Project Description

Wellbeing at work and why it matters – with Aaron and Khayt Williams

On today’s episode we work our way through a variety of practical, straightforward and real ideas to maintain wellbeing in the workplace. Our host Genevieve Jacobs takes a look into the growing challenge for HR managers in workplaces, which is helping employees maintain health and wellbeing in these tough times.

Our guests are Aaron and Khayt Williams of Mindstar who have a wealth of HR and clinical experience in building mentally healthy corporate cultures. Based on QLD’s Sunshine Coast, Mindstar has provided workplace wellbeing solutions for some of Australia’s key workplaces including Woolworths Group, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, BUPA and more.

Mindstar exists to make it easy for employees across Australia to connect with wellbeing resources, taking the approach of upskilling organizational leaders and HR managers in order to affect change.  Aaron observes that workplaces are getting much better more recently at understanding the needs of employees and how meeting these needs promotes high performance from a bedrock of wellbeing.

Topics we cover

  • COVID-19 has become a mental health marathon. What responsibility do managers have in making mental health a priority?
  • Competitiveness and high achievement are organisations’ goals of yesteryear. Psychological safety is the new paradigm in which workplaces operate for success and productivity.
  • How HR Managers can look after themselves and why they should.
  • Authenticity, vulnerability, empathy and compassion are the key traits of leadership that drive results in teams
  • Practical strategies for increasing wellbeing that can be used personally and professionally.

Resources we mention

James Judge:

Hello and welcome to the HR Breakfast Club podcast, sponsored by BAL Lawyers. In this series, we discuss a range of topical issues impacting on the world of work often with a focus on their legal dimensions. Through this, we aim to give you a better understanding of the issues and some actionable insights you can apply in your own workplaces. I’m James Judge. And today I’m very pleased to be joined by Vicki de Prazer to talk about emotional intelligence and to explore what it is and why it matters. Vicki is a registered practicing psychologist. She holds a master’s in cognitive science from UWA, is the national chair of the Australian Psychological Society Coaching Psychology Group, and is associate director of the University of Canberra’s Medical and Counseling Center. Vicki, thanks for joining us today.

Vicki de Prazer:

Thank you, James. I’m happy to be able to speak with you.

James Judge:

Vicki, the term emotional intelligence became better known in the mid 1990s when Daniel Goleman wrote a book on the subject called Emotional Intelligence, but the concept has been around for a bit longer than that, hasn’t it? Can you tell us a little about its origins?

Vicki de Prazer:

I can. When we look at emotion, it’s been considered in a variety of ways since time immemorial, but the notion of emotional intelligence can be found in the literature provided by Charles Darwin. He published a book in 1872, The Expression of Emotions, and here he raised the notion that if we have emotions and we master the use of emotions, then somehow it’s contributing to our survival and to functioning well as a human.

James Judge:

I’ve heard the term emotional intelligence or EI refers to the capability of a person to recognize and manage their own emotions and to recognize, understand and manage the emotions of others. Is that broadly right?

Vicki de Prazer:

It is. And I think the best way to look at emotional intelligence is a set of skills. And as you said, the term was revived in the 1990s. And it was Mayer-Salovey and Caruso from Harvard that started to explore the notion of emotional intelligence. And they saw it as a set of skills and their definition of emotional intelligence is actually the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth. So, that’s quite a mouthful there, but that further breaks down, I guess, into four major branches of emotional intelligence. The perceiving of emotions, so being able to perceive emotions within ourselves and with others and not just within humans, but to be able to be aware or to perceive emotions in things like music and in stories and to notice that response we’re having to those other stimuli where there’s an emotional, I guess, message in the object or the piece of art that we’re seeing.

Vicki de Prazer:

The second area looks at facilitation and utilization of emotions, and that’s probably the more complex area that they looked at. And when they talk about facilitation, that’s really about generating emotions and using emotions in a way to be able to communicate and utilizing emotions is really concerned with using emotions in cognitive processing. So using emotions with memory, decision making, problem solving, information processing. The third area is understanding emotions and that’s basically being able to understand emotional information and to understand the connection between different emotions and I suppose differentiate between emotions. And the fourth area is managing emotions. And that’s really to be able to regulate our emotions and maybe to also manage the emotional regulation of somebody else. So, that’s a broad overview of the Mayer–Salovey–Caruso theory.

James Judge:

Okay. That’s interesting that you broke emotional intelligence down into four different elements. And I think Goleman does this too. He breaks it into five different elements.

Vicki de Prazer:

He does. And I guess there’s different perspectives on those skills and how they’re described. So the original research was a university based research and they did a lot of work where they actually did measurements around their four criteria. I suppose Daniel Goldean tried to popularize the concept. So he further expanded into something that’s more accessible and his areas include two areas about the self. So self-awareness, being able to reflect on your emotions, to have insight, to start to understand your own strengths and deficits in terms of emotions. So again about the self, self-regulation of emotions. To manage mood, to manage impulses, suspend judgment, think before you act. So again, all personal things.

Vicki de Prazer:

Then he introduced an interpersonal, I guess, area where he looked at empathy. So being able to understand others’ emotions and to get insight into another person’s emotional experience. Then the next two areas I would never debate that they’re purely emotional or areas that look at emotional intelligence. There’s a lot of cognitive factors in these, but the two other areas identified by Goleman are motivation and social skills. So he talks about in that motivational area, a person’s personal drive and how they’re motivated to pursue goals and achieve. And I suppose that can be seen as coming from an emotional energy, but also there needs to be some cognitive discipline with that motivation. So he talks about vision and curiosity and persistence and creativity, and yes, there’s an emotional component there, but to actually be able to, I guess, capitalise in those areas of curiosity and creativity, there needs to be some thought as well. So, we’re looking at cognitive factors as well as the emotional.

Vicki de Prazer:

The other area he looks at as a social skills component, the way people use emotional intelligence. I don’t want to say emotions, I’m slipping into saying that, but it’s not about purely using emotions. It’s about your emotional intelligence and using that to network or build rapport, to be an effective leader, to be persuasive, to have good communication skills, good negotiation skills. So, they’re the more interactive social components of emotional intelligence.

James Judge:

I was going to ask you about IQ versus EQ later. And I should just make clear now to the listeners that EI is also sometimes called EQ, right? So, those terms are kind of used interchangeably.

Vicki de Prazer:

Yeah. It is a little confusing. EI is emotional intelligence. That’s what that stands for. An EQ, which people do interchange with EI comes from the original work with Mayer–Salovey–Caruso where they have a test called the MSCEIT. And doing that test, you get an EQ, an emotional quotient, which is a measure of your emotional intelligence. So, that hopefully clarifies those two terms.

James Judge:

Okay. Yeah. That’s helpful. Are there aspects of either EI or EQ that are learned behaviour? Are you born with it or maybe a bit of both?

Vicki de Prazer:

I think if we look at emotional intelligence as a set of skills, I think there’s a lot of nurture in there, a lot of learning. And if we look at personality as a factor in maybe operationalising those skills, then we’re looking at a nature component being born with a particular personality that will maybe assist you in developing and managing those set of skills. I guess our motivation comes from personality. If someone’s personality is more introverted, then there may not be that drive to develop those skills completely. Well, I guess none of us are going to develop all our emotional skills completely, but less drive to be wanting to develop emotional skills to be able to navigate an environment where there’s a social component or an interpersonal component.

James Judge:

There’s been a lot written over the last few decades about the importance of resilience and how that can be useful in both bouncing back from adversity faster and possibly not being as badly affected by negative events in the first place. Why isn’t that a separate dimension of emotional intelligence?

Vicki de Prazer:

It’s a complicated one to answer as well. There’s a lot written about resilience, and I don’t think there really is a solid definition of resilience. I think many people have approached it from different perspectives. One way of looking at resilience is good mental health. So, if we’re functioning well and we have good mental health, that may be a state of resilience. I would prefer to look at resilience as really only evidenced or more significantly evidenced in critical moments. So, my definition of resilience is where the sum of an individual skills and attributes combine to produce a gestalt of enhanced cognitions, affect, the emotions and performance to meet the specific demands of the challenge. So, I see resilience as really being demonstrated when somebody pulls a whole lot of skills together, their cognition, their thinking skills, their emotional intelligence, and their ability to do a particular task and meet the challenges of that task.

James Judge:

Yeah. So, I think what I heard you saying was that emotional intelligence is a component of resilience, but there were other factors at play.

Vicki de Prazer:

I think so. I think there needs to be other factors. And I think to be really resilient is quite a complex skill. And I think that people can be resilient on a continuum in different situations. So we may be resilient in our day-to-day functioning, and that’s a level of resilience. We’re displaying the attributes sufficiently to get through a particular situation. But as we want to achieve more and maybe demonstrate what expertise, we need to keep building those set of skills, our emotional intelligence, our cognitive skills, our thinking, our decision-making. So, I think that a greater level of resilience is achieved when people are building a particular set of skills. If we go to the situation of an athlete being resilient, they’ve worked on a certain set of skills to meet the challenges of a task. So they’re able to meet those demands under pressure.

Vicki de Prazer:

If you look at somebody in the military who may be described as resilient, they’ve built a certain set of skills to be able to do their tasks in a particular environment under a certain amount of stress. But then you could look at a mother of small children trying to juggle a job, look after her children, work from home during COVID and perhaps you could describe her as being resilient because she’s built a particular set of skills to meet the demands that she’s facing. And I guess, mums aren’t getting too many rewards for that, where somebody who is an athlete is seen as someone who’s excelled in what they’re doing and achieved a certain degree of expertise, but both people are displaying resilience.

James Judge:

Right. So, it’s highly situational.

Vicki de Prazer:

I think so.

James Judge:

And just from the language you’re using, I think you might’ve already answered the next question I was going to ask, is it something that you can develop and work on? I think from what you’ve said, the answer is yes?

Vicki de Prazer:

Yes. We need to, again, remember that we’re talking about skills, we’re not talking about a personality factor. We’re not talking about necessarily a DSM characteristic of a clinical set of definitions around mental health. We are talking about a set of skills.

James Judge:

Okay. Now, I just heard you reference the DSM. Now, I’m not a psychologist, but I work with a lot of psychologists so I know what the DSM is. Can you just explain to our listeners what you’re referring to there?

Vicki de Prazer:

Yes. So, the DSM, we’re up to number five, is a set of descriptors that outline different mental illnesses or psychologically clinical conditions in various categories. So, there’ll be descriptors around depression and different types of depression. There’ll be other psychological areas defined in the DSM like addictive behaviours, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar. All of those things are outlined in this encyclopedia I suppose of definitions. And what it does, it gives a criteria that someone needs to meet those criteria to be diagnosed with that particular condition. And then there’s a strategy that’s proposed as how to manage that particular condition. So, it’s a guideline for those who are working in mental health. It did originate in the US.

Vicki de Prazer:

And part of the, I guess, background behind it is with the US medical system, to be able to get a rebate from the medical system. When you see a doctor or a psychiatrist or a health profession, you do need a diagnosis. This gives the opportunity to be able to diagnose. So, it is a man-made structure and it meets different needs, but it is a very, very useful guideline for determining the condition someone might be experiencing. And I suppose for psychiatrists, it’s a very useful way of describing features of a condition that will then help you decide what drug may assist that individual.

James Judge:

We could probably do a separate podcast on the medicalisation of what might have a hundred years ago been seen as part of the normal behaviours of human beings, but I don’t want to get stuck there.

Vicki de Prazer:

And I think that is really interesting. We sometimes get very locked into these are the conditions, these are the descriptors and these are the rules, but when I’m working with individual clients, I’ll say to them, “So this is the label, but let’s look at what you need to change, what you want to change, where you see the struggles are.” Because I think often when people are given the label, it can really start to limit the way they see themselves and that can be destructive. So what maybe, as you say, was eccentricity a few decades ago, now, may be a mental health issue.

James Judge:

Back to emotional intelligence, what might be some things the listener could do if they wanted to get a better sense of their own emotional intelligence and possibly take steps to increase it?

Vicki de Prazer:

I think there’s a lot that people can do. And I think it’s important. And doing a bit of work with lawyers, I think a lot of the processes that lawyers and psychologists go through in working with clients are quite similar in terms of building rapport, trying to source information, trying to see a little bit behind what’s said, trying to determine what the client’s really trying to say or actually wants. And so just in our day to day work, I think we can build our emotional intelligence by being careful that we’re paraphrasing when we’re working with people to ensure understanding what they’re saying, trying to identify the emotions behind what they may be saying. So those may be communicated verbally or non-verbally, perhaps looking at trying to understand why they’ve had an emotional response to something, what’s driving their pursuing help. We can also explore emotion and build our own emotional intelligence by Socratic questioning. We can really focus on listening to the words that have been said and what else might be being expressed.

Vicki de Prazer:

I think being curious and actually asking people about their emotions is another way to ensure that we’re reading a situation, we’re reading someone else’s emotions well. If we’re brave, we could get friends to do a 360 with us. So, a 360 is a way of assessing how others see you. And often in a work situation, people will do a 360 by getting someone more junior, someone equal to them and someone more senior to give them feedback. So, inviting that feedback on how others are perceiving you is a good thing to do. And also being very aware of the emotional words that you’re actually using. Because we send text messages a lot, we communicate and just take small bites rather than anything more elaborate, we’re often not using a lot of adjectives in our speech to talk about emotions or inquire about other’s emotions.

Vicki de Prazer:

So, trying to use more than a smiley face or a grumpy face or any other emoji to express emotions is probably very important. So, people will tell me they’re sad or they’re depressed, but they won’t be able to articulate that they’re feeling disappointed or rejected or melancholy. They just don’t use those words. And those words actually give a bit more colour to what they’re trying to describe. There’s a bit more clarity in using more adjectives to describe your emotional state.

James Judge:

We actually discussed this, didn’t we, a week or so ago prior to this podcast. And you were talking about some of the clients you work with, some of whom are young adults enrolled in university. You’ve got a bit of a point of view, haven’t you, around the way that social media and these other mechanisms of communications have perhaps dulled this more expansive ability to express emotions.

Vicki de Prazer:

The total impact of communication. And I’m sure a lot of disputes even arise when people aren’t communicating efficiently. But one highlight that stood out for me was when I spoke to a young girl who said she’d had a really horrible evening. She’d spoken to a boyfriend for three hours and they’d eventually broken up. And I said to her, “I thought your boyfriend was in Sydney.” And she said, “Yeah, yeah, he is.” And I said, “Oh, so you spoke on the phone for three hours.” And she said, “No, no, we text.” So they had a three hour session of sending text messages, which I’m sure were very clear and then managed to end their relationship.

James Judge:

Is it a COVID-19 or just a sign of the times in terms of changing technologies?

Vicki de Prazer:

This was way before COVID-19 and this happens quite often that people will say to me they can’t speak on the phone even. Many students when we moved, because of COVID-19, to telehealth said, “Sorry, we can’t do that. We can’t pick up the phone.” So, I emailed a girl who’d said to me by message. She couldn’t actually answer the phone when it rang, it caused her to feel panicky. So I said, “Okay, just call me when you’re ready.” And then she indicated she couldn’t actually use the phone at all.

James Judge:

Wow. Okay. We could talk about that too, but let’s get back to emotional intelligence for a moment.

Vicki de Prazer:

Oh, but it is important to see that as a deficit really, in emotional intelligence, if you think that it’s sufficient to communicate that where I think people are really quite unaware of the importance of that social communication.

James Judge:

And struggling by the sound of it from the clients you’re dealing with. I’m just thinking about our listeners and one of the purposes of this podcast is to provide actionable insights. Say a person working in human resources or a lawyer, what might be some of the situations they come across where low emotional intelligence is causing problems.

Vicki de Prazer:

Well, if we look at low emotional intelligence, it’s a deficit of all those skills we’ve talked about. So first of all, there may be a lack of insight, lack of self-awareness, which is going to be a difficulty. If people aren’t able to reflect on how they’re interacting in the world, how they’re performing, that’s going to be a deficiency. If they’ve got no read of an interpersonal situation and they can’t really feel empathy, then they’re going to be missing signs in communication where others are maybe feeling disdain or annoyance at their behaviour and they’re going to miss that. They may be unable to communicate their own fears or concerns about a situation which could be important.

Vicki de Prazer:

Then we move to the other areas about creativity, curiosity, vision. If you need somebody with those skills and there’s a deficit in that area, that’s going to be a problem. And looking then at things like networking, team building in the more social interaction side again, that is obviously going to be a problem in a situation where someone needs to lead or they need to communicate with a group of people and work on a project collaboratively.

James Judge:

Thinking about the interrelationship of EQ and IQ, do you think EI is a better predictor for future success than IQ?

Vicki de Prazer:

I think that has been a bit of an urban myth. That if you have great EI, then all doors are open. You’re charismatic, you’re confident. You’re able to interact in a way that communicates your ideas. And that is a plus, but you need IQ also to support yourself in that environment. So you need a set of competencies that come from a degree of expertise. You need intellectual capacity to be able to problem solve. And as I said before, pay attention, use information and you need EI. So all of those skills together, natural IQ, EI, and personality are going to contribute to success. But it probably also depends on what you’re looking at in terms of success.

Vicki de Prazer:

So if we’re looking generally in an interpersonal situation, dating, finding partners, living in a community, EI is probably going to assist you a lot. IQ is important, but if you haven’t got the greatest IQ, you may be able to still manage. If you’re going into a job where you need a certain set of competencies and you really do need to rely on your cognitive skills, then obviously that’s then essential and having EI at a high level will also be an asset. So, it’s about a situation. If someone is working in IT, they might need a certain amount of EI to get the job interview, get to know the team. But once they’re doing their task, their IQ is going to be the thing that is their asset.

James Judge:

Are there any useful resources you would recommend where listeners might be able to go to learn more about EI?

Vicki de Prazer:

When we talk about useful resources, there’s so many different perspectives and takes on what EI is, how to develop it. It’s a matter, I guess, of being a little selective. There’s going to be popular things that people might glean information from. And then there’s going to be other sources that are more reliable and perhaps found on a little bit more evidence if we go to journals and publications in the psychological literature, but there’s also going to be a middle ground where you will be able to get articles in business magazines like Harvard Business Review or Forbes publication. I don’t know what it’s actually called.

Vicki de Prazer:

So, there’s a lot of literature for people to read. If you really want to look at developing EI and you recognise that it is a set of skills, it’s not just being emotional. It’s not about having a lot of emotions and it’s not about expressing a lot of positive emotions. You can have EI and really have a lot of negative emotions. So if we take it to the extreme, a psychopath may have a really good EI where they can read and manipulate emotions and manage others and manage their own emotions to their own gains to achieve what it is they want to achieve. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a constructive or positive thing. There’s a lot to read on EI.

Vicki de Prazer:

You can also do the MSCEIT, the test that was originated by Mayer-Salovey and Caruso, and get a profile for yourself to see where you sit on those four dimensions that they’ve identified. I think the Goleman book is worth reading. I think that’s very accessible. So, I think there’s lots of resources there. And finally, if somebody really wants to, I guess, develop these skills and integrate them into the way they work, the way that they see their personal identity and looking at growing aspects of their own performance, then working with a coaching psychologist is probably the next step so that the psychologist can pull together all the components I’ve talked about.

Vicki de Prazer:

Personality, cognitive skills, emotional intelligence, and then look at all of that in the context of someone’s experiences, life experiences, like a traditional site would say since childhood all the way through, because that’s going to give you a better picture of how someone is functioning and how EI is either assisting or contributing negatively to their overall wellbeing and performance.

James Judge:

Vicki, fascinating discussion. Thanks so much for your time today. What’s the best way for people to contact you if they want to connect?

Vicki de Prazer:

They can email me on v_deprazer@yahoo.com.au. And I’m happy to supply a mobile. This is my mobile for work 0408 460 129.

James Judge:

You’ve been listening to the HR Breakfast Club podcast sponsored by BAL Lawyers. I’m James Judge. And you can find me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at James A. Judge. If you like the episode, please feel free to subscribe. Tell your friends. And we really appreciate reviews. Special thanks to Anna Johnstone for technical support.

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