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Mute the Judgment and Turn Up the EQ

Transformational leadership practitioner and Kogod alum Yene Assegid explains how emotional intelligence can help us succeed in physical and virtual workspaces.

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Yene Assegid

Since mid-March, I have been working from home alongside countless other Americans due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mornings have shifted from rushed dog walks and traffic along Massachusetts Avenue to a few pleasant sips of coffee before my daily 9:30 a.m. meeting with the rest of Kogod’s marketing and communications team.

Although having the ability to move around my home throughout the day has helped both my creativity and productivity, there are some new and somewhat uncomfortable experiences that have come with working remotely: showing my face on video, ignoring background noise and distractions from family members and pets, not being able to pick up on body language as easily, and more.

So it was a relief to speak with Dr. Yene Assegid (Kogod/BS ’87), a transformational leadership practitioner, and learn that not only am I far from alone, but there are ways to ease the discomfort ushered in by these new online experiences. “It can bring a lot of anxiety to work online and to put your camera on,” says Assegid. “It can be difficult, and sometimes there are technical bugs, or you make the wrong move. I wish people would notice that we are all going through the same kind of stressors.”

Assegid works with clients like EU, UNICEF and other UN agencies, and despite having huge global footprints and thousands of employees, these organizations are struggling just as much as small businesses and multinational conglomerates with navigating the new remote work reality. “They all seem to have the same questions: ‘How do I motivate my team?’ and ‘How do I inspire my team?’” says Assegid.

One way to make yourself, your coworkers, and your employees feel more comfortable, motivated, and inspired when navigating the virtual world is by practicing emotional intelligence, the capacity to be aware of, manage, and express emotions.

Emotional intelligence can help us be more understanding of our coworkers and forgiving of ourselves. I can’t control if the fire alarm goes off during an important meeting or if my dogs bark. It’s loud, distracting, and used to make me flustered, but since thinking about these situations through the lens of emotional intelligence, I realize that if this were happening to one of my teammates, I would understand.

After speaking with Assegid, I now know why my boss begins all of our daily meetings with questions like, “How is your move going?” “How are you feeling?” “I see you have a new background, are you out of town?” Her simple act of spending ten minutes a day showing a genuine interest in our lives has brought our team closer together than ever.

Assegid points out that these moments are the common denominator that drives home our shared humanity. “We’re working with other humans. Now we need to invest even more in relating to one another,” she explains. “If you just jump right into a meeting, you’ll miss your opportunity to relate.”

Assegid recently held an online training about emotional intelligence and teamwork to a group of people, more than half of whom were in Ethiopia. “I waited and waited, and no one from Ethiopia joined the training. Sixty participants just didn’t show. What had happened was, the internet was shut down in Ethiopia because an influential person was killed the night before, but they had no way of communicating this with me,” says Assegid. “I took a few minutes to collect myself and explain to the rest of the group how I was feeling before beginning the training.”

This set the tone for Assegid and helped the trainees connect and begin the discussion on the same level. If Assegid hadn’t known to tap into her emotional intelligence during that moment, she might have canceled or rescheduled her training.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace is also referred to as a person’s emotional quotient (EQ). The ability to practice self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management is what allows people to understand problems and solve them appropriately—both of which are necessary for growth and success.

This is even more evident in a world that has become virtually two dimensional for colleagues and staff who work remotely. “If your internet goes out and you’re pushed out of a meeting or your sound isn’t working, remain calm and join again. If you stay calm, the others will stay calm,” says Assegid.

Cultivating emotional intelligence isn’t like flipping a switch. I’ve been thinking more about my EQ since I spoke with Assegid, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to remind myself to keep calm this morning when my sound wouldn’t work on Zoom. My heart started beating faster, but I called in for the audio, and within seconds, the situation was behind me.

Assegid recommends practicing mindfulness as a way to develop your EQ. Meditation and mindfulness can make space for reasoned and skillful responses, especially with charged feelings like anger, fear, and anxiety. “There are amazing apps, like Headspace, that can help with this. It does make a difference, and you will see it, even after ten minutes a day,” says Assegid. “You will be able to observe your life and job from a vantage point which enables you to guide yourself and be your own coach, in a way.”

Everyone can gain a professional edge, regardless of their industry, if they take the time to understand and control their emotions by practicing emotional intelligence. By cultivating more compassion and patience for those with whom we work closely, the hiccups that we experience along the way will be seen as human and relatable.