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Reflections on Emotional Intelligence

| August 24, 2021

by Kim Catania

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Kim Catania, Director of IT Programs and Projects, University of Oregon. She is a current MOR program participant.  Kim may be reached at [email protected].]

I have been reflecting on Emotional Intelligence and how it has helped shape who I am as a leader.

I have always been very empathetic and continue to work on self-management of my emotions. As a woman in the business, you need to walk a fine line on how much emotion you demonstrate. If you show anger, you could be labeled as easily offended or too sensitive and if you cry you could be seen as weak or unstable.

In my career, I have done everything in my power to never show excessive emotions at work. I have done a pretty good job of keeping my emotions in check but there is one time that stands out as a leadership lesson that I’d like to share.

I had to lay someone off due to downsizing. I was able to keep my emotions under control when I delivered the news to the employee, and I was there for her when she broke down and cried. What made this layoff even more difficult is that this person’s husband was paralyzed, and they needed the health insurance to continue his care.

With the initial message delivered, my next step was to now tell the rest of the team the news. It was extra difficult to deliver this difficult news remotely.  As I started to deliver the message my voice started to quiver and then I started to cry. I quickly ended the call and thought that I had now lost the respect of the team and any credibility I had with them as being a strong leader.

But something unexpected happened. I got a call from a senior member of the team who was checking in to see how I was. I told her that I felt like a failure for not holding it together and that I had lost the respect of the team. She told me that I would have lost the respect of the team if I didn’t show any emotions in this circumstance and that showing emotions demonstrated that I cared and that I was human.

Revisiting this experience reminds me that showing emotions is not always bad. 

Maybe we should all consider the importance of emotions in the workplace, and the importance of more fully letting our emotions show.  Think of a time you held back on showing emotion.  Now, think of a time when you did not hold back and the impact on the situation.  Might showing emotion sometimes help demonstrate that we care and that we are human?

As we have navigated the complex realities of a global pandemic, we as a community regularly remind ourselves to show increased compassion and empathy.  To appreciate the diverse and at times difficult life circumstances each person we work with may be facing.  In that advice it’s important to not only think of others, but also remember to do the same to ourselves.  Are there ways we can show our own selves the same increased compassion and empathy, especially in letting our emotions show to others?

Today I continue to focus on understanding my triggers and coming up with stock phrases that will help me pause and take a moment to process any emotions before I react, and I also realize I need to be compassionate and empathetic with myself in owning and sharing my own emotions.