Project Management

Thrive: A Capterra Podcast – Episode 2: Why Emotional Intelligence at Work is Critical to Engaged Teams

By | 12 min read | Published

In this episode of Thrive, learn why emotional intelligence (EQ) is key to leading engaged and successful teams, with tips on how to improve your own EQ.

Featured in this episode:
Brian Westfall
Brian Westfall
Host, Principal HR analyst at Capterra
Olivia Montgomery
Olivia Montgomery
Guest, Associate Principal Analyst at Capterra

In a recent Capterra survey, 78% of project managers report using emotional intelligence more than ever in the past two years. Why is EQ having a moment? And how can high EQ managers improve not only employee engagement, but overall project success?

Principal HR analyst Brian Westfall sits down with Capterra associate principal analyst, Olivia Montgomery, to talk about how emotional intelligence is a key tenet used by project managers to lead engaged, successful teams. Olivia shares insights from her research and gives tips on how to improve your own EQ.

Listen or watch this episode of Thrive below.

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Podcast transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Brian Westfall, principal HR analyst at Capterra: Welcome to “Thrive: How to Drive Small Business Success,” a podcast from Capterra focused on providing small and midsize business leaders with ideas, actionable insights, and technology recommendations to help their businesses thrive. I’m Brian Westfall, principal HR analyst at Capterra, and your host for today’s episode.

In part two of our series on how to build an engaged workforce, today we’re talking about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient or EQ for short, is a soft skill on the rise: In a recent Capterra survey, 70% of project managers report using it more than ever in the past two years.

Why is EQ having a moment and how can high-EQ managers improve not only employee engagement, but overall project success? To find out, I’m joined by Capterra’s principal project management analyst, Olivia Montgomery. Olivia’s research has been featured in the likes of Forbes, Tech Republic, and CIO Dive. Her latest report, “Emotional Intelligence Leads to Project Management Success,” is full of EQ insights and recommendations based on a survey of over 500 project managers.

Thanks for joining us today, Olivia.

Olivia Montgomery, associate principal PM analyst at Capterra: Thanks, Brian. I’m excited to be here.

Brian: Emotional intelligence, it’s kind of having a moment. It’s in a lot of books, there’s a lot of articles out there. From the research that you’ve been doing, what is your definition of EQ?

Olivia: We went with the current industry standard that emotional intelligence is one’s ability to perceive, identify, and manage your own emotions and those of others. It’s that and those of others and the management that is really key.

Brian: It’s not just being in control of your own emotions, but also having an understanding of others’ as well. I think that might be kind of a misconception about EQ out there.

Olivia: That’s exactly it. And it’s not even only just knowing your feelings, how you’re feeling that day, how other people’s days are going. It’s a lot more than that. It’s how to use those feelings to influence the tasks that are at hand, your workload, the time that you work, how you’re defining success. You’re using all of that to influence the team, influence the work, and help improve— yeah, and job satisfaction, too.

Brian: EQ is so important and it’s especially important for project managers, which is the area of focus of your research. So I want to ask you, why did you focus on project managers and ask them about EQ?

Olivia: Project managers are in a very unique position in that they are people managers, but they don’t have direct reports. Typically their project team members have functional jobs outside of just that project. They don’t have quite the leverage and authority over who’s on their team. So they have to be influential. They have to be persuasive. They have to bring out the best and really engage teams in a way that your direct supervisor might not have to. It’s definitely one of the only jobs in a business that is right at the crux of getting work done with lots of different people. You have all different kinds of business types and job functions coming together and you have to be able to manage and get project success out of that.

Brian: And it’s obviously such a complicated job. So in your research, did you find that PMs have high EQ? Do they have low EQ?

Olivia: I asked them in my survey; on a scale, I had them rate themselves between one and five —five being the highest and one being the lowest—what they think they could achieve. I asked them to rate themselves, their peers, even their own bosses, and 60% of project managers gave themselves either a four or five. I think it (the profession) attracts people who have high EQ because you’re rewarded pretty quickly. Like I just said, you have to be influential and persuasive to be a strong project manager. So I think people with a high EQ are just attracted to the profession already.

Brian: Do you think, I mean, if I were taking a survey like that, I would obviously [think], “oh, I have really high EQ. I’m great at my job,” but what does the research say? How do they feel about other project managers or their peers or their boss?

Olivia: Yeah. That’s exactly why I asked about it, cause I would probably be the same. I’d be like, “I’m a five!” But PMs (61%) actually rate their bosses and their peers even higher [than themselves].

Brian: Okay, great. So obviously EQ is super important, but what does it look like? What are the kinds of traits that a high EQ manager has?

Olivia: High EQ is definitely something that can have a lot of misconceptions, like you already mentioned. So I asked specifically which character traits are most valued, and being honest, reliable, and resourceful were the top three traits. Which I agree with all of them, and I was happy to see them there. But I had also asked about curiosity and only 31% of respondents put that in their top three, and that was surprising.

Brian: Why do you think curiosity is so important, but it seems like the managers in your survey didn’t think it as important?

Olivia: I think that curiosity… a curious person is going to ask questions about not only their teammates and their stakeholders, to be able to get to know how they’re feeling, what motivates them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, but also [ask about] processes. Curious people aren’t just people-people, they’re interested in the process. Why did this work? Why didn’t this work? So they’re always questioning and looking for how to improve and do better by asking questions, being collaborative. It is a little bit of being resourceful, but it’s beyond that. Curiosity is definitely a key tenant of high emotional intelligence.

Brian: So is EQ, either in your experience or your research, is it something that’s set in stone and you have your EQ and that’s it? Or is it something that you can actually improve upon?

Olivia: Absolutely, you always can improve upon it. Always. And if you’re not working on it, you can backslide on it. So I want to be clear: It’s not a one and done.

Brian: Yeah, it can go both ways.

Olivia: You always have to be working on it. I have three tips that I’d like to share with people who are trying to improve their EQ. The first one is to take one of the traits that you want to work on. You could start with the survey findings: being honest, resourceful, curious. Pick one of those and take three months and really focus on it for yourself. Think before sending out project status reports, before scheduling meetings: “Is this what a resourceful person would do? Am I demonstrating my resourcefulness in this communication?” for every action that you’re about to take. Take a moment and ask yourself, “Is this what being resourceful” — assuming you pick resourceful — “looks like?” And the second one, I believe in setting guardrails to protect your decision-making [from] emotions. For example, don’t make big decisions or answer important emails or send out important presentations when you’re hungry, when you’re tired, when you’re confused, when you’re upset. Set those guardrails right from the beginning. That can seem obvious, but I promise you when work is in your face it can be difficult to maintain those guardrails for yourself. But they’re really important.

Brian: Oh yeah. It’s one of those things you always want to do, but to actually put it into practice is really, really hard. Especially for someone like a project manager.

Olivia: Exactly. And that’s exactly it. But my third [tip] is take time and practice evaluating and identifying your own emotions. And by emotions, I don’t mean just happy and sad. I mentioned just a moment ago, being hungry, tired, and confused. Those can be states of being, but they are emotions as well. And they’re included in having high emotional intelligence. Confusion, confusion drives so many miscommunications. It’s not so much anger or happiness. So take time to help identify in yourself, maybe your loved ones who you like to practice on…

Brian: For better or for worse.

Olivia: For better or worse, yeah. [Practice] just being able to identify them. Let them know that you’re working on it. I believe in being transparent and forthcoming as you’re trying to improve yourself.

Brian: Those are great tips. So obviously at Capterra we focus a lot on technology, and technology these days is becoming so important for team communication, especially with the growth of remote work, right? So do you have any tips for how managers can leverage technology to facilitate their EQs and engage their teams?

Olivia: Absolutely. I’m a huge proponent of using asynchronous communication. I think with our global pandemic, a lot more businesses are seeing the value and seeing that it’s not this scary thing. And I would like to see that continued. So with your own teams, with your project teams, your direct reports, within your business, I definitely encourage and support asynchronous communication. And it’s even better, if that communication is captured in your project management tool. There are collaboration and communication features in work, task, project management software that you can encourage your team to be using to share status updates, share files, share documents within that [tool]. The tool is always there. It’s always on. It’s always available. So it’s perfect for asynchronous communication. And it also will maintain the integrity of that data, so that you have the historical track record of it. And everyone is accessing the same information when they need it.

Brian: It’s sort of a central hub so that nothing falls through the cracks.

Olivia: Exactly. So if someone answers an email eight hours later for any reason, being a high-EQ manager means you realize that it doesn’t have to just be because of a different time zone. They might have other things going on in their life. But the project isn’t going to suffer, just because you see a status update eight hours later. The work’s not going to suffer if your team is engaged and feeling supportive and they all have the information that they need. So software makes asynchronous communication feel much more natural.

Brian: Yeah, but you bring up an interesting point in that because of software, because of technology, communication is instantaneous. The urgency to reply right away and keep everyone updated as soon as things happen is so strong. So how do you use EQ as a manager to… You’ve talked about guardrails before, it’s almost like you’re putting up guardrails here, right?

Olivia: That’s exactly it.

Brian: You don’t need to respond to that message right away. You don’t need to check your alerts 24/7.

Olivia: Yep. So I recommend before a project kickoff meeting—typically you’ll have a project kickoff meeting—I would establish your thresholds for communication expectations and share them with the team during the kickoff. They need to know exactly what the threshold and expectations are. And you must abide by them also. You have to be the champion of abiding by it. So you can let your team know, “Hey, you might see a notification, you might receive an email after hours, but you have absolutely no expectation to respond [immediately]. You have 24 or 48 hours to respond to an email.” Be very clear with what the expectation is and follow it yourself. And that’s your point exactly. Setting your own guardrails initially can be easy, but following them two, three weeks down the road, when stuff is confusing and you’re exhausted and you have all other kinds of tasks coming at you is tough. But set the guardrails for yourself and the team and be clear and transparent about it from the beginning.

Brian: So communication comes from the top, it sets the example. This is really cool. I really love this research that you’re doing, Olivia, and I really appreciate you coming on to share with us today.

Olivia: Thank you. I love, love being here. Love the opportunity to share insights and I appreciate it.

Brian: Thank you all for tuning in to Thrive. Visit—the leading online resource for business software buyers—where you can read verified reviews, learn how to make the most of your technology, and get the insights your business needs to thrive. Subscribe to the Thrive podcast on your favorite platforms, including Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

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