Using emotional intelligence to improve project performance


The business climate has changed inalterably and to optimize project results, while simultaneously maximizing use of resources it is necessary and timely for project managers to understand and apply the principles of Emotional Intelligence (EI). You have to create a climate where clients, team members, sponsors and management can communicate with clarity, deal more effectively with challenges and make committed choices to act strategically and swiftly. Abraham Maslow said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will treat everything as a nail.” Understanding and using EI is now critical for success.

This topic could not be timelier in 2002. It has been postulated that on average the competition can duplicate and better any technology in six to nine weeks. So what is going to distinguish your company, your project team, your deliverables? Not necessarily your technology. It will be your ability to provide the correct project environment that will allow team members to be motivated and use their potential. To maximize the environmental effects it is absolutely necessary to raise EI. Today's workforce has very different needs relating to fulfillment and values. Project leaders must understand and accommodate for these differences. If done well, the result will be enhanced performance.

This abstract will define EI and demonstrate how Project Managers can use EI to improve project performance.


Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to sense, understand, manage and apply the information and power of emotions as your greatest source of energy, motivation, connection and influence. Antiquated thinking said: leave emotions out of it. You cannot. Emotions are always present and nothing great has ever been accomplished without the power of emotions behind it. By suppressing the information given to you by your emotions, you are making decisions with limited data. Emotions are not good or bad; they are information. It is how you manage your responses to your emotions that is good or bad. EI is the ability to intentionally manage your emotions so that they work for you both professionally and personally. It is not about being nice. It is about being authentic and meeting your own, unique identified needs while helping others to identify and meet their unique needs. It is absolutely necessary to have good EI in order to reason well and be competitive.

Individual project team members have an EQ, Emotional Intelligence Quotient, and project teams have an EQ, which can be assessed. Research shows that teams that attain and sustain high performance have a high EQ. According to current studies, EQ is now considered to be twice as important as IQ, technical experience and education for success. When you have a good EQ you can use your IQ to make rational choices.


There is a Scientific Basis for EI

Emotional Intelligence is not an oxymoron. In the late 1980s due to advanced brain wave scan technology, the “Emotional Brain” was discovered. Neuroscience proves that reason and emotion, the neo-cortex and the limbic system, (the emotional brain), are meant to be used together. The limbic system provides meaning to your actions and without meaning it is impossible to align and commit.

The Results are Proven

The documentation is overwhelming, high EI contributes to project success and impacts the bottom line. As one of many project examples, take the prestigious Bell Labs in Princeton, New Jersey where so many of our great technological advances came from. When examining the star project performers, the one trait that they all had in common was their ability to effectively use EI to build networks to problem solve and create.

You Can Increase Your EQ

Your IQ is fairly fixed. Your EQ can be raised easily with immediate results for your project team. A high EQ will allow you to better use your IQ. Think of a time when you were angry or jealous? How well were you able to analyze situations and make sound decisions?

Emotions are Intelligent

They are irreplaceable resources, which provide you with invaluable information. When you think of significant accomplishments, you realize that they were all driven by emotions—relationships, product announcements, running a marathon, project award. Feelings are indispensable for rational decision making because they assign values to your choices. Emotions are your source of energy. They are your project team's source of energy. The marriage of emotions and reason has been the driving force behind art, culture, science, technology and all significant and successful accomplishments.

Benefits of Increasing EI

Use emotions to improve and guide your thinking. A low EQ basically equates to poor performance and middle management forever. We all know people with amazing IQs who just don't “get it.” They offend people, are poor team members, may be sarcastic, cannot build relationships, get defensive easily, cannot transition quickly during times of change, have a hard time sustaining commitment and do not have an awareness of their deficiencies. In contrast those with high EQ are able to: weather storms, avoid taking things personally, network effectively and focus their energy and efforts on identified goals.

Be able to persuade and influence others. High EI allows you to discover and express your authenticity. Recognizing, responding, and respecting yourself will cause others to recognize, respond, and respect you. You will be better able to communicate with impact, build relationships, and keep the project team aligned and motivated throughout the project duration.

Remove barriers to working with others. Those with high EQ increase trust and leverage the potential of others to create breakthrough strategies for increasing shareholder value.

Quickly transform change, problems and conflict into opportunities.

Assist your team in producing project success. Ninety percent of the CSFs (Critical Success Factors) for successful project implementation are directly linked to Emotional Intelligence (XICOM—Project Implementation Profile). Most of you do achieve four of the five success criteria by which we measure projects: (1) on time, (2) within budget, (3) a high quality of deliverable, and (4) a satisfied client, but at what price? Twelve-hour days, stress, last minute emergencies, unnecessary conflict, damaged relationships and a failure to achieve the fifth success criteria—capturing lessons learned. It is almost inexcusable to make the same mistake in a project environment but think how often your team does? An understanding of EI will help you to go beyond standard tools and techniques to achieve success more easily, with greater satisfaction. Today, employees are seeking more of an alignment of their personal values with work. They will no longer self-sacrifice for the bottom line. They are demanding to find more meaning in the workplace.

Positioning Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

Researchers have observed the following:

•   Most U.S. corporations are overmanaged and underlead

•   Many leaders give into good versus excellent because they never “feel” what excellence is

•  Difficult times isolate leaders and bring them into prominence. Your thrust into prominence may be caused by changing client requirements, technology, the economy, etc. How well are you handling this isolation? With dignity and inspiration?

These observations definitely apply to project environments. Make no mistake; this is your time and your responsibility. Time for you to lead your project teams from good to excellent, responsibility for bringing out your professional and personal best to serve clients, team members and management. One of the most important concepts for any business, organization or Project Manager to grasp is that people's needs have changed as they are evolving and expanding their concept of what is means to be human in this dynamic world economy. Project Managers who do not get this will end up settling and it is now too dangerous for you to be complacent and settle. It has been said that people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions. Well, today there are new problems requiring new solutions and you best be aware of what is at the essence of them. Some Project Managers have no idea of the giant capacity they can command when they focus their efforts on core values and work to correspondingly align culture. The disconnection between employees and their companies will no longer be tolerated by employees.

So what can you do as Project Managers to enable yourself to grow and be aware? Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson: “These are the hard times in which a genius would wish to live. Great necessities call forth great leaders.” Let us look at a model for increasing Emotional Intelligence to assist you in creating opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment, value alignment, autonomy, innovation and community, thereby effectively and profitably defining, planning, implementing and closing down your project.

Model for Emotional Intelligence

The model for understanding and raising EI to improve project performance has five components: self-awareness, self-management, self-motivation, interpersonal management, and leadership.


Low self-awareness is a handicap. Remember the person with the high IQ who just doesn't get it? You cannot make change without awareness. With awareness comes responsibility. Self-Awareness is the ability to sense, identify and understand emotions. In the past many of us were conditioned to leave emotions out of it. Thus when we felt an emotion we pushed that feeling aside, only often to regret not having used that knowledge intentionally. You can think of numerous times when your gut “told” you something but you ignored it often because you were afraid to deal with it. Well guess what—that emotion does not go away, does not disappear. It is impacting you in some fashion. Eventually you will have to deal with it, so far better to recognize and address it in the current moment. To increase self-awareness, your ability to be in the here and now:

•   Use your physical senses to alert you to “feelings”—tightness in stomach, tension in neck.

•   Name the feeling—are you angry or disgruntled or upset or furious? Understanding the degree of the emotion and being able to name it helps you with perceptive.

•   Journal—you know from your project environment, once a problem has been identified in black and white on paper—once it is tangible then you can plan how deal with it with some objectivity. Also use a journal to monitor and express your feelings in a safe way.

•   Seek input from others.

•   Take time to reflect about your intentions behind your feelings.

It is important to feel your feelings through then you can make decisions and take action. If you do not feel feelings through you may respond inappropriately (even emotionally), and make poor decisions with unintended consequences. Those with high self-awareness are: confident, authentic, receptive to feedback and able to maintain perspective during all project phases. They have a type of sonar, which allows them to pick up on cues and subtle implications.


Now that you know and understand your feelings (self-awareness) you want to master the tools for managing your responses to your emotions so you can make choices using your IQ rather than reacting. To assist in understanding this critical component, let me share a brief history of the brain evolution.

Most of us are more comfortable thinking than feeling, but thought is a comparatively recent advance in our evolution. Five hundred million years ago, in the course of evolutionary development, the brain stem assumed responsibility for basic survival. The urges to feed, to reproduce and to self-protect by fighting or fleeing were instinctive reactions to threats. Three hundred million years ago, the limbic system, seat of emotional reaction, emerged as a distinctive part of the brain. This “limbic system” enables the organism to scan for meaning. It allows for learning and remembering, not just reacting, thereby enhancing survival prospects. Two hundred million years ago, the neocortex, seat of reason and thought, developed, enabling our ancestors to process information and make sense out of their surroundings and circumstances. Have you ever flown off the handle or reacted in ways you would not have chosen had you been able to pause and think about it just for a few seconds? Why does this happen? Because normally when presented with information the data travels a path to your rational brain and then to the limbic system. This takes approximately six seconds. However when taken off guard or threatened, impulse overrides reason, short-circuiting the normal process. After all if it were to take six seconds for you to respond to an emergency you may not have time to avoid the head on collision, the poisonous snake, etc. The short cut bypasses the neocortex where reason resides going directly to the limbic system so you can react instantaneously and then think about it later. Fine for emergencies but not fine in almost all project circumstances.

Self-Management is using your understanding of your feelings to reason well. We often react based upon our unique frame of reference rather than choosing our response based upon unique circumstances. To increase your ability to self-manage to make choices and to act intentionally:

•   Identify your values. Values are your guiding principles in life. Write them out and then prioritize them.

•   Accept responsibility. You are responsible for your behavior and your response to life. Being accountable is a way of excising your power. You are where you are because of choices you made along the way.

•   Pre-plan and monitor your self-talk. Those who are good at self-management are: thoughtful in making decisions, take initiative, frame events appropriately, have perspective, and respond swiftly.

•   Take a six-second pause to allow the information to get to your rational brain. Say: “I pause and think before I act.” or, “If I were wise, reasonable and compassionate how would I choose to respond, using my very best self?”

•   Monitor your self-talk. The words that you say to yourself are extremely powerful. They go immediately to your subconscious, which reinforces the messages you give to yourself. Avoid negatives, generalizations, and labeling.

•   Re-frame. Focus on the big picture to help put the current project difficulties into perspective.

•   Invite feedback.

•   Move. Physically move to view yourself and the situation in a different way.

•   Find the humor. Laugher releases endorphins, hormones that work in the brain to reduce perception of pain.

Those who are good at self-management are: thoughtful in making decisions, take initiative, frame events appropriately, have perspective, and respond swiftly. They feel their feelings through, understand why they have the feeling and then choose how to manage their responses to the feelings.


Emotional Intelligence is not just about managing your responses to your emotions. It is about being able to generate emotions when needed for commitment and project follow-through. Self-Motivation is the ability to focus the power of your emotions on a purpose. When project teams have purpose, they have: peace, passion, power, perspective and they can use their potential. Project teams who lack motivation often are subject to a grade of “D.” They often: doubt, get discouraged, are easily distracted, may feel defeated so they do not even try, will delay or put off that which is really important and get defensive. To motivate yourself and your team:

•   Visualize. Human beings have a unique ability to paint mind pictures. When you create a picture of what you want, you induce the physiological responses that would occur if the vision were real.

•   Set meaningful, realistic, challenging goals with your project team complimented by targeted tasks.

•   Affirm and use conscious positive associations.

•   Network. Create a network of people to help you focus on your goal. I often say that people are not your most important asset, but rather the “right” people are your most important asset.

•   Renew yourself. Have time by yourself, balance your spiritual, mental, social and physical needs.

Effective self-motivators are optimistic and have a positive attitude. They are able to delay gratification and can assert themselves. (Based upon my research with senior management in project environments, they consider an optimistic attitude to be more critical than any other characteristic.)

The first three components of the Emotional Intelligence Model focus on you. Your internal power and potential. Absolutely you have to: have recognize and value your uniqueness, know how to use the mind-body-heart connection to read signals, manage your responses to your emotions so that your behaviors and intentions are aligned, be centered, and have purpose. In addition, you have to be able to deal with the world—your entire project environment. The next two components address the project environment.

Interpersonal Management

Project success is dependent on the team's ability to synergize and avoid the negative consequences of “Group Think.” Interpersonal Management is the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotions of another. If you can connect to people, acknowledge their humanness they will respond openly and trust you and trust themselves. To do this:

•   Truly listen without judging, without attempting to problem-solve.

•   Empathize.

•   Draw others out and encourage them to share their creative ideas or concerns.

•   Be congruent. Other people often only see your behaviors but not your intentions. You know your intentions but often cannot see your behaviors. An Emotionally Intelligent Project Manager is conscious of the impact of his or her verbals and nonverbals and because of high self-awareness is able to align intentions with behaviors to get great results with people.

•   Disclose some of your thoughts and feelings keeping in mind how others may react.

•  Test assumptions. Understand you are always only hearing part of what is being communicated due to your personality, experiences and mental state. Ask questions.

Those who manage relationships well in a project are compassionate, intentional, trustworthy, and are skilled in constructive discontent. The benefits include an open sharing of concerns and problems early on and throughout the project phases resulting in an extraordinarily high performing team. Remember that most people are doing the best that they can with the resources they have at any given moment. Help them to uncover more of their resources.


An Emotionally Intelligent Project Manager inspires, guides, challenges, and supports the team. The behaviors of the Project Manager have more of an impact on the project environment than any other factors. Fifty-two to seventy percent of what it “feels” like to work on a project is impacted directly by management (Forum Corporation). This impact has a direct correlation to the level of “motivation” of the team. You know that you have participated in projects where you would have done anything for the Project Leader because he or she was compassionate, provided clear direction had enthusiasm, showed care for the team, and was committed to achieving the project deliverable. Leadership is defined as the ability to create and communicate vision and passion to assist individuals and organizations in optimizing their potential. Effective project leaders:

•   Communicate regularly.

•   Are humble. They never exaggerate. They are ambitious for the project team's success not their own success.

•   Create a context and help form a project culture within which the project team can function with meaning, significance and a sense of community.

•   Are visible.

•   Model and reinforce agreed upon values.

•   Demonstrate belief in the team recognizing that part of human motivation is related to feelings of self-respect coupled with pride in their work.

•   Demonstrate passion.

•   Keep their project team focused. Lack of clear focus has caused more projects to fail than competition or technological concerns.

•   Help the team celebrate success.

They are characterized by humbleness, unwavering commitment to achieve objectives, use of intuition, and their ability to build relationships.


Project Managers who truly understand the talents, values and potential of themselves and their project teams, who know how to manage their own emotions and the emotions of others, and who can connect with team members have the opportunity to have a project environment second to none. The results—the people, skills, tools, and activities of the project are aligned and peacefully and purposefully directed to a well visioned, desired and agreed upon outcome. Each member: has a sense of autonomy, acts intentionally and intelligently, is enthusiastically motivated, is able to network with others to achieve success, and feels a sense of fulfillment. Passion, commitment and openness characterize the project.

Every day you are given opportunities to confirm or negate the importance of your project team's work. People must believe that they and their work are important. People will only expend their resources on that which is meaningful to them. Successful Project Managers engage member's hearts as well as their minds. Now is your time and now is your responsibility. Using your EQ, now lead your project teams from good to excellent and accept responsibility for bringing out your professional and personal best to serve clients, team members and management. Today is your time and your responsibility is clear.

Tips for Raising EI in Your Project Environment

•   Share the model for understanding and raising EI.

•   Model the model.

•   Identify your “triggers” and “triggers” for your project team and pre-plan how to deal with them.

•   Provide current frames of reference, which match your new environment. Help the team to discard old frames.

•  Use proven project management tools to provide structure. With structure comes freedom. Once all project team members are clear about objectives, norms, boundaries, roles and dependencies they have a solid foundation from which to creatively recognize opportunities, problem solve, and communicate—they are free to use their potential.

•   Avoid sarcasm and gossip.

•   Understand emotions are not good or bad—they provide cues on valuable information. Model responding with balance to emotions.

•  Regularly: refocus your project team on the vision, identify short-term attainable goals/steps on the path, provide feedback both positive and constructive, and celebrate success.

•   Listen, listen, listen.

•  Question. Help your team members, clients and management to uncover and express their real needs and genuine concerns early on before they become major problems and resentment builds.

•   Avoid taking things personally.

•   Engage in philanthropy. Engaging in giving is one of the best ways to motivate yourself and your team. Philanthropy is defined as an act of giving. Cleaning up the conference room, offering some documentation, asking if you can help … small acts of kindness.

•   Examine if your behaviors truly match your intentions. You can do this by looking at results.


Casper, Christine Mockler. 2001. From Now On With Passion—A Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Fort Bragg, CA: Cypress House.

Goleman, Daniel. 2000. Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam

Pinto, Jeffery K., and Slevin, Dennis P. 1992. Project Implementation Profile. XICOM.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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