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How to use Emotional Intelligence to improve performance

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Discover the "If, Then, What" EQ Technique

There are countless management approaches out there that are used to change performance, many of them are successful to some degree or another, but  research suggests that using Emotional Intelligence in a way that provides colleagues with specific, easily understandable and achievable goals could be one of the most effective ways to improve performance.

Of course, giving tasks to members of a working team is key to every management strategy, but what separates an Emotional Intelligence (EQ) approach from others in this regard, is that it can be used to motivate colleagues in a way that effectively taps in to emotionally driven behaviour to increase productivity?

One way in which EQ can be used to do this is by using an 'if-then' model for decision making.

If, Then, What?

The idea comes from decades of psychological research.

A rule is applied to specific outcomes, where a manager would already have an idea of what to do if a specific event took place. 

For example, 'If the traffic light changes to green, then move forward', or, 'If it is cold outside, wear a warm coat'.

In management, these simple steps can be clearly defined as providing guidance to employees or staff in the form of 'If task A is not completed, then carry out behaviour B to achieve desired outcome'.

For example, a member of a sales team might be instructed to change their approach to a potential customer based on their response to a sales pitch.

Where's the Emotional Intelligence in that?

This 'if-then' choice mechanism can be used in almost any approach to coaching or management, but, when used from an EQ perspective, you are focusing on understanding and changing the underlying emotions that impact on the behaviour you are trying to change, making the chances of success much higher.

For example, one simple use of Emotional Intelligence and 'if-then' decision making would be: 'If I cannot concentrate because I am feeling stressed, then go for a twenty minute walk'.

Focusing on changing the emotions to effect the behaviour.

For example, 'If two colleagues are clashing over a desired outcome, then talk to both about how they feel (get them to separate their emotions from the behaviour).

Then get them to think about what they are looking for in terms of outcome, from an emotional and behavioural perspective, finding the best compromise available'.

Using these 'if-then' rules in tandem with your own Emotional Intelligence is hugely effective in maximising management-to-employee outcomes and also employee-to-employee interactions; in other words, you are attempting to achieve the best possible solutions based on an emotional awareness of yourself and those around you.

But what evidence is there to back up the use of this 'if-then' strategy from an emotional rather than behavioural perspective?

The Research

Research carried out by Aukje Verhoeven and her colleagues seems to suggest that 'if-then' decision making rules, when applied with Emotional Intelligence, are a successful way to guide people towards positive, desired outcomes.

In one study, 63 young women who desired to lose weight were asked to keep a diary for three days, documenting their eating habits. 

This data was then used to identify behavioural cues which resulted in unhealthy snacking. The goal was to determine which approach would be most effective in changing those cues from resultant unhealthy snacking behaviour into healthy snacking behaviour.

Three groups were formed from the participant pool. One group was asked to substitute unhealthy snacks for healthy ones; the second group was asked to use a simple 'if-then' strategy to use cues which would normally lead to them eating unhealthy food in a way which resulted in eating healthy food, while the third group was asked to use multiple 'if-then' strategies for each cue.

The results showed that those in the first group and those in the singular 'if-then' category were far more likely to change their undesired behaviours into desired ones, while those using multiple strategies failed to change their diets significantly.

A second study involved 93 men and women that aimed to discover why single 'if-then' strategies seemed to work for achieving a desired behaviour while multiple strategies failed.

The rationale behind the study was that multiple 'if-then' strategies or rules possibly cancel one another out, not allowing any one strategy to forge an emotional association strong enough to change someone's behaviour, whereas a single 'if-then' provides the needed focus to achieve the desired outcome, in this case eating healthily.

The context of the study was once again unhealthy snacking, and the participants were split into three groups, one 'if-then' category, a multiple 'if-then' category, and finally a 'mixed' group which comprised of one 'if-then' plan for unhealthy snacking and two subsequent 'if-then' plans for a completely unrelated goal, namely academic achievement.

At the end of the data gathering phase, all participants were tested with a standard psychology priming measure which looks to gauge the strength of emotional associations within an individual based on how quickly they can recognise words which are momentarily flashed upon a screen. In this case participants were presented with cues which had been identified as precursors to undesired behavioural outcomes, i.e. snacking.

So, for example, a cue such as 'Boredom' would be shown on a computer screen, quickly followed by another word which would flash for only a few milliseconds and then disappear. This follow-up word would be either a nonsense made-up word, an associated 'good' healthy food word, or an associated 'bad' unhealthy food word.

Participants were then asked whether the follow-up word was a real word or not. The theory behind this type of experiment is that participants will more quickly identify a real word which is linked to their behaviour, i.e. if you eat unhealthily you will more speedily identify unhealthy food words as real.

The results of the experiment showed that both the single 'if-then' group and the 'mixed' group both identified 'healthy' follow-up words more readily than the multiple strategy group. 

The results show that  the use of a singular 'if-then' strategy is better at producing a stronger emotional association and positive desired behaviour (eating healthily) than providing multiple options when presented with cue.

The EBW View

The research suggests that using your EQ in determining appropriate, singular, 'if-then' strategies creates a substantially stronger emotional association than multiple strategies, resulting in a far higher chance of obtaining a desired behaviour.

Here are a some ideas to start implementing the EQ approach to the 'if-then' decision process to improve coaching and management performance.

Identifying destructive behaviours in yourself which are directly governed by emotional factors such as annoyance, jealousy, unhealthy competitiveness, and other cognitive quirks which may adversely affect your management effectiveness.

Once identified, break those negative behavioural outcomes down and look for an internal emotional cue on which you will then apply a positive 'if-then' approach to.

So, if I recognise this emotional cue A, do B and not react to the emotional cue.

Use this technique to more effectively identify in your colleagues times when they might be going through the same negative decision making process from cue to unhelpful behaviour.

Intervene in a positive way to suggest an 'if-then' approach to help them achieve a desired outcome.

Understanding and using "If, Then, What? technique with a focus on emotions" to motivate and influence is a key EQ tool that every leaders and managers needs to build successful teams and organisations.

Discover how EBW provides leaders and managers with the skills and tools to inspire and change how people work together. PowerfulLeadership.


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Based on over 20 years of worldwide use and research, it enables you to get leaders and teams to understand why they behave the way they do and use a highly effective 10 step framework to improve their occupational performance.

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