Have you ever worked for someone who made you scratch your head and wonder, “How did he get to be the boss?” Does the guy in the next cubicle proclaim his greatness on a daily basis? When five o’clock strikes, are you just thankful you have made it through the day without telling that rigid, unyielding controller how you really feel about her? If so, you aren’t alone, and might even be one of the millions of Americans who tune in each week to NBC’s The Office and relate to the all-too-common office shenanigans.
The show depicts a working environment that, like many offices, holds people who are offbeat, often politically incorrect, and at times incredibly insensitive; and, like most offices, there is a single element of the human psyche that goes missing long enough to create chaos.
The Culprit? Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
Emotional intelligence is the ability to effectively understand one’s self and others, relating well to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands.
Let’s take a look at the emotional intelligence profiles of some of the key players in “The Office” to learn how they contribute.
The first culprit who affects others with his less than perfect EQ score of 82 is human resources representative Toby Flenderson:
“Actually, I didn't think it was appropriate to invite children since it's, uh, you know...there's gambling and alcohol...and it's in our dangerous warehouse...it's a school night, and you know, uh... Hooters is catering. You know, is that not—is that enough? Should I keep going?”
If you can get past the clichéd depiction of a corporate lackey whose sole purpose is to wander the halls making sure everyone is following the rules, there is a valuable EQ lesson to be learned from Toby. You see, like most of us, Toby is far better at using his EQ when responding to other people’s problems. He approaches other people’s miscues following rule #61630; even the outlandish acts perpetrated by branch manager Michael Scott as directed by #61630 objectively. When the sticky situation is his own, however, Toby’s emotions take control of his behavior. Hijacked by his emotions, Toby loses the balancing effects of his reason and ends up behaving just as badly as the rest of his coworkers in “The Office.”
The next one on our hit list is delusional manager Michael Scott, with an EQ score of 54:
“There is always a distance between a boss and the employees. It is just nature’s rule. It’s intimidation, mostly; it’s the awareness that they are not me.”
Watch any episode of “The Office” and Michael’s deficiencies in EQ are in plain view. As the manager of the Scranton branch, Michael’s boss is hundreds of miles away, and he takes full advantage of the freedom by doing, well, whatever he wants. His biggest problem? Michael suffers from a tremendous lack of self-awareness, so even when he’s trying to do right by his employees his actions are muddied by his own self-interest. Couple this with his inability to self-manage, and you have a Scranton manager that doesn’t recognize when his own behavior is problematic and isn’t able to stop himself in the rare instance that he knows better.
And, finally, we have assistant, Dwight Schrute, with an EQ score of 58:
“I am ready to face any challenges that might be foolish enough to face me.”
Where do we begin with Dwight? The first thing people notice about this assistant to the branch manager is that he’s a kiss-up. He fawns over Michael, seemingly indifferent to his coworkers’ (and even Michael’s) irritation. Dwight is actually quite good at sticking to his guns, but his lack of social awareness means he doesn’t comprehend the significance of his coworkers’ ire. The result? Dwight is a top-notch employee when working alone and an utter failure in any task that requires cooperation. As the office nerd, his coworkers could reject him over his love of Lazer Tag and Battle Star Galactica, but they don’t have to. He earns no respect from his colleagues because he doesn’t expend any effort in understanding them. Dwight is so lacking in social awareness that the rare attempt to connect with his coworkers is doomed to failure.
While some might dismiss these depictions from “The Office” as sarcastic and crude, they do mirror the real workplace enough that we can learn something important from them, so long as we can stop laughing long enough to pay attention. If any of the above mentioned characters reminds you of someone you work with, the following are some relationship management strategies from the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to help you manage your relationships and successfully communicate your way through any challenging day at work.
Tackle a Tough Conversation
From the boardroom to the break room, tough conversations will surface, and it is possible to calmly and effectively handle them. Tough conversations are inevitable; forget running from them because they’re sure to catch up to you. Though EQ skills can’t make these conversations disappear, acquiring some new skills can make these conversations a lot easier to navigate without ruining the relationship.
1. Start with agreement. If you know you are likely to end up in a disagreement, start your discussion with the common ground you share.
2. Ask the person to help you understand his or her side. People want to be heard; if they don’t feel heard, frustration rises.
3. Resist the urge to plan a “comeback” or a rebuttal. Your brain cannot listen well and prepare to speak at the same time
4. Help the other person understand your side, too. Describe your discomfort, your thoughts, your ideas, and the reasons behind your thought process.
5. Move the conversation forward. Once you understand each other’s perspective, even if there’s disagreement, someone has to move things along.
6. Keep in touch. The resolution to a tough conversation needs more attention even after you leave it, so check progress frequently. When you enter a tough conversation, prepare yourself to take the high road, not be defensive, and remain open.