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What is Emotional Intelligence and Diversity?

It is widely known that diversity has the potential to bring many benefits to an organization such as increased creativity and market share. However, it is difficult to access these benefits when differences clash and emotions take center stage. Often leaders and employees alike do not know how to deal with these feelings to capitalize on diverse perspectives, styles and approaches. Developing the capacity to understand and manage feelings and deal effectively with others, no matter how great the differences, is a critical competence in today’s diverse workplace. The ability to do so depends in great part on emotional intelligence. The Center for Creative Leadership has identified three significant career derailers for executives: difficulty handling change, inability to work on a team and poor interpersonal relations. Click here to download the full article.

What Is Emotional Intelligence And Diversity?

While human beings function on both rational and emotional levels, emotions are at the heart of our energy, commitment and motivation. Feelings are also fundamental in forming our reactions to the differences we see in others, whether we approach or avoid, like or dislike, accept or reject. The more we understand and manage our emotional responses, the more we enjoy greater comfort in relationships, effectiveness in interactions and peace within ourselves.

Cherbosque, Gardenswartz and Rowe’s definition of Emotional Intelligence and Diversity (EID) expands the traditional definition of Emotional Intelligence so that it is relevant in today’s diverse world. EID involves the ability to feel, understand, articulate, manage and apply the power of emotions to interactions across lines of difference.

Diversity, those aspects across which we interact, can be understood as the multiple dimensions in which there are both similar and different. Dealing with others across these lines of difference often triggers powerful responses that require emotional intelligence to manage. These dimensions are best depicted in the model below.

E.I.D.I Model
From Diverse Teams at Work, Gardenswartz & Rowe (SHRM, 2003) * Internal Dimensions and External Dimensions are adapted from Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener, Workforce America!   (Business One Irwin, 1991)

While Emotional Intelligence is needed to function effectively anywhere, additional aspects are required in a world where we are bombarded daily with differences, in areas such as values, language, behaviors, preferences and norms. Whether these unfamiliar ways are intriguing or confusing, frustrating or delightful, desirable or disagreeable, they touch us at a feeling level and produce an emotional as well as an intellectual response. These emotional reactions lead to behaviors that can be effective or ineffective depending on our ability to deal effectively with our feelings.

The Emotional Intelligence we need to cope effectively in a diverse world involves both insight and action and focuses on both ourselves and others in order to have effective interactions and productive work groups.

Emotional Intelligence and Diversity

Affirmative InstrospectionA critical first step in developing the ability to deal with differences is an awareness of ourselves in order to understand our reactions to others. This involves a comfort with our own identity and an understanding of our values, passions, preferences and world view. It also involves becoming conscious of the biases and the assumptions that influence our attitudes toward others.

Awareness precedes choice and understanding ourselves helps us predict our own behavior and know why we are reacting and feeling a particular way. This insight is fundamental to managing our emotional reactions and behavior toward others.

Social Architecting

Destructive behaviors sometimes occur when powerful feelings triggered by differences guide our actions. Our emotions are a powerful source of energy and once we understand the whys behind our reactions, the next step is developing the ability to manage them. That energy needs to be managed and channeled in a constructive direction. Self-Governance involves gaining mastery over the feelings that differences evoke by being able to deal with ambiguity that is part of a diverse environment, being flexible and adaptable in the face of change and taking charge of the mental self talk that goes on when we encounter challenging differences. Often, the only control we have is over the messages we tell ourselves.

Intercultural Literacy

In a diverse world, understanding and managing ourselves is not enough. We also need to understand others in order to figure out the reasons and meaning behind their behavior. This third aspect involves understanding others’ cultural rules, norms, and values, and being able to empathize and metaphorically walk in their shoes. It also encompasses resisting the temptation to judge other’s behavior by our own standards and seeing the advantages and disadvantages of all cultural norms. This awareness and knowledge helps us to “read” the behavior of others more accurately so we can deal with them more effectively.

Social Arquitecting

The fourth component of EID focuses on developing the ability to consciously and intentionally structure our relationships and environments so that they are productive, fulfilling and satisfying for everyone. This arena of EID encompasses being able to serve as a cultural interpreter by helping others understand the different cultural norms and perspectives involved in situations. It also necessitates being able to resolve conflicts in ways that are mutually satisfying to all parties and creating welcoming, inclusive environments that allow the creative potential of diversity to be realized.

Emotional Intelligence: Beyond the Individual

Success, as an employee, manager or in any role in today’s diverse world requires us to develop competence in these four areas of Emotional Intelligence and Diversity so that we, as individuals and organizations, can be enriched by the diversity of our worlds. While the EID model has clear application and relevance for individuals, the same concepts apply to teams and organizations. Managers and team members alike share responsibility for building emotionally intelligent team environments. Leaders at the strategic level need to create policies and systems which reinforce and support the development and maintenance of emotionally intelligent organizations.

Key Aspects at each level are:

Individual level:

Team level:

Organizational level:

The four quadrants of EID apply at all three levels as illustrated in the figure below. While the individual application has been discussed in the earlier sections of this article, relevance at the team and organizational levels is discussed in the next section.

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