Emotional Intelligence with Dr Ben Palmer

Dr Ben Palmer is the Chief Executive of Genos International and an expert in emotional intelligence, employee engagement and motivation.

In these 2 videos, Dr Palmer shares his insights into why emotional intelligence is important in school leadership.

Supporting your staff

Dr Ben Palmer explains how using the EAR model, which stands for empathise, alternatives and response, can help school leaders support their staff.

Ben Palmer

I have a model called EAR, which stands for empathise, alternatives and response. And what I mean by my EAR approach is, firstly, to be, just to have open mindful listening and to really know what happened, how did it make you feel? What would you like to see happen? That's the kind of empathise part.

And I think then 'alternatives' is about saying, "okay, what are we going to do about this? Let's come up with plan A, plan B. Let's think about that outcome we want and think about some different ways in which we might be able to tackle this now".

And then R is for response, okay, now that we've got a few different options in front of us, how should you respond? What will you do? What support can I provide? That sort of thing.

Emotional Intelligence for school leaders

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that help perceive and understand emotions. Dr Ben Palmer speaks about being emotionally intelligent as school leaders.

Ben Palmer

Look, emotional intelligence is a set of skills that help us perceive and understand emotions, that helps us express them, helps manage emotions within ourself and positively influence the emotions of others. Now, why is that important? Well, if you look into the science of emotions, you'll see that the way we feel influences 3 very important parts of ourselves.

Firstly, the way we feel influences our thoughts and the decisions that we make, you might not ask the boss for a pay rise or more resources if the boss is in a bad mood. The scientific term for it is mood congruent thought, but we're typically more closed-minded when we're in a bad mood and typically more open-minded when we're in a good mood. So emotions powerfully influence the way we think and the decisions that we make.

Secondly, if you think about it, your emotions show up in your tone of voice, in your facial expressions and in your body language and because of that, they're fundamental to how you connect, communicate, and collaborate with each other. They're very much at the heart of our relationships and how well we build them.

And finally, the way we feel influences the way we perform. Primary school teachers know this well, don't they? They set up their classrooms that create a certain emotional feel to them, one of positivity and creativity and, and things like that. And when people feel valued, when people feel cared for, when people feel consulted, when people feel informed, these are the kinds of emotions that we know drive and unleash people's potential and help them really flourish in their own performance.

So for leaders of schools, emotional intelligence is important because I think leading a school is all about helping unleash potential, not only in our students, but in our staff, helping them make the best decisions, helping them behave in a way that helps them connect, communicate, collaborate well with each other, with parents and with students as well, and of course, in terms of their own performance as a teacher, that's important.

And schools can be like a lot of other workplaces, a hotbed of emotions. The stakes are high, ultimately in schools, we have managing the educational development of someone, and so you get emotions from students themselves, you get emotions from staff, you get emotions from the system, you get emotions from the P and C committee and so on.

And so being able to manage your own emotions, influence them in others and really harness emotions and the productive quality of them is really important.

How does emotional intelligence relate to leadership?

I think we're just recognising more and more how relational teaching is and how important it is to work on relationships in education for student outcomes and this is not just happening in education.

Capgemini did a report pre-COVID that asked the business leaders that question, how important do your see are range of skills for 2021 and beyond? And emotional intelligence came out on top. The World Economic Forum listed as number 6 in terms of job skills for 2020 and beyond.

So demand for emotional intelligence in the corporate sector is said to increase six-fold over the next 3 years, and it seems to be now, having almost emerging from COVID, be a very critical skill, I think we've all turned our attention to empathy, we've all turned our attention to caring.

I think in education, we're probably in front of the curve, we've known these things for many years and I think we're ahead of the curve in terms of what we're doing to develop these skills in staff and in students, lots of social-emotional learning happens now.

What is the connection between emotional intelligence and relational trust?

One of the competencies of emotional intelligence is the capacity to effectively how you feel and to generate authenticity in your relationships, and this strongly relates to relational trust. There are 2 things that when we don't effectively express how we feel we often do.

The first is we're often sometimes blunt with our emotions. And when we're blunt with our emotions, that is express them without any regard for the context, the person at the other end, a certain president comes to mind by way of example, we often create fight or flight type responses. They might not be that strong, literal fight or flight, but we get disengagement or we get a lack of listening or we get dismissal of what's being said.

Of course the other ineffective way of expressing how you feel is to be guarded about the way you feel. And this happens to us all the time as leaders, there's a context that might require, for example, confidence that might require you to be calm. However, you might be feeling underneath the surface, stressed, anxious, concerned. I mean, this happened during COVID for a lot of people, didn't it?

And so when we are guarded about the way we feel, we think we're trying to exude a particular emotion, but that's not what we genuinely have, people sense that very easily and that's the root of misassumptions, that's the root of mistrust. We think we're getting confidence here, but it's not really what we have. Does that make sense?

So with relational trust, it really actually comes through the power of being effectively vulnerable. Brené Brown talks about this wonderfully a lot in her work, that is being able to express your sadness or being able to express your stress or being able to express your anger at the right time, to the right degree in the right way, in a way that gets engagement. And that takes a lot of finesse as a leader, but when done well, it really creates connection and it really creates, and is at the heart, in my opinion of relational trust.

The other thing about relational trust is in leadership we often have to perform very difficult tasks in school leadership. We have to give performance feedback by way of example, that we know is going to be difficult at the other end of the spectrum to take and I think if you're looking to the work of people like Viviane Robinson, those who do it well have really the art of not sugarcoating it, but not giving it in a way that creates confusion or that creates concern, or that gets in the way of the effective relationship.

That takes a lot of finesse and I think it's emotional intelligence, it's things like our self-awareness, knowing how the other person's going to respond, to react and really taking that kind of intentional planning to your approach. This is emotional intelligence in action and how it really relates and builds into relational trust.

What are your tips on providing effective feedback?

I think firstly, we've got to plan on the technical elements of it. That is, we've got to understand where performance is at in our opinion and where it needs to be, and we need to have our examples ready to share. That's what I would call planning around the technical elements of it, for want of a better word.

Then I think we really need to plan around the emotional elements of it. How will this person take this feedback? How best should I give it to them? What emotion do I want to bring to it, or could I bring to it? If somebody starts objecting strongly to what I have to say, how am I going to be curious, how am I going to demonstrate intellectual humility, but also talk about my truth and put on the table what I see as where performance is at?

Now those sorts of things really take self-awareness, self-management, those things really, to do those kind of things well, you really need your awareness of others and empathy, you've got to know how people are going to take this kind of thing, in other words, predict it and plan appropriately around it.

One of the toughest things to do in this kind of work is sometimes give 360 feedback that's really not commensurate with the person's view of themselves, they think they're doing okay from a self-awareness empathy perspective, from a management perspective, self-management, and they're clearly not and that's in the report.

That can be a very tough conversation for someone. It can be something that really shakes up someone's own schema of themselves, if you like. It's the equivalent though, if you sugarcoat it or not say it as the doctor knowing you've got cancer and not telling you, you've got to deliver this kind of feedback, sure with care, but you have to deliver it for what it is and know that it will be received tough, but also know that it could be a life-changing event for that person.

It's the very, perhaps, beginning sometimes of someone realising and recognising why people walk the other way when they see them coming down the corridor or why they don't get asked for their opinion, as much as they'd like in meetings and things like that.

These are the little anecdotes that underpin all our micro behaviours that we have around a person. And so I think what we need to keep sight of is yes, it's going to be tough, but it's also going to be so developmentally profound sometimes for someone to reflect on that kind of feedback and take it.

Return to top of page Back to top