Emotional Intelligence: Baselines

Emotional intelligence relies on your understanding of your member’s emotional baselines. How you react to deviations in these baselines will influence your results.

Emotional intelligence, or your ability to manage the personalities of your members, is difficult primarily because each person has a unique personality that’s influenced by a variety of factors including but not limited to genetics, upbringing, current environment, and recent events. Your first task as a leader is simply to observe and take notes on your members. Unless you’re a neurosurgeon, you won’t be able to jump into a person’s brain and poke around. Though, you probably shouldn’t do that even if you are neurosurgeon. Therefore, you have two main sources of intel that will provide you information both on a member’s emotional state and on the context behind that state: body language and what the person deigns to tell you regarding their history. If you have not yet established sufficient trust with your members, the majority of your information will, at first, come from body language.
But in order for a person’s body language to make sense, we need to establish a person’s emotional baseline. A person’s baseline is how they operate on a daily basis when they’re feeling neutral. So, you’ll need to do some people watching. Take into account the body postures your members take, their vocal intonation, and how they interact with others. Are they a bit standoffish or shy? Are they active and engaged? Who do they interact with and how do others interact with them? Once you’ve established how these people act on a day to day basis, then you can begin the process of understanding how they feel. Ask them about future plans and motivations. Notice what subjects make them comfortable or uncomfortable. Understand where their limits are in terms of controversial subjects, ideas, and initiatives.
Once you’ve established how an individual acts on a day to day basis, you’re going to look for deviations. If a member who normally acts like a frenetic hamster is acting more reserved, something may be wrong. However, that same amount of energy in a historically comatose person might indicate either nervousness or excitement. Take those baselines into account and understand how the variations can be indications of mood and thought. Take note of minor variations and evaluate if you need to act. Large shifts in emotional output should be especially notable; it might be time to step in and see if you can provide assistance or celebration. That being said, you don’t need to react to everything. Most people are able to manage their ups and downs without outside assistance. Your primary goal is simply to take note and adjust accordingly.

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CS1: I once had a very enthusiastic member who had taken charge of an initiative to expand fundraising. She always was on time, aggressively pursued new leads, and documented her work. However, there was one status meeting where she came 15 minutes late and unprepared. After talking in circles for a bit, I put aside the documents we were working on and asked her what was wrong. She started off telling me she was fine, but after some empathetic digging, she informed me that she was going through a difficult time including issues with homesickness, grades, and figuring out her own future. I told her she had my full support and to take a couple of weeks off fundraising work. She thanked me, and when she returned, she was recharged and full of ideas.
CS2: During a work session, I got into a heated argument with a normally reserved and deliberate member. As tempers flared to a point where we were on the verge of saying unpleasant things to each other, I decided to take a step back. I asked him to step outside with me and inquired as to what was on his mind. After a bit of silence, he informed me that there had been a terrorist attack in his country of origin, and he was still in a state of shock. I had read about the incident earlier. I empathized with him and expressed my sorrow over the situation. We returned to the session with cooler heads and greater understanding.

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