woman on laptop

The Value of Empathy in Virtual Team Management

Emotional intelligence maestro Sylvia Baffour graces us with her presence on the podcast, sharing her globe-trotting insights and the profound impact of emotional intelligence in creating lasting human connections. With a life painted across eight countries and experiences from over 42, Sylvia's stories are a testament to the transformative power of empathy, whether we're interfacing through screens or in person. Our conversation unpacks the essence of empathic listening—a vital tool for leaders navigating the complexities of remote work—and underscores the importance of making team members feel heard and understood.

During our exchange, we shed light on the strategies leaders can employ to cultivate emotional intelligence within their teams, even when separated by oceans and time zones. Sylvia's approach goes beyond the conventional to include reflective journaling and the intriguing practice of 'honing your hunch,' all to foster a team environment rich with inclusion and belonging. As we discuss, it becomes clear that the digital landscape, with all its challenges, also presents unique opportunities for leadership to evolve, adapt, and connect in meaningful ways.

Wrapping up our invigorating discussion, Sylvia's anecdotes bring to life the daily relevance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. From the subtleties of providing feedback to the art of self-regulation amidst high stakes, it's evident that EI is not just about being nice—it's about being effective, perceptive, and above all, human. As we bid farewell to our esteemed guest, we're reminded that emotional intelligence isn't just for the boardroom; it's for life, enriching each interaction and every relationship we cultivate along the way.

Show Notes

  • 0:02:49 - Winning in the Virtual Workplace (84 Seconds)
  • 0:11:07 - Building Trust in Remote Leadership (53 Seconds)
  • 0:16:53 - Ensuring Inclusion in Remote Leadership (49 Seconds)
  • 0:19:17 - Improving Emotional Intelligence as a Leader (93 Seconds)
  • 0:24:21 - Developing Emotional Intelligence in Leaders (57 Seconds)
  • 0:30:09 - Leading With Empathy in Remote Work (75 Seconds)
  • 0:35:34 - Surprising Talents and Backgrounds (70 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. On today's episode, we're discussing emotional intelligence, and joining us is renowned professional speaker, Sylvia Baffour. And Sylvia is an emotional intelligence coach and author and is recognized among HubSpot's top 15 female motivational speakers. With a rich background of living in eight different countries and traveling over 42, Sylvia connects deeply with diverse audiences. Over the past 19 years, she's helped organizations build healthier work cultures with emotional intelligence strategies. She's delivered over 460 keynote presentations worldwide, and her Dare to Care EI strategies have inspired and empowered countless organizations, including Whirlpool, Lockheed Martin and the World Bank. She's also the author of the emotional intelligence book titled I Dare you to Care, and we welcome her to the podcast. Sylvia, wow, impressive. How are you?

0:01:25 - Sylvia Baffour

Well, thank you so much for that kind introduction, Kim. I'm doing very well and beyond excited to be with you today.

0:01:30 - Kimberly King

Oh, I cannot wait to get to speak with you and learn more. Why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show topic?

0:01:41 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, so my mission is pretty simple. I'm very deeply connected to the idea that, as human beings, one of the most fundamental things we all want is to have meaningful connections with other human beings, and so a lot of my work just centers around how can I help others and myself become the kinds of people others enjoy being around. You know, because when people enjoy being around you, it buys you a lot in life. You know, and I'm often reminded of the quote that Jim Carrey I can't believe I'm quoting a comedian on something serious, but what Jim Carrey says, you know, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is, and I think that is so true. And so all the work I do is centered around helping people have that good effect on others, because we benefit selfishly, the world benefits, and we benefit when we care about the way we're moving through this world. So that's, yeah, that's my focus.

0:02:32 - Kimberly King

More of you, please, and this world that we're living in, right, I love that and I love that you quoted Jim Carrey. I mean, we can laugh, but you know, it is really how we leave other people feeling, isn't it?

0:02:47 - Kimberly King

That's great, absolutely, yeah. Well, today, in addition to our topic, we're pleased to announce the new book the Center for the Advancement of Virtual Organizations has published, and it's called Winning in the Virtual Workplace, an innovative book authored by 10 leading experts in the field and packed with invaluable insights, practical strategies and cutting-edge techniques. This book is your ultimate guide to thriving in the digital workspace, and so practical strategies and cutting edge techniques. And so, Sylvia, tell us a little bit about that project.

0:03:12 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I think you know one I was excited to contribute to when I was invited to contribute a chapter to it, because the world has changed, most especially, we all know, since COVID right, and so many organizations had to go hybrid and virtual and remote, and many have struggled with the balance. You know, how do we continue to create that culture of belonging and make people feel a part of the organization, even from a distance, and so I think this book is hopefully going to be really meaningful for a lot of people in just saying, hey, how can I foster, how can I win in the virtual world and what are the things I need to be keeping in mind? And so I was very excited to have an emotional intelligence slant and focus with my chapter and contribution.

0:03:55 - Kimberly King

Well, good for you. I cannot wait to read this book. We've interviewed a couple of other authors in there and just your contribution, we thank you. And so today we are talking about emotional intelligence, and this EI seems to be kind of maybe a little newer. I'm not sure. Sylvia, I would love for you to explain this, but how did you first get involved in the work related to emotional intelligence?

0:04:23 - Sylvia Baffour

You know it's a question I'm often asked and I have to say that this goes back more than three decades ago, because for me the work began before I knew the work had begun, and by that I mean that I was in a boarding school a government boarding school in Zimbabwe in my teen years. So really, I'm not trying to date myself here, but you know I was a tennis player and I was a top player in our school and I had won this tournament. And I'm not trying to date myself here, but you know, I was a tennis player and I was a top player in our school and I had won this tournament. And I was so excited to come back to my dorm and just share the news with my dorm mates.

And as I walk into the dorm I see all 14 of these girls sitting at the very end of the dorm on these wooden foot lockers with the dorm prefect. And you know when you have that sense that people are there because of you, right, and not for a good reason. And so I you know the loneliest walk down this hallway to where they were sitting and they invited me to come and sit down and, long story short, they pretty much blindsided me with, with feedback and insight about the kind of person they thought I was and how I made people feel small around them and how I thought I knew everything and I just wasn't very enjoyable to be around.

And the reason I yeah, the reason I say it was blindsiding is because I had no idea that's how people were experiencing me, you know. And so I had this righteous indignation for a couple of weeks. I was like, screw these girls, I don't need them in my life. They are, you know, they're wrong. This is not possible that they're talking about me, right?

And after a couple of weeks of just sitting, stewing, silent treatment, I realized that these 14 girls cannot be wrong and I am the right one, you know. And so when I say the work began back then, it invited me to think about, even in my teenage years, that the way I intend to be experienced and the way I'm actually experienced should not be a big gap, you know. And so the work began in terms of how can I become the kind of person who makes people feel exactly how I intend for them to feel, you know? And a quick example is, you know, I traveled to many countries, as you mentioned in my intro, and so I would come back and share all these experiences of global travel, thinking that I'm enlightening them, and yet because they had only ever been in one country, they felt, you know, it was intimidating, and they felt like I was sort of belittling their lack of global experience. And so it's just, it was very important and so that the work begun there, even before I knew what to call it, you know, three decades ago.

0:06:42 - Kimberly King

You know I love that you share that story. You're so open and humble I mean, that is for being as young as you were, for going through that. But able to quote, unquote, read the room and then kind of point the finger inward, you know that's, that's really. And then now that you're able to talk about that, I think we all need to hear that. And it is true, sometimes you do need to look around and say how do people perceive me? And wow, I love that you're sharing that story. There are a few definitions out there about what EI is, so how do you personally define it? You kind of just really did open this, but do you have another personal definition of emotional intelligence?

0:07:25 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I'll give you the one that feels formal first. And then I'll give you the one that I hope people just remember. I think of it as just recognizing and being aware of your own emotions and the emotions of people around you, and then using that awareness to guide your decisions and your interactions more effectively. But the way I truly define on a daily basis is how much, how are you, how aware are you of your own emotions at any given moment of the day, and how much do you care about the impact your emotions are having on you and the people around you? So that's, that's really the way I look at emotional intelligence. It's, you know, interacting with other human beings effectively. That's really it in a nutshell.

0:08:07 - Kimberly King

Yeah, wow, I love that too. You really simplified that, but it is true, and you know we all have seasons in our lives, right? And so I think, sometimes, just being aware, when we're going through those seasons, and you know you can't really see someone's season on their face, but you can certainly, you know, be there for them and just really, you know, ask them how they're doing, and so, again, it's really just being compassionate too, really understanding. So what do you think is the number one reason leaders need EI in remote, distributed workspaces?

0:08:39 - Sylvia Baffour

You know, I think, Kim, it goes back to what we really have been talking about at the beginning with human connection, right, because when you're in a remote environment you are lacking, you actually sorry, you have physical separation. You know that's sort of a given and we all know as human beings that when we are physically separated, there's a tendency for feelings of isolation, right, and disconnection and miscommunication. So, as a leader, if you are interacting with people you lead at physical distance, you have to be aware of the fact that there's a higher chance that the people you're working with are feeling isolated, feeling disconnected, very prone to misunderstanding your communications. And that's to me the number one reason why EI should be what you're leading with in those distributed workspaces.

0:09:29 - Kimberly King

Okay, that makes sense. In a remote setting, then, where face-to-face interactions are limited, how can leaders use emotional intelligence to build trust and connection with their teams?

0:09:42 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I think this is an important one, because the very nature of distance can create opportunities for mistrust to really brew. And for me, one of the things that stands out is having frequent and transparent communication. I mean, I think this is something that should be happening in any work environment, but most especially in remote and virtual spaces. Right, and when you are transparent with your teams, they're reassured that they are important to the organization. Because if you think about, there's so much happening that they don't see because of the physical distance, and if you just assume that they're abreast of what's happening and developments happening in the organization, you know we can make assumptions.

So, you know, being as frequent as you can, as open as you can your communications, is certainly one of them. But I also think empathic listening is so key, you know, and I think it's something that we all struggle with. But empathic listening, you know, emotional intelligence requires a lot of empathy, a lot of imagining how others are experiencing the world that they're experiencing, you know, and I think that leaders need to be able to encourage their members to share, you know, ideas and concerns and respond thoughtfully. You know leaders need to be validating their feelings and perspectives and not just making assumptions.

So the way that you can, you know, build trust is, if you know- I often say that leaders when you ask your teams about what's going on in their lives, what concerns them, even beyond the scope of work, just because they bring up problems that they're grappling with, does not mean you have to solve them, right? And so oftentimes leaders will not show empathy because they're afraid that they're going to overburden themselves with tasks that they aren't in a position to be able to handle. And yet all your people wanted was to feel heard. You know, think about how reassuring it is when somebody is able to hear you, even if they can't solve your problem. So that's really important for you know, leaders in remote settings to understand.

You know, how well do you know what's going on behind the scenes, the people that are showing up every day to work for you. You know it's not a clocking in, clocking out, right, and, of course, because you can't see them on a daily basis, you may have an inclination to not trust that they are actually working. So if you can show empathy and understand more about what they're dealing with, that's really priceless. And I think just recognizing and giving positive reinforcement is another important thing that builds trust, right, it's, you know, making a point of celebrating those milestones and acknowledging the hard work and giving credit. We don't just assume that people feel appreciated and valued along the way, most especially when we are not being seen physically. We need to be reinforcing positively to just give people the energy and the design motivation to keep going, you know.

0:12:30 - Kimberly King

Right, being their cheerleader and again being able to just kind of understand that you know they may be going through things. So that's and sometimes we just need to hear that out loud, right, Just like you said. Absolutely Right Just like you said, I'm kind of curious to find out from you, from your first story that you told, as you've been in touch with all of these women in the dorms since that experience.

0:12:53 - Sylvia Baffour

I have, I have I'm still in touch with three of them thanks to Facebook right, because it allows talk about remote connections and and yeah, and just to see where everyone has turned out in life. And you know, the story that I tell I told in the beginning is in the beginning of my book, and so they, each of them, got a copy of the book and they read it and they didn't know at the time that that is some of the lessons I got from the experience of sitting with them in the dorm and being, you know, sort of rained on with criticism, but it was criticism that has shaped my life in really positive ways.

0:13:32 - Kimberly King

Oh, I love that, I love that and it is really giving them due credit without even them knowing right? I guess Absolutely.

0:13:34 - Sylvia Baffour

Absolutely, yeah.

0:13:36 - Kimberly King

So what are some common communication pitfalls in remote work settings and how can EI help navigate these challenges?

0:13:44 - Sylvia Baffour

I think one of the biggest ones that is probably the most obvious that stands out is, you know, the lack of nonverbal cues. Right, I mean, being in a remote environment, we're relying so heavily on written texts and emails, and we all know that can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations, so that is a major potential pitfall, right? Those words, your words, matter, and I often I have this saying that we have access to all of the words in the English language free of charge, but if we don't use our words mindfully, they can cost us a lot.

And I think, you know, especially in the remote environment, you know leaders need to be thinking your people are relying on the messaging that's coming across in your words, and so that could be a big pitfall if you don't care about how you're using your words. I think also an over-reliance on digital communication could be a pitfall, right, people get overload and fatigue, I assume fatigue and those kinds of things, and when people are overloaded with all the written communications, some of the important messages can get lost in the sauce, you know. and I think just feelings of isolation, right, that's a pitfall as well of having to navigate the remote environment. And then even time zone challenges- you think about, never before have we had organizations that have people based in very different countries. You know, and with that comes the challenges of hey, people in India who are 12 hours away from the people on the East Coast, and all of those. Those are potential pitfalls that leaders need to be mindful of you know, that is so true, and it is.

0:15:21 - Kimberly King

I have a friend that's traveling near Croatia right now and she texted me I don't know, one in the morning. I'm like where are you? Anyway, but you do have to keep in mind that of these, the time differences. So that is a good point. What are some effective ways leaders can encourage and develop emotional intelligence within their remote teams?

0:15:42 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I mean, I think, for one training. You know, that seems pretty basic and logical but a lot of leaders are not taking, you know, investing in their people in that way. You think about offering webinars and workshops. You know, can you bring someone in who can really guide your people and give them the foundational pillars of emotional intelligence and help them understand it in a granular and very practical level? So I think that's definitely a big way that they can help their teams.

But also just modeling EI behaviors right, as a leader, you are who people are watching. Right, who are you when you think no one is watching? Because your people are always watching and I think you know being able to actively demonstrate EI in your daily interactions. You know, are you the person who's saying I have an open door policy, even virtual open door, and yet you're never accessible or you're hiding your status and people can't reach you and that kind of thing? So, just modeling empathy and active listening and managing emotions Something doesn't go right in a project. Are you flying off the handle, because people are watching that? And if you aren't managing your emotions, how can you expect to be leading an emotionally intelligent team?

0:16:50 - Kimberly King

Yeah, right, that is true. Yeah, that is good advice. Do you have a suggestion for an effective way leaders in remote environments can ensure those that they lead feel a sense of inclusion and belonging? And I know you've talked about that a little bit. But is there anything more sense of inclusion and belonging and I know you've talked about that a little bit but is there anything more?

0:17:07 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that stands out to me is reflecting diverse perspectives by actively encouraging people to participate. You have more introverted people. If you're on a virtual Zoom, is there a way that you can ensure all the voices are being heard? Because it's so easy to hide. Some people are off camera, they're just, you know- and yet they have brilliant ideas that could really contribute to the collaborative nature of things. So, just being mindful of acknowledging those diverse perspectives and making sure that you are hearing all the voices.

I think one of the most important I found when it comes to making your people feel included is to embrace what I call the two by two rule of inclusion, and it's this idea that, for every decision you have to make as a leader, that is going to impact more than just yourself, which is what leaders do every day. Right? If you're making a decision, sit down and write down two reasons why people in your team might agree with the decision you have just made or about to make. But, conversely, challenge yourself to also, on that same piece of paper, write down two reasons why people on your team might disagree with your decision. Right, because it forces you to embrace dissenting voices so that when people do dissent with you in a Zoom chat or something, your reaction isn't fiery right, because you did the background work of saying let me think about why someone might disagree with me. And it just opens your mind like a parachute, because you start to see that people are allowed to differ in their opinions in the same space and feel respected for their differences.

0:18:49 - Kimberly King

That's such a great. I think that's a great learning tool and, again, something that we need to do more of, and those are those possible scenarios that landmines that happen, but just being prepared and just going through that, so I'd love that advice. I could talk to you more all day long actually about this. We have to take a quick break.

This is great information and good things for our toolbox. Don't go away. We'll be right back.

And now back to our interview with renowned speaker Sylvia Baffour, and we're talking about emotional intelligence. And so, Sylvia, so interesting, this information and some really great advice For someone looking to improve their emotional intelligence, to be a better leader in a remote environment. What resources or practices would you recommend?

0:19:37 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I think one that stands out to me is reflective journaling, right?

I mean just the idea of coming home at the end of the day and just spending a moment to reflect on your interactions with others and your feelings about your interactions. And, you know, think about a conversation that didn't go well and what was your part in that? Is there something I could have done differently to create a different reaction in the person I was interacting with? So I think reflective journaling is definitely an important habit or practice. And also asking for feedback, right? You know, oftentimes we don't want feedback because we're afraid of what's going to be on the receiving end of that. And yet those are the moments we grow.

I don't know about you, Kim, but I've grown most in those difficult, uncomfortable moments when I hear what I don't want to hear, and I can reflect on that. Even as a speaker the last 19 years of my journey, in the very beginning, when I couldn't speak my way out of a paper bag, I focused most heavily on the things people said I could improve and not the pats on the back, and that is what helped catapult the journey and really accelerate the growth and the development. So, seeking feedback, but I also think, just another practice of being mindful of your assumptions. I call it honing your hunch, because often in life we have to make assumptions, because we're making judgments all the time to make decisions. But how often are we interrogating our assumptions? And saying, am I assuming positive intent or negative intent? Because the gap of unknowing we always, as human beings, fill it with assumptions. If we're going to be making up things about others and our interactions want to fill them with positive intent until we know more, you know. So that's a good practice as well, I think.

0:21:26 - Kimberly King

Oh, I love that. What did you call it again? Your hunch or your-?

0:21:29 - Sylvia Baffour

Honing your hunch. Yeah, I wanted some alliteration in there, you know.

0:21:35 - Kimberly King

Right, I know I love it, and those are the things that people will walk away and go wow, I like that, so that's great. Emotional intelligence can sometimes feel like an abstract concept, and can you give us some examples of how it shows up at work?

0:21:49 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I think it shows up in the way you handle conflict right. I mean, if emotional intelligence is showing up positively, then you are the person who is able to manage your emotions and understand the emotions of others, which helps you prevent conflict. Because back to the assumption, so much of conflict arises because of assumptions we're making about others or about things they've said. I think also it shows up in our need to adapt our communication style. Maybe as you're leading people, especially in the remote environment, you might be perceiving some stress or resistance from people you're leading and you may need to adapt your communication style. Maybe you're going to be more reassuring and even inject a bit of humor or lighten the mood if you sense that you need to adapt your communication style. So that's really important as well.

And I think just providing feedback you know, providing feedback effectively is a way that emotional intelligence shows up, because we all know that it's absent when the feedback isn't effective, right and as a leader, thinking about can you deliver it in ways that are constructive rather than critical. You know, for instance, I know women are often given feedback about personal attributes and the way they're appearing versus the technical details of their performance. So I think EI being present in the workplace is a leader who is providing feedback in really effective ways, and then empathetic leadership is. You know that's how it shows up.

Are you a leader who people feel good around? Do they crave your presence or do they crave your absence? And do you self-regulate in high-pressure moments? That's how EI showing up in the workplace. So many people work in high pressure environments. You think about air traffic controllers. You know if we're going, you know, off of the virtual for a moment, right? Like you know if you are leading people like that, you need to be modeling self-regulation. You know, and that's how it shows up, or doesn't show up when you're flying off the handle and just reacting in the moment.

0:24:09 - Kimberly King

Wow, I love that. Do they crave your presence or do they crave your absence? That's another one of those very thought you know fulfilling. We need to all think about that. So, thank you, I love those. What are some of the most critical steps that leaders need to follow to grow their emotional intelligence skills? And I know you've talked a little, a lot about that feedback and then when we grow in the negative zone. But what are, what are some of those?

0:24:36 - Sylvia Baffour

I, for me, the foundational step is self-awareness, right, but it's not what people often think of because, Kim, I've seen and taken a lot of self-assessments, EI self-assessments, right, and I don't think it always offers the best and complete picture, because if you think about it, you sit down and take a 15 question assessment EI assessment and you learn a lot about yourself, right, and I call it the internal self-awareness. You learn about how you react to triggers and things like that. But the big missing piece is how do other people experience you? External self-awareness. So I think leaders need, if you are going to lead other human beings, you must have done some sort of 360- I like to do stakeholder interviews. I don't like to go into the convoluted, thick 10,000 question analysis, but it's just- Can I ask people in your direct reports, your peers, your supervisors, how they experience you with three things when do they think you're really strong? What are some growth areas for you? And then the third question is, if you were to show improvement in those growth areas that your people have identified, what would that look like concretely? What would that look like?

And it's important, because I remember I was coaching a CEO once who I was doing stakeholder interviews for him, and I interviewed 10 people who are led by him or they're his peers, and I started to realize that there was this consistent feedback that he's too nice, he's too nice, he's too nice.

And then I said to them you know, that's well and good, but I cannot go back to the CEO and say your people think you're too nice, because that means nothing to him. What does he do with that feedback? Right? And so the third question that I asked them was how does it manifest this ‘too niceness’? How is it manifesting on a daily basis? And because that is what I can then take to him as I'm coaching him and we can improve upon it. And in the conversations I discovered that one of the reasons why people thought he was too nice is because he couldn't say no to anyone, and so he was double booking his calendar and just, you know, it was causing a mess with a calendar, and so now we could work on hey, from week to week, did you double book this week? Right, it's measurable, it's tangible, yes, it's really.

0:27:00 - Kimberly King

And now people experience him as nice, but not to the detriment of what they have to do to get things done. Wow, and that's good concrete feedback. As you're saying, you really do have to hone in on your hunch, like you said as well, but also just I love that there are effective ways for that feedback and then there's just kind of like where it just falls flat. Interesting. So you wrote an emotional intelligence book that dares us to care, and can you share a little bit more about why you wrote this book the way you did?

0:27:29 - Sylvia Baffour

I like the way you framed that, Kim, because one thing I was clear on is I did not want to write a book that would read like a textbook, right? So I didn't want to get lost in the science and make it too clinical, because I know that there are a lot of emotional intelligence books I've read that I couldn't finish, because I just got lost in the weeds. And so I wanted mine to be filled with stories and anecdotes of emotional intelligence working or not working in people's lives. And, interestingly, I actually decided to drive Lyft for 18 months and interview unsuspecting passengers in Washington, DC and the conversations are remarkable.

0:28:08 - Kimberly King

I love that.

0:28:09 - Sylvia Baffour

It was pretty cool, real time. I interviewed CEOs of companies I was taking to the airport, or ESPN news anchors that I happened to take in my car and just random taken to the airport, you know, forensic investigators. But the bottom line is I wanted the book to show people that emotional intelligence is a skillset that you can take with you literally into the streets of your life every day and use it to your advantage. And I didn't want so if it's too clinical if I spend time talking about the amygdala and the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, it's like, okay, that's well and good, it makes me look smart, but then can you use it in a way that's really going to help you in your daily life? And so I'm daring people to care about the way they're moving through this world right and on a daily basis, how can you focus in on that?

One of the most important things I think about is you know, I had the privilege of being mentored by Dr. Maya Angelou for 13 years, the final 13 years of her life. And one of the sayings that I think most people remember her by is the one where she says people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but they'll never forget how you made them feel. And in later years, I came to think of this as your emotional aftertaste. Right, every interaction you're having with others leaves behind an emotional aftertaste, because people feel a certain way for having been in your presence. It's typically sweet or it's sour, and so my book just dares people to care about the emotional aftertaste they're leaving behind in the hearts and minds of those they interact with. And if you are developing yourself into the kind of person that others enjoy being around, you will look back at your life and realize how meaningfully rich it was. So that's at the heart of it for me.

0:29:53 - Kimberly King

It is true, though that quote I know it just really stays with me. You do want to leave people with that good emotional aftertaste, but it really does cause you to think inward in order to act outward you know, to say what do I need to work, what do I need to work on? So what final piece of advice would you give to leaders that are striving to cultivate a healthy, emotional, intelligent remote work culture?

0:30:18 - Sylvia Baffour

I mean, I think one of the biggest ones has to be lead with empathy. It's lead with empathy especially in the remote environment where there's an absence of physical presence right, and where you can't always read physical cues and make it a practice of regularly checking in with your team members, not just on work-related stuff, but also in what's going on in their lives. When I think of empathy if I can just share this real quick, Kim, because it was such a profound quote that Brene Brown shared in one of her books, the vulnerability researcher, and I thought it was the most beautiful way of thinking of empathy as a leader right, it's this idea. She says we need to dispel the myth that empathy is walking in someone else's shoes Rather than walk in your shoes. I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it's like in your shoes and believe you, even when it doesn't match my own experiences. And I think leaders in the remote environment should really be thinking of. What does it look like for me to lead with empathy with my team? Also, can I foster open and transparent communication? My people need to hear from me because I'm at physical distance from them.

So how well are you making open and transparent communication a priority? How often are you recognizing people and giving them feedback? People crave feedback. How good can you get at being honest? You know, emotional intelligence is not about being nice, right, because it's not about even being kind, because sometimes kindness is being direct, right, it's the kindest thing we can do sometimes is to give people the room to grow by putting on their radar those opportunities to grow and just saying it in a humane way, you know. So I would say those are things I would think about for leaders who are striving to grow. You know, and cultivate that emotionally intelligent culture, just- and then care about the work-life harmony of your people, right? You don't see them. You don't know what they're dealing with behind the scenes. Can you listen- with curiosity and not judgment- to your teams?

0:32:25 - Kimberly King

Yeah, and that's sometimes really difficult to do because we all have some judgment, but it is really trying to be fair and understand that we're all going through things. So that's great advice as well. So do you have any tools or strategies that you can share with us to help people build more inner resilience for the challenges they face in the workplace?

0:32:47 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, I will leave them with one tool because I don't want to inundate them with too much, because I think this tool is really important, and it is the idea that the reason that we require resilience in the first place is because we face things in our lives that challenge us. Okay, and I often say that emotional intelligence is not a skillset you need when your life is perfect, when your relationships are firing on all cylinders, when everything is going peachy, right. You need EI in those uncomfortable, challenging, inconvenient moments of your life.

And so, when it comes to resilience, which is an inside job, right, you think about how you frame the questions you're asking yourself in the face of what you're dealing with, because the data shows that most of us, as human beings, when things aren't going right, we default to asking why questions. Questions that start with the word why, and I use the term barricading questions because I think of how it barricades in our thinking, closes us off. And why questions aren't wrong. They're just not helpful. Now, there are times when you can ask why. If you're doing a scientific study, I understand you could ask why, why, why. But when you're building resilience, asking yourself why is unproductive.

What you want to do is develop a habit of asking what I call gateway questions because, like the name says, they open up the gates to forward thinking, and gateway questions typically begin with how or what. So I'll give you an example, Kim. Instead of saying why am I not advancing faster in my career? That's a legitimate question to ask. It's just not productive. Why am I not advancing as fast? I don't know.

Instead you could say, what one thing can I do creatively to boost my skills and marketability? Right? Why aren't I being heard in meetings? It's a legitimate question. It's not productive. You could say, how can I present my ideas for greater impact? Because when you ask the question that way, you may seek out a colleague who you know is really good at getting their ideas across in meetings. So the barricading questions have us pouting about the challenges of our lives. The gateway questions are opening up our minds to really think about solutions. So that's what builds resilience right, if we need resilience to show us the way forward as productively as possible, then gateway questions are the tool that you use. So stop asking barricading questions that begin with why and start asking more gateway questions- how and what.

0:35:19 - Kimberly King

I love that advice. I think, again, we can use it in all aspects of our lives. That's a really key component. Those gateway questions, thank you, for I feel like I'm just going to put this in my little toolbox right now. Nice, nice. What is something fun about you that might surprise people?

0:35:38 - Sylvia Baffour

What's something fun about me? Well one. I played tennis professionally for 15 years and one of my last matches I played was against a lady called Cara Black, who actually went on to win Wimbledon mixed doubles about seven different championships, so to say one. She beat me like I hadn't been practicing, but she allowed me to play the best match of my life, and it's kind of nice to see that the person who you lost to has reached the pinnacle of their lives. But I would say another fun, interesting thing is that I am ambidextrous. You know, many years ago I taught myself how to write with my left hand as well, just in case something happened to my right hand and so that's. I'm sure that's something that people don't really know about me, and it's fun to change up sometimes, you know.

0:36:27 - Kimberly King

But you know, your background with being a professional tennis player- that's that really just speaks droves, and I and again that competitiveness, but also being able to size up your opponent, I would imagine you know that comes in handy, and both hands too, so interesting. Well, I have surely enjoyed speaking with you today and I have learned so much. So thank you for sharing your knowledge and if you want more information, you can visit National University's website, nu.edu. And thank you so very much for your time today, Sylvia.

0:36:59 - Sylvia Baffour

Yeah, thank you, Kim. Thanks for the privilege and hopefully your listeners will get something really meaningful out of this conversation.

0:37:05 - Kimberly King

Absolutely. Thank you. You've been listening to the National University Podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

“[In the remote workplace] there's a higher chance that the people you're working with are feeling isolated, feeling disconnected, very prone to misunderstanding your communications.” - Sylvia Baffour, https://shorturl.at/ejvP6 Click to Tweet
“We have access to all of the words in the English language free of charge, but if we don't use our words mindfully, they can cost us a lot.”- Sylvia Baffour, https://shorturl.at/ejvP6 Click to Tweet