Architecture firms tout their human-centered design, so why does our profession seem to lack emotionally intelligent leaders? On online message boards, I repeatedly see posts from emerging architects, working mothers, and mid-career professionals about all too familiar topics: a lack of transparency in business decisions; doing more with less staff; and unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus because of firm-mandated in-person work and site visits.

Though design practices must make difficult choices in their efforts to keep the doors open during this downturn, they can be better about implementation. (See Oliver Wainwright’s Oct. 12 piece in The Guardian for accounts of labor abuses and malpractices in architecture.) Now, more than ever, firm leaders should empathize with what their employees are experiencing: employment uncertainty, juggling caregiving responsibilities for both older relatives and children, and maintaining mental wellness in an unforgiving news cycle.

Leaders need to demonstrate emotional intelligence. In fact, a study by TalentSmart discovered that an individual’s EQ (shorthand for emotional intelligence) is the strongest predictor of individual and team performance over 33 other workplace skills. Specifically, the researchers found that 90% of top performers in the workplace across the career spectrum also score high in EQ.

American psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey coined the term emotional intelligence in 1990. A decade later, the field became more popular through the work of psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman. EQ is typically broken down into four areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Self-awareness is both the ability to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses as well as to recognize how one’s emotions affect themselves and their team.

Self-management examines how one turns a potential reaction into a response. More specifically, it refers to how one manages their emotions, particularly through stressful situations, and how one maintains a positive outlook for themselves and their team.

Social awareness is all about an individual’s ability to read the room by recognizing others’ emotions and how those dynamics play out within, for example, a firm setting.

Finally, relationship management looks at a person’s ability to influence, coach, and mentor others effectively as well as their ability to resolve conflict.

Now, more than ever, firm leaders should empathize with what their employees are experiencing.

Emotional intelligence plays out in all aspects of business, including how you communicate with your clients. Velchamy Sankarlingam, president of product and engineering at Zoom, showcased his EQ following the massive East Coast and Midwest outage of the video-calling platform in August, on what was the first day of school for millions of families. Sankarlingam emailed this public statement to its users:

“We always take very seriously our responsibility to keep you connected, and we know that you are relying on us during this particularly challenging time. We deeply regret this incident and sincerely apologize. I’m personally disappointed that we have let you down and I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

I am proud of our dedicated team working to enable our customers’ work, schooling, and social lives during the global health crisis. We are intensely focused on scaling our collaboration and cloud technology to help Zoom reliably connect the world now and in the future. I’m here to get this right and will personally do my best to prevent disruptions like this from happening in the future. Zoom’s availability and reliability is a top priority and we appreciate all of your support.”

Through his email, Sankarlingam acknowledged everyone who was affected by the outage, addressed what his company was doing to correct the situation, took responsibility for what happened, and vowed that Zoom will do better in the future. Personally, I have always appreciated the lessons that were co-learned through not only the wins of my managers, but also the disappointments.

You may think your EQ is high, but you may also be wrong. Research by Denver-based organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found that 95% of people claim to be self-aware, but only 10% to 15% actually are. One way to gauge yourself is by completing a 360-degree feedback review, which measures your assessment of your own performance against those of your boss, peers, and direct reports.

But, as with all leadership skills, EQ can be learned. Here are 10 ways to help you build your EQ—and perhaps increase your chances of becoming a high performer:

  1. Understand what triggers you, how those triggers affect your emotions, and ultimately how your response affects those with whom you regularly work.
  2. Ask for feedback regularly and openly so that others feel comfortable giving you feedback. Make it a regular occurrence; for example, at the end of every video call.
  3. Actively listen to others and objectively offer them feedback in a way in which they feel safe enough to give you the same.
  4. Meditate or keep a gratitude journal that helps you keep a clear mind and a positive outlook.
  5. Focus as much or more on other people’s perspectives as you do in making your own opinion heard. Hold AMA (ask me anything) town halls or office hours during which employees know they can ask you questions without repercussions.
  6. Model the norms that you expect from your office. If you are an employee, take time to understand cultural norms and how you’re expected to follow them.
  7. Take additional time to read the dynamics of every situation before jumping to conclusions whenever you are meeting with two or more individuals. Ask yourself what about the people, the surroundings, and your own emotions may be informing how you react.
  8. Manage expectations through transparent communications that explain why decisions were made, as well as what went into the decision-making process. Acknowledge that the outcome is rarely one that everyone agrees with. Over-communicate when necessary.
  9. Accept that conflict can happen, but do not be afraid to engage in difficult conversations. Learn how to give constructive feedback that is as helpful as it is direct.
  10. Nurture all the relationships in your life, both personal and professional.

The views and conclusions from this author are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of The American Institute of Architects.