Anthony Mersino was 39-years-old and had already been a successful project manager for more than 17 years when a therapist asked him: “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is not to be in touch with your feelings?”
That was 16 years ago, and Mersino recalls that at the time he couldn’t fathom why it was dangerous not to make a connection with his emotions – but he soon learned and now spends time advising other professionals to do the same.
“The more I talk to people, the more I find others who grew up in ways that they didn’t learn to be in touch with their emotions as a child, or stuffed those feelings down,” he says.
The result, he says, is professionals such as project managers who alienate others with their lack of empathy or emotional awareness and end up hurting their careers and the bottom line of their companies.
Still, Mersino says developing emotional intelligence isn’t a quick fix, and he’s living proof.
“It’s still something I struggle with,” Mersino says. “Even this week I was feeling nervous about a meeting and for some reason I made a joke at someone else’s expense – someone I get along with.”
Mersino says that when the therapist began coaching him on emotional intelligence more than a decade ago, “I had a biting edge to my humor,” which he now knows can damage relationships.
“I think I’ve gotten better at it, but when I get uncomfortable, then I make a joke” that backfires, he says.
Mersino, now an agility coach, still meets with his therapist because while he believes he has developed better listening and empathy skills, he knows that developing positive relationships with others are key to his success.
As author of “Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results,” Mersino says that the advice in his book really applies to anyone. “What people need to understand is that it’s not having authority that allows you to get things done – it’s your relationship to others,” he says.
While emotional intelligence may be considered a sensitive subject that should be handled by human resource departments, more executives are underscoring it at an essential business concern.
For example, a recent PwC survey finds that 77% of CEOs are concerned that key skills shortages could hurt their bottom line – and soft skills are seen as the most valuable and the most difficult to find. Creative, innovative leaders with emotional intelligence are “in short supply” the report finds.
Further, business research is making the case that companies will begin hiring and retaining those with higher emotional intelligence. For example, PepsiCo executives who were picked for the emotional intelligence spurred 10% greater productivity, while high emotional intelligence sales people at L’Oreal generated $2.5 million more in sales, research shows.
Emotional intelligence is seen as the ability to use emotions effectively, and a way for leaders to foster a workplace that spurs greater innovation, creativity, collaboration and productivity. For companies striving for a competitive advantage, emotional intelligence is beginning to take on more significance.
“I think that if you need to lead people, or persuade them, you’ve got to develop greater emotional intelligence,” Mersino says. “I think it’s crucial for everyone.”
Mersino says he began to confront the reality of his situation when he thought of the “bumpy” career path that he was on, the promotions that seemed to pass him by. He says that “my career ladder had literally run out of rungs.” During that time, he began to think about his lack of emotional intelligence, but had not yet read Daniel Goleman’s bestseller, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” He admits he wasn’t even sure what emotional intelligence meant in the context of his work life.
But he says he now knows that emotional intelligence is critical for success of an individual and a company, and that applies to those in project management. Research shows better sales from those who are considered emotionally intelligent, improved customer service from those representatives who have higher emotional intelligence and superior leadership from emotionally intelligent leaders. Further, companies have found that using emotional intelligence in training and change initiatives within the organization can see reduced costs associated with lower turnover, absenteeism and poor performance.
Mersino says that while many project managers have mastered various project scheduling tools and achieved certifications in their field, they may be forced to work harder if they lack emotional intelligence skills. Or, they may try to say it’s not them, but the other guy who lacks emotional intelligence.
“Where I see the biggest mistakes is when people tell me they need my book in order to fix someone else,” he says. “They never think of how they could fix themselves, and it’s usually what you see wrong in the other person that is the source of your own insecurity.”
Mersino points out that project managers can’t afford to neglect their emotional intelligence, as they’re forced to do more with fewer resources and often are leading the charge when it comes to change. That means that in order to get things done, they have to work more collaboratively across various departments and will need better emotional intelligence abilities.
“I can tell you that if you’re someone who can’t empathize with others and put yourself in their shoes, it’s something that you can learn,” Mersino says. “I know I’m still very much learning.”