Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

April 19, 2018 by Susanne MadsenSusanne Madsen



Until recently, popular opinion said that project managers’ experience levels and IQ were the best indicators of project success. But this perception is changing. These days, it’s more generally accepted that straight-up intelligence is only part of the success card. Now, PMs and leaders need a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ), too.

Having a high EQ means that you’re able to recognize and interpret other people’s emotions, and understand how these emotions affect the people around them. Having a working EQ also means that you understand how other people feel and see how they’re able to relate to others—which helps them lead and build better relationships.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are great to work with because they make others feel good, are able to motivate the troops and stay calm under pressure. These leaders aren’t easily angered or upset and don’t shout or blame when things go wrong. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?

But what can you do to develop your EQ skills? It doesn’t matter how far along in your career you are, it’s never too late to up your EQ quotient. Emotional intelligence is something that can be trained and improved at any age.

Here are six questions to ask yourself that will develop your emotional intelligence:

As a project manager it’s tempting to focus only on the work that’s being done, and overlook the more emotional and people-related aspects of the job. But, it’s people who deliver projects and people are influenced by their emotions—and often times a PM is managing the emotional weather system that surrounds a project.

This is a skill you want to have. One of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence is to be aware of your own emotional state, and that of others around you. As a leader, you do everyone a disservice if you’re not aware of the mood of the team. So, if you’re not someone who normally taps in to other people’s state of mind, start by tapping into your own.

Related: How to Manage Chaos: Advice on PM and Workplace Conundrums

The better you are at identifying your own emotional state, the better you’ll be able to recognize and understand other people’s emotions. To heighten your awareness, take time out during the day to ask yourself how you’re feeling (even if it feels weird at first!).

If someone calls you with news about your project, consider if it’s making you glad, sad, mad (angry) or scared (fearful). Consider this exercise as a way to develop your emotional awareness muscle. If you can tap into your team members’ moods and respond appropriately, your leadership skills will go through the roof, and so will your project results.

Another cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the ability to empathize with others. When you empathize you’re able to feel what’s going on for the other person right now. This ability is imperative if you want to motivate a team member, handle situations of conflict or build strong relationships of trust with the project’s stakeholders.

To strengthen your ability to empathize, make it a habit to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Step outside of yourself and imagine what it feels like to be that other team member or customer. And remember, if you’re not sure how someone is feeling, ask.

The ability to understand people on your project will get easier if you tune into people and really focus on what they’re saying. In contrast to hearing, which is an automatic reflex, active listening takes effort and requires that you put your own internal mind-chatter aside and concentrate on the person who is speaking.

To practice listening at your highest possible level, fully focus on the person in front of you, instead of considering what you want to say next. In this state of heightened awareness use your intuition to read them and ask: “What is the person really trying to say?”

Maintain your focus by repeating and paraphrasing what is being said, and stop yourself from interrupting by putting your tongue on “pause.” To put your tongue on pause, suspend it in the middle of the mouth where it neither touches the top part nor the bottom part of your month.

To increase your social skills and further strengthen your emotional intelligence muscle, build rapport with the people you work with. To build rapport, find out what you have in common, as the deepest rapport comes when interests, beliefs and values are matched and paced.

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