If you had told me I would one day write about the crucial role emotions play in the success of a product, I would have thought you’re crazy. You may think that being a Product Owner is all about sharing vision, maximizing product value, managing processes, tasks, and milestones, right?
Yes, but that’s only part of the story. Being a successful Product Owner is also about understanding and using Emotional Intelligence (EI). Years of experience have made me appreciate the extent and power of EI in my job. And yours, too.
Let’s see how that works. And you’ll understand why Emotional Intelligence is one of the most sought-after skills and why a 2017 Google study highlighted that the best managers use EI.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is the ability of a person to perceive, understand and manage his emotions while also being able to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
According to the HelpGuide.org, the characteristics of Emotional Intelligence can be grouped in 4 main categories:
- Self-Awareness: being able to recognize one’s emotions and how they can affect behavior. It helps to be self-confident and fully aware of strengths and weaknesses.
- Self-Management: being able to manage one’s emotions healthily, respect commitments, take the initiative, and adapt faster to change.
- Social Awareness: being concerned about other people, feeling comfortable in a social environment.
- Relationship Management: being able to communicate clearly, develop and maintain good relationships, manage conflict, as well as inspire and influence others.
How do you fare on these?
Why has Emotional Intelligence become so important in the workspace?
The need to work remotely impacted the emotional state of most employees, increasing their level of stress and anxiety. According to State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report, “57 percent of US and Canadian workers report feeling stressed on a daily basis, up by 8 percent from the year prior”.
To help your colleagues through this stressful time, you need a high level of Emotional Intelligence. This means you need to:
- play the role of a stimulus, as be able of resolving conflicts,
- have the capacity to motivate, sustain and coach others,
- be capable of building good relationships and create a collaboration culture, and also
- empathize with others, and be able to reduce their anxiety and stress.
Now more than ever, we need to develop high Emotional Intelligence skills. As Product Owners, we must use all of these skills to help our team and get results.
Why is it crucial for the Product Owner to have high Emotional Intelligence?
The Product Owner’s role is very complex and relies on many skills which require a high level of Emotional Intelligence, such as analytical, communication, decision-making, product management, or collaboration.
If a Product Owner lacks these skills, it can lead to disastrous product management: distrustful stakeholders, high pressure on the team, team members feeling frustrated on what they delivered, even demotivated and insecure, which affects their productivity and performance.
On the other hand, a Product Owner with strong Emotional Intelligence can better understand the stakeholders’ needs and expectations, control his negative emotions, and motivate the team.
Six ways a Product Owner can use EI
Here are the six Emotional Intelligence skills a Product Owner should master:
- The ability to listen. You need to listen to everyone involved in the product’s life cycle (stakeholders, users, clients, development team, etc.). Understanding their emotions and analyzing their needs is a starting point in making the right business decisions. That’s why the Product Owner should be a good listener.
- The control of negative emotions. It allows maintaining a stable, motivated, and pleasant relationship with the stakeholders and the Development team. For a Product Owner, it is essential to control his negative emotions, develop and maintain trustful and open relationships, and neutralize toxic people inside the project. Since, in most cases, people have different opinions, the Product Owner should see the conflict as an opportunity to understand others better, knowing that healthily resolving the conflict will strengthen trust between people.
- Humor. It is well-known that laughter brings the nervous system into balance, reducing stress, and making people more empathic.
- Spreading happiness. The enthusiasm that is part of Emotional Intelligence plays an essential role in motivating people. For example, an enthusiastic Product Owner will “contaminate” the development team and “seduce” the stakeholders with his energy and determination. So, enthusiasm is a significant part of success. For instance, Steve Jobs explained the colossal success of Apple through a simple phrase: “We’re just enthusiastic about what we do.”
- Empathy. It helps the Product Owner better understand different angles from different perspectives (technical, strategical, operational). Empathy for the users, clients, or the Development team will help him see the “big picture” and make the best decisions based on reality. Also, paying attention to everyone’s emotions, needs, and expectations, using pleasant words to recognize the success, or criticizing constructively – when needed – will create a friendly and trusting work environment that helps people perform better.
- Leadership. All true leaders are excelling in the Emotional Intelligence area. Making people believe in and follow you, no matter what requires a strong Emotional Intelligence base. In the Product Owners’ case, Emotional Intelligence allows them to practice different adaptive leadership approaches based on different situations.
Soft skills are crucial in the workspace. They provide a balance that leads to the success of a project. But they are also harder to develop compared to technical skills.
Yet, you should aim to develop your own Emotional Intelligence and help your team acquire these skills. Believe me: it works.