kind of BI tools do you use? What problems are you trying to solve? How would having access to x, y, z information change your behavior? etc.

              Second step is to gather all the necessary data — often from different source systems and not properly documented) –and automate any manual steps. Then construct a data model that will support the analysis and optimize query performance. Then start building the solution — with a goal to get something in the users’ hands as quickly as possible so we can work WITH them to iterate through improvements and additions. Collaboration is what ensures the project is a success and delivers the most value. Without it you can lose sight of the problem you’re solving and end up with a flashy/fancy but useless piece of software.

              As you can see this involves getting very up close and personal. Often times this is the first oversight or “audit” of that person’s analytic process that they’ve ever received. It’s not always like that, but it’s common since the company I work for has A LOT of data and A LOT of source systems. It’s a fast paced and innovative environment, and we have the money to create different tools and projects on a whim. This is a good thing because it means we’re agile. But when the time comes to scale and improve on existing methods there can be a lot of UNTANGLING to do.

              A cynical interpretation is that we air their dirty laundry and find out if they’ve made mistakes, taken shortcuts, not capitalized on opportunities, etc. On top of that my team gets a lot of praise and support from the executive level so I can see how that might ruffle some feathers too. People see us as the teacher’s pet coming to make a sexier version of their work and get the credit for it. Obviously that’s not the goal, but it’s something to be mindful of.

              Anyway back to your point about technical people only caring about efficiency and never being emotionally attached to their work — this just isn’t the case. I’m not saying that people are emotional wrecks or anything, just that it can be tricky with some people to make sure they feel included and not like they’re being criticized for not being up to par. It’s not about being condescending or inappropriate, it’s about being a mindful human being who appreciates and empathizes with the hard work and intelligence of others.

              Lots of people I work with are super excited to change. That’s great and it feels great, but it’s not always like that. Being a change agent in a large organization is challenging, but it’s also an interesting challenge that I personally find very rewarding. Frankly some people don’t like change that they didn’t think of first.

              1. Jamie*

                Anyway back to your point about technical people only caring about efficiency and never being emotionally attached to their work — this just isn’t the case.

                That wasn’t my point, I said I had never known anyone so I was speaking from my experience.

                Of course sometimes egos get out of whack but we shake it off and move on – I find the people who cling most fervently to the status quo are the least technical and the most nervous about the learning curve.

                Again, IME.

                I understand what you do, I’ve headed up more than one ERP implementation on the user end from procurement to go live and I am familiar with the process of rolling out a vastly new solution to users who aren’t always happy about it.

                A cynical interpretation is that we air their dirty laundry and find out if they’ve made mistakes, taken shortcuts, not capitalized on opportunities, etc.

                In addition to IT I’m the lead internal auditor at my company – I oversee the audits of every process and initially people do balk at lights being shined in dark corners, but once they become used to regular audits which are conducted as a proactive way to assure compliance rather than a game of gotcha their reaction to them tends to change.

                My personal approach is to assume my co-workers are adults in control of their own emotions and motivations and my role – either in technology changes or audits – is to treat them with respect and focus on the positive changes going forward rather than dwelling on the mistakes of the past which are being corrected.

                I’ve found people tend to follow my lead on this – if I’m positive and matter of fact about stuff it lessens the trepidation for a lot of people. That’s not the same thing as deliberately working in comments to praise a system I’m retiring – that’s too close to the compliment sandwich, which I hate.

                I am free with positive feedback whenever it strikes me, which is often, and I think it cheapens that to deliberately insert it when it’s not organic just because I think I have a read on how Jane feels about her spreadsheet being retired.

                I don’t think I would function well in an environment where users needed that much hand-holding and emotional support.

                An open door, plenty of practical support (provided without making anyone feel stupid), a matter of fact demeanor, and a little humor goes a long way to defusing a lot of these issues. Trying to work a response to what I think their emotions about it might be feels patronizing to me.


              2. Jamie*

                I responded but it’s in moderation…both of my tldr posts.

                I’ll take this as a sign to work on my brevity. :)

                1. OP*

                  I read this again, and I think we’re agreeing. I’m so glad that I asked this question and got so much feedback from all of you because it’s really forced me to be totally honest with myself and my motivations.

                  With some further reflection, I think a lot of the pushback here in the comments has to do with the idea that the empathy is somehow strategic or “inorganic” as you say. It’s not. I just have certain supportive personality traits where I like to make people feel valued, and I like it in return. The problem is not my actions but rather that I’ve felt the need to point it out to my colleague.

                  I think I may have — ironically — misread this whole situation. My issue has more to do with how my work style differs from my colleague’s. I point out how people might feel steamrolled by change because as I mentioned in my letter she has quite an adversarial outlook towards others. That bothers me because I don’t think it’s either helpful from an efficiency standpoint or very nice personally. I think maybe pointing those things out is a little bit passive aggressive on my part and I will stop.

                  Thank you, Alison and commenters for bringing about this realization :)

        4. Dan*

          I’m a coder/math person too. I take pride in my work, and never turn in something that I don’t think is at least decent. If you want to criticize it, there are more and less effective ways to do it. While it’s not necessary to blow sunshine up my ass, if my work doesn’t meet standard, you’ll get much further with me by treating me as an intelligent human being who misunderstood something than you will if you just tell me my work sucks and I should have known better.

          At my previous employer, we had a guy with such a strong personality (and no people skills) that he drove off every female developer on the team. When I would ask him for help, he’d give me feedback on areas of my code other than what I was asking about, so his really good knowledge was actually useless to me at the time.

          1. Koko*

            “if my work doesn’t meet standard, you’ll get much further with me by treating me as an intelligent human being who misunderstood something than you will if you just tell me my work sucks and I should have known better.”

            Yes, this is really the crux of it for me. You can criticize my work until the cows come home–please, do! It’ll make my future work products better if I can see the weaknesses in my current work product.

            But there’s a difference between:
            “Your marketing offered customers at free gift with purchase, and now people are buying the cheapest thing in the store just to get the free gift and we’re not selling enough to cover our costs. You need to pull that offer/implement a minimum purchase immediately.”
            “You do realize people are just buying the cheapest thing in the store to get the free gift, right? Did it not occur to you they would do that? Do you know how much money this mistake has cost us?”

            The first one, I’d say, “Yikes, I’m sorry I didn’t think that would happen. I’ve just updated the offer to prevent future customers from using that loophole, and I have an idea for how we can follow-up with customers who already redeemed it to try to get an additional sale and increase their value to us.” And go on living my life.

            The second one, I’d be feeling sick to my stomach, I probably would be so upset I wouldn’t even be thinking of ideas to follow-up and increase value, I’d just scramble to fix the problem and hope everyone forgot about it as soon as possible, and every time I interacted with that person for the next little while I’d be concerned that they remember me as the idiot who cost of $5,000 on a poorly thought out marketing campaign that tanked, and there’s even a chance I’d be reluctant to work with them or discuss problems with them in the future.

            1. Lora*


              ExBoss was exactly like your second example. Nobody could ever do anything right, he never had a kind word for anyone, he was surrounded by idiots. People were scared to do ANYTHING because it was always going to be wrong, so they just waited for him to give detailed instructions rather than taking any initiative. Then he was mad that people didn’t work independently and he had to tell everyone what to do all the time.

      2. Koko*

        I’m an Excel super-user who loves working with numbers and charts and data. When we did a Social Styles training day in my department last year, I was classified as Expressive (highly emotive and slightly inclined to tell instead of ask).

  4. amaranth16*

    I will be honest, I’m not wild about the framing “applying emotional intelligence.” People should be thoughtful and empathetic toward their colleagues, but if you frame it as a tool instead of a value, I suspect people will feel condescended to. If the OP is getting pushback on this, I wonder if he/she is approaching “applying emotional intelligence” in ways that come off as patronizing.

    Many times I’ve worked on major projects or systems that have then been changed, and I appreciated it when my colleagues acknowledged my contributions to the old system and we worked as a team to develop a better solution. But I would have felt really coddled and intruded upon if a colleague had tried to psychoanalyze me to another colleague, or if in a meeting someone had said “I know you feel personally invested in this because of the time you’ve spent on it.” That would (however inadvertently) imply that I’m ruled by my emotions or that I won’t handle a change professionally unless I’m petted and made to feel like a special snowflake.

    1. amaranth16*

      (And I don’t know what the OP’s approach is or whether it resembles the negative examples I’m giving – just wanted to provide an example. If this feedback is only coming from one source, you could ask a trusted colleague for advice about how you’re coming across.)

      1. OP*

        You’re right. Calling it empathy is more reasonable. I haven’t ever used the specific phrase “emotional intelligence” at work other than in the context of writing this question to Alison.

    2. Lizzie*

      Yes, this. Treating people well is not a strategy to be whipped out for personal gain, and setting it up as “I use emotional intelligence as a tool at work” sounds strange and manipulative to me. It may be coming off that way to your colleagues, or perhaps holier-than-thou that you thought you needed to educate them in how to present information appropriately. That may be why you’re getting pushback- not because they object to being empathetic.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, and I think a lot of it is the tone of the letter, which comes off really unemotional and buzzwordy, so it gives the impression that the LW is kind of disdainful of emotions but uses them when it’s advantageous to do so. It may just be a writing-style-not-translating-through-the-screen thing.

      2. some1*

        Right, or like what she is saying is not genuine. As in, “Let’s be sure and tell Jane how helpful her spreadsheet was all those years just so she doesn’t flip out on us when we tell it’s history.” The implication being that the spreadsheet wasn’t helpful and you don’t think she did a good job with it.

    3. Sunflower*

      Yes- especially because sometimes if people do have a bad reaction, it has less to do with their system being taken apart and more to do with the consequences of it. For people who already have a ton on their plate, hearing they need to learn an entire new process or system can induce immediate panic and feelings of not having enough time to do everything. And if that was the case and someone tried to coddle me by saying how great the old system was, I’d be pretty confused.

    4. Alexa*

      I had a similar reaction. I don’t think this is what’s happening in the OP’s case, but I think at times when people “use emotional intelligence,” they really use it as a manipulation technique.

      I would also say that acknowledging someones feelings and the value of the product in the way the OP describes and ACTUALLY considering the value of a product, even when developing an improved model are not the same thing. So if emotional intelligence is just lip service I suspect it comes out much less genuine and more patronizing.

    5. Maddy*

      Yes, I think it’s different to say “I want to use emotional intelligence in the workplace.” than “I want to be emotionally intelligent towards my colleagues” One is a tool that seems kind of holier-than-thou and the other is an attribute or skill you bring to the job. Generally, it just seems more normal to say you’re trying to be empathetic and respect the opinions of others.

    6. Ellie H.*

      I agree – the way the OP described “applying emotional intelligence” (and even just the fact of focusing so much on the concept of emotional intelligence) is a little strange, like it is some kind of special, secret workplace strategy and the OP is a super emotional intelligence ninja or something. To me, being conscious of different people’s different working and communication styles is just kind of a normal thing people ideally do. It doesn’t require special application of a concept. It’s good to take different people’s styles into consideration, but excessive and perhaps invasive to go into speculative detail about people’s emotional reaction to something at work, beyond kind of basic human standard of sensitivity.

  5. Anonie*

    I agree with Alison, you have to be careful on how you are presenting something to the group. You don’t want your coworkers thinking you are trying to teach them “good manners.” Many adults take offense to that kind of approach because it can come off as being “schooled” about appriopriate behavior.

    1. Jessica*

      Yeah, this might be where some of the pushback is coming from. Are you presuming that your coworkers aren’t as emotionally intelligent as you? I feel like emotional intelligence is a good thing to use and to have but it seems weird to try to be instucting others in it in a work setting.

  6. Just a Reader*

    Honestly the approach in the OP reads as very condescending to me. It’s work; people are adults. Asking for input on what the new system should deliver and really consider it would go much further than warm & fuzzies about the old system.

    Also–“emotional intelligence” applied to people you don’t know well seems false. It would be far more effective to grab a cup of coffee and see how that person interacts, and align with that when working together. We all do this every day so it’s not an odd thing. Using “emotional intelligence” like a tool that’s one size fits all is strange.

    1. Gail L*

      I tend to find an absolute need for the OP’s approach. When I am in a meeting and getting a bunch of pushback, especially if I don’t understand why, it’s extremely useful to try to sit back, listen more, and try to figure out what might be going on under the surface / bubbling up from the person’s past experiences. It is then often best to change my approach or tone and see if my guesses are correct. It’s a matter of responding to text *and* subtext.

      1. Just a Reader*

        So…why not just ask? Being on the receiving end, I HATE IT when people assume where I’m coming from if they’re not sure. And I give people the respect of asking what’s behind the pushback/what their concerns are, so that we can get everything on the table.

        It just makes no sense to prescribe emotions to something in a benign/routine work situation, IMO.

        1. Anon for this*

          My first week hat this job, I had someone explain something neutral to me and I responded with a neutral “OK”–and then had her fix me with her gaze and say “I sense that hearing this is difficult for you.” I felt like she was using a “technique” on me and had no idea what she was talking about to boot, and I felt like anything I said would convince her I was being defensive. Ugh.

          1. Jamie*

            Wow! My immediate response would have been to tell her I got the sense that she was projecting her own insecurities on me and ask her if she’s like to do joint counseling.

            Who does that?

            And for the people who don’t think OK is a perfectly good response to some questions that don’t require elaboration – you’re wrong. It is and not every query needs to be met with extemporaneous prose.

          2. Omne*

            “I sense that hearing this is difficult for you.”

            First thing that went through my mind is ” You forgot to add Young Jedi”. Probably 50/50 as to whether I would have popped out with it back when I first stared.

        2. Gail L*

          This completely depends on the real reason for the pushback. I find many people get defensive, as if I am attacking them for their pushback. It happens sometimes when they aren’t terribly self-aware about their own reasoning, but mostly if they have a reason they can’t talk about.

          How about if the real reason is because they resent that more control is being given to someone else? Or if the person resents the change because they don’t understand the new system and are afraid for their job under it? Or if they are in a fundamental disagreement with newly established priorities?

          If you asked, they would tell you they don’t like XYZ about the new system, or it doesn’t do what ABC old system does, but these aren’t the real concerns. Many people will rationalize their resentment by picking up on points that aren’t truly that concerning. People don’t just come out and say these things, but it comes to the surface *plenty* in work situations. If you can pick up on them from the situation, from their reactions, you are going to understand and be able to do your job a lot better.

          I think the best companies will have fewer people who do this, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t all over the place regardless!

          1. Just a Reader*

            Sure, those dynamics are at play everywhere. I think there’s a big difference between thinking someone may feel threatened and interacting with that in mind–while addressing the articulated reasons for the pushback–and trying to coach a group to do that based on your perception. I don’t think anyone should let pushback slide without trying to find out what’s behind it, and guessing what’s behind it can be really dangerous if you’re spreading that info around.

            The latter is reckless and can be potentially damaging to the person in question.

            1. Gail L*

              I can agree with this. I’ve never tried to direct a team to be “sensitive” in a particular way. I think at most I’ve had discussions about presentation strategy and anticipated questions. “If we present this to Jane in this way, I think she’ll question X and Y based on her knowledge of the subject. We should present it this other way if we don’t want to get bogged down on Y during this conversation, since that isn’t the topic for today.” Every once in a while that kind of thing touches more on personal background rather than simple work knowledge.

              But I would say there is probably a role there for managers to work with their teams on trying to get to the heart of pushback from others. I’m not sure how that should be expressed, exactly.

              1. Just a Reader*

                I think the way you just outlined it makes perfect sense, because it’s not prescribing an emotional value to the interaction. “I’ve worked with her before and she pays attention to this and that” is so different than telling people to tiptoe around someone because her feelings can get in the way of the discussion–which is what I took away from the scenario in the OP.

            2. Jamie*

              Absolutely – all of this. I want to know what the real concern is, because if it’s because if it’s something practical I can address it and put their minds at ease that they can still do X, Y and Z.

              And I know exactly which of my users will react badly to any kind of change in technology. When rolling out an upgrade if I said, “hey Wakeen…I know you don’t like change and this is hard for you so let me soothe you…” Wakeen would be justifiable weirded out by my addressing him as if he’s the most special of all snowflakes.

              What works for me, with those users, is a more general upbeat “I know, no one likes change, but it’s inevitable and look at this cool new awesome thing it can do…”

              If they continue to vent I make a joke about putting in a requisition for stone tablets and chisels, but we’re going to need more filing cabinets.

              Confident, supportive without enabling whining, addressing real fears/concerns, while matter of factly moving ahead is what works for my environment.

              1. A Non*

                “Confident, supportive without enabling whining, addressing real fears/concerns, while matter of factly moving ahead is what works for my environment.”

                That’s true of most everything, I think. It’s a real leadership skill to be able to sort problems that need to be addressed from venting that doesn’t need anything more than a brief acknowledgement.

    2. The RO-Cat*

      Also–”emotional intelligence” applied to people you don’t know well seems false.

      IME, this assertion is not correct. As a trainer I deal mainly with people I don’t know, period. Not as in “I can’t really say if he has kids or not”, but as in “first time I see the guy”. And yet, EI and its tools are what give me – always – what I need to succeed.

      I tend to believe that many (not necessarily Just a Reader, mind you) see EI merely as another manipulation technique, perhaps a little more “covert” than good ole’ “foot-in-the-door”; hence, the opposition.

  7. Ann Furthermore*

    I think the OP is absolutely right to consider these things when trying to implement changes. Most of the time, no matter how convoluted or archaic something might seem, there are reasons that current state is the way it is, and the related business processes have naturally evolved to accommodate it. Having someone swoop in and tell you that what you’re doing is wrong or a waste of time can really rub you the wrong way, and you’re left thinking, “Well what the hell do you know? You’re not the one who has to do my job!” And then it’s a natural reaction to just dig in your heels and refuse to budge. So there is great value in acknowledging the current state worked for a long time, even though the time has come to make some changes.

    On the other hand, I would be dismayed to overhear colleagues discussing me in either of the ways that Alison described — because either alternative is addressing the fact that I’m a special snowflake/delicate flower that needs a lot of hand-holding and coddling. But now that I’m thinking about it, I’d hope that hearing comments like that about myself would be a bit of a wake up call for me to try and be more open-minded and contribute to the process instead of acting as the roadblock.

  8. Lily in NYC*

    I think it’s a very good thing as long as it comes naturally. Planning to “use emotional intelligence from available data” just makes me picture a Spock-like employee awkwardly trying to figure out how humans work. But from OP’s clarifications here in the comments, I think he/she is being mindful about it. OP, don’t worry about your coworker if he/she isn’t your manager. Just chalk it up to different styles and ignore the comments.

  9. Jubilance*

    OP I actually think you’re doing the right thing here. Change is hard for most people, and understanding how change affects different people and how you can get them on-board with the change is an important skill. This is one of the times where you should take the parts of the feedback that apply and throw away the rest.

  10. BadPlanning*

    I recently took an Emotional Intelligence class! It was very interesting to see bits of things that I’ve learned the hard way all rolled into a class. Personality types, thinking about the other person, understanding how you are perceived in what you say and do. Our class was just a half day — but it was still a good overview. I know the term might sound cheesy, but it’s pretty interesting nonetheless.

    I agree that the danger is overusing (making too many assumptions) or overtly using it (like Allison’s example).

    1. Annie O*

      I could use something like this. I’m the opposite of an emotional intelligence ninji. (ENTJ here.)

  11. Colette*

    For example, if I can sense that a person is uncomfortable in a meeting where we are proposing replacing a spreadsheet that they developed and have been using for years, I’ll advise my team to considerate of the fact that person feels a lot of personal ownership of the old process. I’ll propose that we should reinforce what worked about that solution at the time it was developed rather than only discussing its flaws and why it must be replaced

    This is the kind of thing that I would find off-putting. You’ve certainly come up with one reason why they might be uncomfortable, but it may also be that they see flaws in the new system that will make their job harder, or that making this change will affect 6 other systems, or that they have a sick child they’re worried about.

    It’s fine to address any concerns and be sensitive to people’s feelings, but you can’t be sure you know what they are if you jump to conclusions.

  12. Celeste*

    One of the biggest keys in emotional intelligence is to ask the person what they think and feel, rather than to assume. I wonder if your coworker thinks you’ve just been coming up with assumptions about people rather than asking. Because you have identified her as adversarial, I think it’s worth a talk with her about what she thinks. I think you could gather quite a bit of data there, and maybe even get her on your side for making changes.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, I do talk to her about what she thinks and I truly respect her opinion.

      There is more going on with our particular relationship that meets the eye, which has to do with an opportunity to work for her on a separate business venture that I decided not to pursue. Since then she’s been very critical of me and I’m not quite sure how to mend it.

      1. Celeste*

        Oh, I see. I think you need to get with her about this. Hopefully she’ll be straight with you on what is going on with her.

      2. Kelly L.*

        OK, now I’m writing mental AAM fanfic where you’re the poor LW who was about to get sucked into somebody’s new age management MLM!

      3. fposte*

        It may not be within your power to mend–she may just need to be mad at you for a while. I think you’re being admirably reflective in your willingness to consider that her criticism may nonetheless be legitimate, though.

    2. Sunflower*

      I was going to post something about asking what they think and feel. People react in very different ways. Some people might yell and scream about something and then after some time, will calm down. I am someone who shuts down when they hear bad news and will let it stow for a couple hours and then possibly flip out. By asking ‘how do you feel about the change or what do you think about it’ even if the person aren’t entirely sure of their emotions, you’ll be able to get a better answer and then decide how to proceed from there

      1. Celeste*

        There is nothing people love like being asked what they think. But you should only do it if you’re willing to listen like it’s your job.

            1. Jamie*

              A total aside, I forget what it was that I posted here ages ago and fposte agreed with me – and someone in a meeting did not and it was on the tip of my tongue to shut them down with fposte agreed with me and what do they know.

              I so wish validation from here translated to the real world, I’d take you guys with me everywhere when I need to show people they are wrong. (Unless you all thought I was wrong on said point, then I’d leave you to live in my computer like my imaginary friends.)

              Sorry – back on topic…and it kind of is – it’s weird but on some topics I do tend to have a more emotional if not visceral response than my usual logic filter and so I am always interested in her comments because fposte is my standard bearer for reason and will make me rethink my knee jerk responses.

              You guys have made me a better person and raised my own EQ considerably by expanding my world view.

              And now back to my regularly scheduled chaos.

              1. Woodward*

                “I so wish validation from here translated to the real world”

                I totally agree. I get frustrated sometimes at things at work that aren’t “AAM approved”! I want to be able to say, “but Alison said…”

                1. Jamie*

                  That I have done! I bought her management book for the office and have definitely referred people to the wisdom in the book.

                  So it’s an indirect way of “but Alison said…”

                  Which I would totally buy on a t-shirt or coffee mug.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    OP – can I address something else in your letter that might be a problem and part of why people aren’t necessarily reacting the way you hope?

    You use a LOT of jargon and management speak. Your first paragraph is littered with jargon-y phrases that a lot of people find immediately offputting. That’s going to make some people naturally distrustful and skeptical. So it might be less about people’s emotional reasons and more that they get annoyed with this kind of thing. I mean yes, emotions are important and all, but I’d rather someone speaks to me with plain words as an equal rather than raining down management-speak.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Doh, I wasn’t ready yet.

      My first impression as I was reading the OP’s letter was “does this person even know what she’s talking about, or is she just regurgitating stuff she’s read?” It’s like the student who takes Psych 101 and then needs to prove that he Knows All The Things by armchair diagnosing everyone they meet.

      I’m not implying that OP isn’t well versed and qualified to apply EQ techniques to the change processes happening in her workplace, but something about the way the letter is written comes off as Trying Too Hard, and I’m wondering if her coworkers are getting that sense, as well.

      1. Gilby*

        Excellently put !

        I have a good friend that I worked with. She was a communications major, master’s program and took even more classes for it.

        Although the OP’s situation isn’t exactly the same with what I am going to say it is the same principle. How to talk to people.

        At work my friend wanted to use all that classroom stuff she learned, the philosophy of how to say stuff, what say and all that and all she really sounded was wordy and made basically no sense. She was like this in her life as well. Philosophical jargon, never getting to the point.

        I knew where she was going with it but she over thought it all. Instead of just saying.. ” We need a better way of email the departments for shipping issues….. ” She’d say, ” The reason we are not knowing what is going on with shipping issues is because our styles’ of communications are different ( and then launch into communications lingo) ….. … blah blah blah…” .

        She wanted to send an Email to a VP regarding communication failures between departments. She asked me to read it and it was so full of $10 words and phrases that I was like… um… you really gonna send that? To a VP no less. ? He would have looked at that and laughed and most likely not have taken her seriously. She didn’ send it.

        She was not sovling problems or talking to people about them. She was too concerned with words. Too concenred with coming across intellegent and smart. Most people want laymans terms.

        OP, really look at the words you are using, how you are saying, what context and so on. I think most people want bottom line simplicity and honesty. “ Mabel’s system was great and it worked very well for our needs. But we need to change now for business needs….” And so on.

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      Yes. The word “leverage” can be a particular blaring Klaxon alarm of HELLO HERE IS JARGON BUSINESS-SPEAK especially.

        1. OriginalEmma*

          Hey now, this sort of talk isn’t fostering synergy! How are we supposed to deconflict our beliefs and socialize our opinions if we don’t lean forward and engage amicably?

          1. Mints*

            Tangent: One word I hate for no reason is “ping” like “Ping me when you’re in town so we can get coffee”
            Because I remembered it being some kind of science-y measurement about computers, but everyone uses it to mean “send me a message” and I don’t get it. I even tried seeing if it was related to some IM when I was new to the office, but it’s not. Okay, pet peeves over

            I agree that the letter reads as jargon and I’d suggest reflecting about jargon in every day office conversations, because it can be alienating

            1. Jamie*

              I have never heard anyone use it that way – but I wouldn’t like that either.

              You ping a ip when you want to make sure it’s doing what it’s supposed to do right now. I know that’s not how people mean it, but I would just tell them to put away their command prompt and send me an email. :)

              Ping indeed.

            2. OriginalEmma*

              My pet peeve is “offline,” used in a non-internet context. As in, “let’s talk about this offline.” We’re offline right now! We’re talking in person!

              Also using spend as an adjective. “Let’s talk about the spend plan.” /brain explodes.

              1. Windchime*

                “Ping” and “offline” are both used extensively where I work. “Ping” doesn’t bother me because I just see it as shorthand for “touch base”. “Offline” is something that managers here say as a polite way of (not) saying, “You are distracting the group from the main purpose of this conversation. We’ll talk about it after the meeting.”

            3. De (Germany)*

              Well, when you ping a computer, you send a package of data saying “hey, are you there?” and get one back with “yep, I am here” so it’s not all that wrong

          2. Windchime*

            Yes, that was going to be my ask as well. (My current pet peeve is when people use “ask” instead of “question”! )

    3. Rev.*

      A sack of Oreos and a hot cuppa Ethiopian AA works wonders with me.
      After my 2nd cookie, tell me my spreadsheet format will be scrapped.

      My answer will be, “Mmmpphhhh! Mumble, snarf!”

      Interpretation: “Good idea! Should have done it months ago!”

      I guess I’m just sayin’ that we shouldn’t forget the human factor in our company dynamic.

  14. Not So NewReader*

    I would just be curious how the coworker would handle a given situation. Suppose Ed is upset that his spreadsheet that took him two years to develop is being chucked. How does the coworker think this should be addressed?

  15. fposte*

    I also think the phraseology you describe could sound like you’re singling people out, making them sound like they’re unusually or problematically emotional. Speaking in general terms of how to consider people’s responses both gets around that and allows for the possibility that there are other people who feel the same way as Jane and haven’t given off signals. You can talk about the importance of respecting people’s contributions and the usefulness of understanding their investment the system they’ve made without raising it about Jane specially.

    1. Sunflower*

      Yes- This is why it’s important to ask everyone ‘how do you feel about the change or what do you think’ without sounding too much like a psychologist. If you ask everyone, every time, people won’t feel as singled out. Even just by saying ‘do you have any questions or concerns’ that could also give you some more information without having to assume anything

  16. A Non*

    I pretty much agree with what’s been said here. It’s important to consider people’s feelings, and a bit of appreciation for their work can go a long ways to open up people’s willingness to work with you. But unless you’re talking to a very emotionally aware person, it’s usually more awkward than helpful to try to address it directly. (It sounds like your coworker is pretty far to the ‘not emotionally aware’ end of the spectrum.)

    If I’m understanding you correctly, right now when you see emotionally-driven problems arising or ones that might arise, your approach is to bring it up in your team’s meetings. That’s a pretty direct approach, and while it’s not wrong, it can be viewed as impolite.

    If I were in your shoes, I think I’d try to model emotionally intelligent behavior for your coworkers rather than discuss it in most situations. Showing that you value people’s work on old systems is an effective way to encourage your coworkers to do the same, probably more effective than talking about it. If you can see that someone is holding up a process for ego reasons, and other people don’t seem to be noticing it, you might think up something that would help ease the situation and then explain your rationale only to the people who need to know so that it can be implemented.

    Our culture is in a weird spot where we know how important emotions are, but don’t like to acknowledge them. It has to be handled with a lot of tact.

    1. Eva*

      Great comment. This is excellent advice: “If I were in your shoes, I think I’d try to model emotionally intelligent behavior for your coworkers rather than discuss it in most situations.”

      Reading the OP, I was reminded of this quote: “Being powerful is like being a lady: If you have to say you are, you aren’t.” Similarly, if you have to explain to others that you’re applying an emotionally intelligent approach, then at best you aren’t applying that approach universally.

  17. LQ*

    I am an emotional idiot. I don’t understand why most people act the way they do (I’ve done lots of reading about the research behind human interactions and all the ways our brains kind of are really crummy – but I’m not naturally good at any of this…stuff).
    I don’t understand why someone who is self proclaimed to be great at it isn’t able to see that you have to apply that emotional intelligence to people you are working with too. Why not look at that coworker and come up with a more emotionally intelligent way to bring these things up with them instead of expecting them to listen on your terms. (Maybe this is your attempt to do so, but it doesn’t read that way to me.)
    The people you need to apply these skills to are not just the people in the field who will be impacted, but your coworkers and if you can manage to develop a relationship where your coworker won’t feel you are condescending and worrying more about how people feel than the work that needs to get done (that’s what someone who is an emotional idiot might here in that message) then you’ll be able to raise these issues without being shut down. Much like you’re worried that the users will shut down and not use the tools, you’re shutting your coworker down and they aren’t using your tools. So I think stepping back where you’re applying your skill set is in order.

    1. Jamie*

      Yeah, what Celeste said. Emotional idiots don’t have this kind of insight – well said.

    2. Observer*

      I’m going to agree. You may not have all of the terminology right, but you sure nailed a major issue on the head.

  18. Observer*

    A couple of key indicators here indicate you can safely ignore the main question of whether emotional intelligence is appropriate in the workplace. One is that he’s the only one who is saying this. Secondly, he has a history of offending people. Offending people is not exactly a positive workplace trait.

    As to the how, I have a couple of observations from experience.

    Firstly, recognizing why / how an existing process, procedure or item (form, piece of equipment, etc.) was once useful and how things have changed is useful. It’s not just a “feel good” exercise, and it does more than make people feel appreciated and included. It helps build your credibility and the professional trust (ie the impression that you have a clue) of the people you are working with. The MOST disastrous project I have ever dealt with was marked from the beginning by the insistence of my counterpart that we were doing this that and the other all wrong, and he had the “right” way to do it. The problem was that he never really understood WHY we were doing things that way, and the result was the he ended up designing a process and system that would have significantly cut our productivity had we gone forward with it.

    Absence of the kind of acknowledgement has always been a huge red flag for me since – and so far I’ve been right. The difference is that I’m catching this earlier now.

    Secondly, be very careful about implying that someone doesn’t want to move forward because they are emotionally invested in “their” way. It tends to be offensive (for reasons already mentioned.) Women tend to take it worse for the simple reason that women tend to be accused to being “emotional” and “too emotional” at work too often. And it’s frequently used as an excuse to blow off whatever a woman is saying. Any women who has seen this or has experienced this is likely to interpret your concern for their their emotional involvement as a prelude to a pat on the head and then having legitimate concerns ignored.

  19. Jamie*

    Totally biased here – but I think EQ is crucial, but I’d rather chew tin foil than hear anyone talk about it at work.

    Tell me you’re trying to get a read on me, tell other people you don’t know how to cultivate a personal relationship with me because I’m perfectly polite, but too focused on work, or claim to know my motivations for anything (I didn’t expressly state) and I will side eye you until the cows come home.

    Seriously, I’m a lovely person but if you met me hours ago and ask other people why I’m so hard to read…I was just telling you about the network login, dude, not looking for a BFF to do each other’s hair and talk about boys.

    Sorry – personal rant – but to me talking about EQ in the workplace is as unseemly as talking about being good at office politics and how you use them to advance. It happens, it’s necessary, it’s a hell of a skill…but it’s not something you can say out loud without alienating most everyone in ear shot.

    1. A Bug!*

      I agree with everything you said, but regarding your last paragraph: EQ is office politics, is it not? It’s just another word for people skills, and aren’t office politics just people skills at work in the office?

      While I’m here, I can’t put my finger on it, but I get a weird feeling from the letter. It’s an almost clinical approach to human interaction that feels offputting to me. I’ll have to consider it further.

      1. fposte*

        I’m mulling the same thing, because I think that the actual consideration the OP is talking about is worthwhile but the way it’s talked about puzzles me a little. It seems like it’s casting some fairly straightforward human responses in a very specific terminology and then treating that terminology as if it meant special additional knowledge about the dynamics that isn’t available to people who talk about work change differently.

        Which could just be blog-query style, but if that’s the way the OP’s discourse is appearing to her colleagues I can see that it might complicate communication rather than helping it.

        1. fposte*

          Additionally, it occurs to me the OP is treating emotion as very important but couching it in very unemotional and analytical terms, so the people who respond emotionally may find that discordant.

      2. Jamie*

        Yes, EQ is office politics, but so is sucking up to the boss who makes it clear he rewards sucking up and it doesn’t take a high EQ to see it. But in most cases, totally the same.

        I have a good for instance – I know someone who uses a lot of “I” statements when discussing what was accomplished by their department. These are things that in no way could have been done solo. This rubs everyone the wrong way, I’ve gotten offended on behalf of people I know who are being slighted and it has nothing to do with me.

        Using “we” doesn’t remove whatever accomplishments are theirs as the lead on the project. It doesn’t dilute anything. It makes people feel appreciated and part of a team…it gets people in your corner and willing to go the extra mile for you when you need it.

        And it doesn’t result in me running around like a lunatic telling tptb who make the big decisions about the various contributions of Jane, Bob, and Wakeen because I’m afraid the credit hog won’t bring them to light.

        Yeah, I’m that person that certain types of people will hate with a firey passion.

        I say “we” not because I want people predisposed to do me favors someday, or because I don’t want to look like Queen of the Asshats…although both collateral benefits, I’ll grant you. I do it because it’s the decent thing to do and working in a place where all your co-workers think you’re a raging egomaniac can’t possibly be pleasant and I’d like to avoid tempting people to cut my brake lines.

        Is that EQ? Sure, because as much as I am not a people person I do understand how people react to certain behaviors. It’s EQ when I go out of my way to say hi to Jody because I know greetings are important to him and I like him and don’t want him to doubt that – even greetings aren’t important to me. And it’s EQ when throw in a “no big deal, just an fyi” for Cissy in an email because I know otherwise she’ll over think it and wonder if something is wrong…when Buffy would get a just the facts email because she isn’t nervous like that and appreciates cutting to the chase.

        I think what bothers me about the letter, although I could be reading it wrong, is that it seems as if the approach to EQ is as a means to an end…in an attempt to manipulate people for a smoother end result. Instead of doing it because it’s just nice to be as decent a person as you can be to others…and people with higher EQ have the tools to do this.

        And yes, we’ve all been a different version of ourselves as a means to an end – otherwise we wouldn’t show up at interviews with company manners…we’d completely be ourselves and I’d have shown up at interviews in HK Vans and yoga pants.

        And that’s EQ too, presenting the way you feel you’ll be best received. But doing it for an interview or charming your way out of a ticket is different than assessing your co-workers emotional motivations and using it deliberately.

        And don’t forget – even those with the highest EQ won’t be right all the time. If you don’t know someone really well it’s dangerous to make assumptions about how they feel about anything.

        As I’ve always told my kids when they were upset with someone – you feel what you feel, they are valid and they are yours…but how you react and speak to others is 100% on you. So my users can hate the new upgrade so much they pray for it’s rollback…and I’ll listen, twice, to “I hate change” vents and I’m all ears about practical issues…but I expect them to adapt and be civil doing so…because it is what it is.

  20. Laura2*

    As such, we are often in the position of reworking old ways of measuring effectiveness and proposing new perspectives and KPIs. Sometimes people are excited and willing to change, and in other cases people are hesitant or even approaching defiance.

    In addition to what everyone else has said, it’s also possible that they are not really invested in any particular way of doing things, but may feel annoyed at having to change yet another process or metric again if this is something that has happened during their employment there before. I’ve worked at a couple of companies where managers were constantly changing the way we measured/reported/completed things.

    I’m not saying you’ve done anything personally to cause this, but that you may be dealing with people who are cynical about more management-ordered change.

    1. Judy*

      Especially if the outcome is similar (with shinier tools) from the one two changes ago.

      Oh, look, we’re now measuring teapot making efficiency by output per hour, like we did in 2008. I guess next we’ll be measuring efficiency in number of scrapped parts like 2011, and then back to what we have now by weight of finished products vs raw materials.

      1. LQ*

        mmmm scrapped parts….
        Reading about the chocolate teapots before breakfast is dangerous.

        But I agree with your take on the didn’t we already do this?

  21. Puddin*

    I just finished reading, “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Other,” by Daniel Pink. I think there are some good take aways in about empathy and perspective taking – how they are different and which is more effective when trying to motivate people. This might come in handy for both the change outcomes you are trying to effect – and the people subject to them, as well as a resource for crafting a response to the co-worker who prompted you to alter your message.
    Overall the book is “OK” and it is sales 101 to people who are earnest and modern salespeople. But a quick read with some interesting studies on human behavior with accompanying drills or exercises for the reader.

  22. Zillah*

    I’ll propose that we should reinforce what worked about that solution at the time it was developed rather than only discussing its flaws and why it must be replaced. In my experience, this gives the person time to come around and feel included in the solution.

    As others have said, I think the issue with framing it like this is that a lot of people are going to feel like it’s patronizing and a waste of time. I wouldn’t want to sit there giving lip service to why something was good ten years ago – I want to move forward and find results.

    Instead, why don’t you frame it as, “These are good things from the system that we’d like to keep moving forward,” or “These are things we’d like to base the new system on,” rather than “Let’s talk about what worked back when this was developed, because this person is super fragile and needs their ego boosted.”

    You know? It probably leads to about the same thing, but I think that one contributes to the conversation in a way that will truly make the person feel validated and feel productive to everyone else, where the other runs the risk of making people offended or defensive.

    1. Jamie*

      I’ll propose that we should reinforce what worked about that solution at the time it was developed rather than only discussing its flaws and why it must be replaced.

      Yes! Focus on the new positive thing and moving forward. No need to keep harping on what didn’t work as well in the past.

      When you move into a new house, even if it’s not perfect, you focus on fixing it up and making it home. You don’t keep complaining about the leaky faucets and sagging roof of your old place.

  23. Tinker*

    One thing I would say about this is — Okay, so let’s say that we’re valuing people’s emotional reactions to their work — this being what emotional intelligence is, when applied to work. That’s a good thing! And let’s say that we think we’ve got a pretty accurate eye for people’s emotional reactions and preferences, and we want to accommodate them. Wonderful so far.

    Some people have an emotional preference for not having their emotional reactions being brought out explicitly, especially in a work context. Some people are sensitive, much as someone might be for perceived criticism about their work product, to having their emotional state called out explicitly — particularly if the state involved is not one that is aligned with the work product. That can be threatening to people, and can make them uncomfortable.

    This dude might be rude and a yahoo and all, but I think there’s something in there that needs considering — there’s a next level to this emotional sensitivity game, where you don’t go around saying “Hey, y’all, Jane over there is upset” but rather by managing that situation with a lil’ bit more tact.

  24. AcademicAnon*

    Knowing your audience is really key to applying this. I personally would find this approach extremely annoying. I’m just not very emotionally invested in my work. Telling me why something needs to be done using emotions just doesn’t tell me how to get the job done. AAM’s second example of how to explain something is what would work with me as I need a logical explanation of the how and the why and what needs to be done. On the flip side to this, I’m not going to hold anyone’s emotions at work against them. Crying at work? Here’s a tissue, and a question about “do you need some help?”, and unless that person brings it up again (or needs help), I’ve never going to mention it again. I’m all for having empathy at work, and there are many bad examples where only applying logic to something leads to a very bad outcome, so I’m not saying there should be no emotions involved at work.

  25. Kiwi*

    Emotional intellegence is being publicly clear that the previous version of the work was great, but the organisation needs to move on to another version for XYZ reasons.

    Emotional UNintellegence is projecting one’s own insecurities by suggesting that the creator of the previous version will be super upset over its replacement, and to be sure to coddle their feelings.

    Imagine being that employee. They may have legitimate concerns that their coworkers now have the impression that they may be a touch emotionally unstable.

    I wonder if OP’s failing here is that they are thinking too hard about how to apply emotional intellegence and how to appear emotionally intellegent and (oh so ironically) not at all about how their application of E.I. makes colleagues feel.

  26. Katie C.*

    I really like the LW’s idea of taking into consideration the ownership a person feels toward the old process. We had a new coworker begin in our small office a few years ago who worked closely with our accounting manager. Instead of taking the aforementioned into consideration, she plowed through and changed a bunch of processes in ways that did make sense, but because she was heavy-handed about it, the accounting manager felt insulted and basically fought her on the changes (mostly by being snide, petty, and talking about this employee behind her back).

    Obviously there are plenty of people who can look at work objectively and see that a new system is better than the old, but I think LW’s approach can be useful depending on the personality of the employee.

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