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Posted by on Mar 7, 2014

Trying Times: Leading With Emotionally Intelligent Communication

VeterinarianEmotional intelligence matters almost all the time, but one time it really matters is when any doctor, including a vet, is giving really bad news.

After 11 great years, our beloved Corgi dog, Lily, was dying. Her fatal condition came on very suddenly. As my wife and I sat in the vet’s office processing this news, I could not help but notice the compassionate communication and emotional mastery the vet and her assistant practiced in helping us understand and deal with this sad news.

When at work we teach emotional intelligence, we talk about all the bad ways communication goes wrong. At the vet’s, a horrible possibility would be to simply say, “Your dog is dying. Do you want to put her down or not?”

Particularly during change, disruption, loss or stress, emotionally intelligent communication makes a difference.

I had reason to call in at the vet’s a few weeks later, and made it a point to praise the staff for their handling of our situation. One person expressed her thanks, and said, “We try really hard at that.”

“Application planning” is a standard component of most leadership development programs. After all, if you’re not going to apply what’s learned, what’s the point? Yet we know that too many people leave the room and have a very mixed record of actually changing behavior. (This is because of a lack of ongoing support and other factors.)

In other words, they’re not really trying that hard. Life gets busy, they forget things, and it’s back to business as usual.

People often talk about periods of loss, stress, change, disruption or upheaval as “trying times,” but I would like to borrow the phrase the suggest that anyone going through a leadership development experience think about specific instances in which he or she can try new things.

This can be a trying time.

For example, leaders may try a new behavior to increase communication. They might listen more or better. They may stop interrupting, or start asking open-ended questions to draw out others more.

Whatever they do, to set aside a trying time would be good for development.

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