Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

To help improve service to customers (and colleagues), go beyond what you know

February 27, 2013

In the many presentations we have given over the years, one of the most powerful and most common questions we receive deals with psychology.

The topic came up most recently when we were preparing a presentation on how library staff can communicate more effectively with information technology staff members. We initially wanted to emphasize that when working with IT staff, it’s crucial to prepare and discuss lists of processes, procedures, and tips.

But as our session date drew closer, we began to think about interactions with IT personnel in terms of emotions.

What stereotypical assumptions do librarians make about people in information technology? Why might they act a certain way when speaking with nontechie library staff? What emotional baggage or misconceptions do librarians bring to some of these situations? Applying the concept of emotional intelligence can smooth things out between the two groups and create more efficiency, harmony, and progress.

As a result, here’s what we included in that presentation:

  1. Our jobs are not about specific departments or personalities. Our jobs are about the library, its mission, and our service to library customers. Remembering this is important; it keeps us focused on organizational goals and strategy rather than on distractions stemming from emotional reactions during a planning meeting.
  2. We need to consciously focus on emotional intelligence in library interactions. It can be tempting to concentrate on things we are most familiar with, like these common performance predictors: intelligence, education, experience, or personality. These are important, but they aren’t enough. Weaving the critical factor of emotional intelligence into our interactions at the library—whether in hiring, communicating across departments, or simple day-to-day interactions with staff and customers—is critical.
  3. We must work to develop our emotional intelligence because it will help us more accurately perceive emotions in ourselves and others. We can then use emotions to facilitate our thinking, understand emotional meanings, and assist us as we manage our own set of emotions. In other words, higher levels of emotional intelligence make us more effective at meeting our own needs and interacting with others. This makes us more credible and ultimately helps us fulfill the mission of the library.

How can we develop our emotional intelligence? A good first step is simply to recognize its importance and maintain an awareness of our reactions as they happen. Examining the emotional reactions of others, particularly in difficult times, is also important. Listening, understanding, having patience, empathizing, showing strength and resilience—these are all key components.

But there is much more to learn. If the topic interests you or your staff, then encourage and support continuing education in this area. The rewards can be powerful and will extend across your organization and personal life.

DAVID LEE KING is digital branch and services manager for Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library.

MICHAEL PORTER is currently leading the effort of the e-content–centric nonprofit Library Renewal and has worked for more than 20 years as a librarian, presenter, and consultant for libraries.