Five Tips on Coaching for Emotional Intelligence

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 09, 2024

By Bob Wall

Can coaching have an impact on emotional intelligence?

This is a question worth asking. Some might believe that dysfunctional behaviors related to emotional intelligence are best left to therapists, but if the behaviors addressed in coaching can be linked to a person's success on the job, almost anything is open for discussion. Your job as a coach is to help people perform on the job. You may have people on your team whose lack of self-confidence makes them reluctant to speak up in meetings, especially when senior managers are present. Or you may be coaching people who disrupt team meetings with inappropriate displays of anger.

Coaching for emotional intelligence is not therapy. Rather, it’s about keeping the focus of coaching conversations where they belong: on the person's performance at work and the limiting impact certain behaviors may have on his ability to get work done with and through other people.

Last month, Performance & Profits posed the question: Which trait do you think is the most revealing sign of a high emotional IQ? Here's what you said:

Five Requirements for Effective Coaching

To be effective in coaching for emotional intelligence requires that you exhibit and master the following behaviors:
1. Continuous improvement of your own emotional intelligence
2. Personal mastery of vision and values
3. Strong personal relationships with your direct reports
4. Frequent spontaneous coaching
5. Structured conversations when spontaneous coaching doesn't get the job done

Continuous Improvement of Your Own Emotional Intelligence

To provide coaching for emotional intelligence, you must become a student of the topic and start developing those aspects of your own emotional competencies that need improvement. You will hardly be a credible coach if you don't model the very behaviors you are asking people to develop.

This is not as easy as it may seem. Most of us have blind spots, that is, flaws in our own characters that probably developed early in life and are so much a part of us that we don't even see them in ourselves. A recent study reported findings that upper-level executives have inflated views of themselves when it comes to emotional intelligence. Comparing self-ratings with ratings provided by people who work with and for them, executives rated themselves as much more competent in emotional intelligence than did people who worked with them frequently and knew them quite well.

As you learn more about providing better coaching for your direct reports, you will start to catch yourself in the act of behaving in ways that indicate a need for improvement in your own emotional competencies. In time you'll discover that you are making personal changes because you have been paying more attention to displays of emotional intelligence among your staff.

Personal Mastery of Vision and Values

Mastery of vision and values begins with declaring your vision and values. There are two levels to take into consideration. Your company probably has a mission statement and a statement of core values. Every leader in the organization must consider how well he or she is personally living up to both. Even one visible leader being allowed to remain in the organization in spite of treating people in ways that are a gross violation of the company's stated values creates cynicism within the organization.

When I work with executive teams on mission and corporate values, I caution them that this kind of work is never neutral. Stated values represent promises being made to the organization. When these organizations have leaders whose behavior is clearly out of sync with the company's stated values and nothing is done about it, all it does is create greater cynicism and even despair in the rest of the organization.

In addition to the corporate mission and values, every leader should have a personal vision statement and a list of core values.

Strong Personal Relationships with Your Direct Reports

You cannot hold yourself at a personal distance and still build the personal influence that will allow you to be an effective coach of emotional intelligence. Note the use of the words "personal relationship." That does not mean that you have the same kind of relationship you might have with a close friend outside of work. There are different levels of intimacy, and you want your relationship with your direct reports to be appropriate to the workplace. That does not mean that you share every intimate detail of your life with them. But it does mean reaching out and establishing contact with people at a personal level. It means getting to know people and what is important to them. You learn about their aspirations, their dreams, and their families.

This is a two-way street. You must let people get to know you as well. You can talk about your vision and values. You can share something you've read that inspired you recently. You let people know about your professional history and important events that shaped the progress of your career. You may talk about leaders who have been influential in your development and what qualities these people had that touched you. And you share enough details about your personal life so that people can feel a sense of connection with the person behind the role you play in their lives.

A personal connection with your associates is essential in earning the personal influence required to coach for emotional intelligence. Remember, people need to know that you genuinely care about them and that you have their best interests at heart. They want to know that you pay attention to what they do and that you appreciate the effort they make to make you and your team look good. They also want to know that you support them attaining their personal and professional goals. This means providing them with feedback on their performance on a regular basis.

Frequent Spontaneous Coaching

People need to know that you are paying attention to what they do and that they can count on frequently hearing from you regarding what you appreciate about their performance as well as how they can improve. Coaching needs to be something that becomes a routine part of your relationships with people, rather than an occasional conversation when someone makes a glaring error or makes an outstanding contribution that demands recognition.

Praising someone need not take longer than 15 to 20 seconds. You should praise or say thanks to each of your direct reports at least once a week. Acknowledgment lets people know that you are paying attention to their performance and that you appreciate their efforts. It also accomplishes something else. If people are used to getting positive feedback from you on a regular basis, it makes them more open and receptive to your corrective coaching.

Structured Conversations When Spontaneous Coaching Doesn't Get the Job Done

Because most people want to do a good job, frequent praise and corrective feedback is all it takes to help people keep growing and get better at what they do. On occasion, you may run into employees who do not respond to your coaching. If their performance or interpersonal relationships are proving to be a serious detriment to the work that needs to get done, you will have to bring a more rigorous and disciplined approach to your coaching.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from Coaching for Emotional Intelligence by Bob Wall. Copyright 2006, Bob Wall. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. Click here for more information about this title.

About the Author(s)

Bob Wall is an independent consultant specializing in leadership and team development who has trained and coached thousands of managers. His clients include CapitalOne, Pier One Imports, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, Aon Corp., Microsoft, GTE, and State Farm Insurance, as well as health-care, government, and military organizations. He lives in Ridgefield, CT.