Community-based organizations (CBOs) are looked to by many as a source of emotional support. But if their staffs don’t have emotional intelligence—the ability to recognize, support and affirm one’s own emotions and the emotions of others—CBOs are not only likely to ineffective but could also create harm for their clients. At a Brown Bag Lunch Webinar held by the Black AIDS Institute in December 2017, participants learned how every individual in an organization can take steps to make emotional intelligence a part of his or her day-to-day activity.
Mental health awareness should play a role in every organization’s operating strategy, said webinar leader Yolo Akili Robinson, founder of the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, an organization that promotes mental and emotional health and healing in Black communities. It’s not just an important concept for an organization’s top leaders to grasp; it is also something that every employee can benefit from. “Each of us can be an agent of change or a facilitator of harm,” Robinson said.
Where does emotional intelligence come into play? A client may be experiencing anxiety, depression, or another mental or emotional condition that inhibits his or her day-to-day life. Depression may also keep a person living with HIV from taking his or her medication, which could not only harm that person’s health but also increase his or her risk of transmitting HIV to others. A colleague may be grappling with emotional challenges that can affect his or her productivity or effectiveness at work.
With an understanding of the emotional dynamics that are at play, employees at CBOs are better able to respond to such dilemmas.
Diving Deep into Emotional Intelligence
The webinar instructors went on to describe five domains of emotional intelligence:
- Emotional awareness has to do with how aware you are of your own emotions.
- Emotional management is your ability to acknowledge and express emotions.
- Social emotional awareness has to do with how aware you are of the people around you and how those people are feeling.
- Relationship management has to do with how you manage your relationships with other people.
- Emotional-harm reduction is a strategic approach to human interaction that seeks to limit the amount of emotional harm we inflict on communities or individuals.
If one person is lacking emotional intelligence, it can have an effect on the entire organization. For example, a leader who is unable to connect with employees emotionally could unintentionally give off the impression that he or she is cold and uncaring. If emotional intelligence is not prioritized, the supervisors at an organization might not know how to respond if they have employees who are suffering from their own traumas or from work-related stress. In worst-cases scenarios, organizations whose managers have little emotional intelligence could create an unfriendly environment that is subject to high employee turnover.
A lack of emotional intelligence can also impact a CBO’s effectiveness with clients. If an organization’s employees aren’t trained to recognize mental health and emotional issues, they might not be able to support clients who have mental stressors that are contributing to their problems. For organizations to run effectively, emotional intelligence must be a priority.
Cultivating Emotionally Intelligent Leadership
Emotionally intelligent leadership considers the emotional impact of work and intentionally creates an environment that fosters emotional wellness through practices and policies. There are a number of ways that anyone can contribute to such an environment:
- Know your own triggers and defense mechanisms so that your emotional baggage doesn’t get in the way of your interactions with others. That means being aware of how your actions affect others. “If I slam my hand down on a table in a staff meeting every time I’m angry, what type of environment does that create for folks?” Robinson asked.
- Develop a basic understanding of those who identify differently from you or who have a different culture, and recognize how specific choices may impact them. For example, you might ask yourself, “How am I supporting the professional development of Black transgender women in this organization?” Robinson said.
- Get comfortable expressing your own feelings. Some people wrongly believe that limiting emotional harm in the workplace means stifling their own feelings. On the contrary, it is important to express your feelings and set real emotional boundaries.
Organizations must constantly assess their practices and their culture to see how they’re doing when it comes to emotional intelligence. “It’s not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing journey,” Robinson said.
Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and personal growth.