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Mental Health

Learning To Become An Emotionally Intelligent Team Player: The Unexplored Facets

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By Saloni Chaudhary
11 Mar'22  10 min read
Learning To Become An Emotionally Intelligent Team Player: The Unexplored Facets

From an evolutionary perspective, humans have always functioned and thrived in groups, and there’s great merit in learning the art and skill of engaging with others. A great team player in any setting is one who recognises the importance of communication, emotional intelligence and self-awareness as the bedrock for organized and collaborative teamwork. Along with discussing the qualities of an effective team member, this article elucidates the why, what, where, and how of the process of growing into an emotionally intelligent team member, and the team player skills that one should possess.

Read more
Learning To Become An Emotionally Intelligent Team Player: The Unexplored Facets

From an evolutionary perspective, humans have always functioned and thrived in groups, and there’s great merit in learning the art and skill of engaging with others. A great team player in any setting is one who recognises the importance of communication, emotional intelligence and self-awareness as the bedrock for organized and collaborative teamwork. Along with discussing the qualities of an effective team member, this article elucidates the why, what, where, and how of the process of growing into an emotionally intelligent team member, and the team player skills that one should possess.

Read more

We humans are inherently wired to work, play, and thrive in groups, taking comfort and consolation in the knowledge that we can depend on others in moments of uncertainty and unsurety. From an evolutionary perspective, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a huge advantage of existing in social groups which facilitated survival through cooperation and smooth exchange of information. As Charles Darwin famously said, “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

Over time, the concept and need of collaborative teamwork has expanded and become very diverse. And yet, ‘self-sufficiency’ is extolled as a contemporary value we must embrace and develop. We are often taught to focus on just ourselves in our journey from childhood – get the best grades, be the best at sports or art, make the best projects, and eventually, unwittingly embark on an isolating journey towards perceived excellence and success. However, as we progress in life towards new avenues, we will almost always find ourselves in group settings, which can feel highly debilitating and awkward if we are not acquainted with the importance of communication and the ‘art of engaging with others’. We may try to manoeuvre through these experiences by latching on to this ‘myth of self-sufficiency’ and believing that we are enough and don’t need others. But greater wisdom lies in understanding how humans have always functioned - in well organised, collaborative teams.

The Where

So, who is a team player and where are we exactly required to have good team player skills? The answer is simple - any setting, situation, or role that sets you up in a group, gives you an opportunity to be an effective team member or player. Think of working on school projects, organising events at the university level, being part of a sports team, engaging in community volunteer work, working in a professional workplace setting, or even being a member of your family unit and friend circle, where verbal communication, understanding, respect, and cooperation are key. We don’t always need to conjure up an image of an office setting while trying to understand the meaning of what it takes to have good team player qualities and be a good team member – this concept is much wider than that. Even familial relationships and friendships can benefit greatly from our understanding of the importance of communication and emotional intelligence when working in groups.

The What

To develop a few good team player skills, we may consider being flexible with the responsibilities we take on, respecting team-members and acknowledging individual differences, taking ownership, listening actively and patiently, while showing acknowledgement through verbal communication as well as non-verbal body language, asking appropriate questions so that others feel heard, communicating clearly and effectively, and sharing feedback respectfully, being confident and self-assured in our skills and abilities, and helping team-mates when we see them struggling.

During this time, we usually wonder ‘what is the right thing to do’ as a good team player and what can we learn? But, what we often miss is the ‘how’, which is of much more significance. How do we develop the sensibilities to be this person? The reason why simple generic advice often fails to be effective is that it’s not meant for your personality, and your environment. As Steven Kotler emphasizes, ‘Personality doesn’t scale, biology does’, which means that there are different types of personality that we all fall into, and so the same advice won’t work for everyone. We must go deeper to understand who we are, and what our emotional world looks like in order to implement any new ideas in our life.

The How: Understanding Emotional Intelligence

So then how to go about it? Let’s explore a bit about emotions and Emotional Intelligence (or Emotional Quotient / EQ). Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions in a healthy and functional way, and also develop a strong sense to do the same for the emotions of others. Emotions are as much a part of our body as they are of the mind, and sometimes ‘feeling emotions’ can be a scary experience. We may fumble to find the right words to say to someone in a team, we may get scared when we find our hands and legs trembling uncontrollably when confronted with a stressful situation, we may be unable to comprehend the queasiness in our stomach, the tightness and throbbing in the chest, and the dryness in the throat. We may sometimes feel scared and alien in our own bodies.

When people join professional organisations, one of their biggest challenges is making sense of their own identities, emotions, and personalities in the professional context. They have the best degrees from the best colleges, but emotional education is elusive. Learning to comprehend and label our emotions can be hugely helpful in choosing a response in any situation, and communicating and contributing effectively, thereby facilitating our understanding of what it means to be a team player.

Team Player Skills

Let's discuss a few important team player skills that you should look to develop to become an emotionally intelligent team player.

Team Player Skills: Self-Awareness

Building emotional intelligence also naturally builds greater self-awareness. As team settings can sometimes be complex, we might fail to act in ways that we inherently know are right for us. For instance, simply ‘knowing’ that we need to be confident in our skills will not be helpful unless we know how to really be confident.

A good understanding of ourselves - our emotions, our thoughts, our strengths and weaknesses, what works best for us when we are in challenging and stressful situations (Deep breathing? Talking to a friend? Taking a break? Writing in a journal? Taking a walk in the park? Different things work for different people!), and what doesn’t work - gives us inherent, foundational confidence that nothing else can. Are we feeling intimidated, unconfident, shy, scared of rejection or being disliked, unsure of ourselves, and wary of judgement? Or on the other hand are we over-confident, arrogant, too proud, or too independent to want to seek help, cooperate, or engage with others in a healthy and constructive way? Both these sets of attitudes can act as a hindrance in developing healthy communication and relationship with other team members.

In a team, we are confronted with diverse people having varied attitudes, backgrounds, opinions, and different types of personalities, and if we don’t know who we are, we can’t offer our uniqueness to the team and might feel compelled to merge with them - think of an inter-school, inter-state, or an international exchange program, where students work on projects in diverse teams. In our quest to understand ourselves better, it can also be rewarding to notice and observe unpleasant and dysfunctional emotions and attitudes towards others that can stop us from being good team players.

A journey into ‘self-awareness’ allows us to identify and acknowledge these feelings without judgement and encourages us to take the right steps to overcome them in a constructive manner. We can seek the help of a parent, a counsellor, a teacher or a mentor, in addressing these emotions.

Team Player Skills: Empathy

how to become an emotionally intelligent team player,  becoming an emotionally intelligent team player, emotionally intelligent teamEmpathy And Understanding In Teams

Our perception of weaknesses in others can create multiple reactions in us: we can judge them for not knowing something or not doing a job well, or we can choose to be emotionally intelligent, empathise, enquire and understand their challenge, and offer a helping hand. Something interesting is at play here, called ‘the fundamental attribution error’, which means that we tend to judge a person’s behaviour as a reflection of their character or personality, rather than accounting for unobvious, external, and uncontrollable factors in that situation. For example: If a team member in a school project fails to complete their tasks on time, we may be tempted to judge them as “tardy”, and “unpunctual”, and not give them important tasks the next time.

However, it is important to not form an automatic personality judgement at the outset and to ask what really happened. Maybe they couldn’t understand the task, or were too shy to ask? Maybe they have some personal issue which is affecting their work? Perhaps, even they are not proud of the missed deadline.

Ironically, when it comes to us, we say we couldn’t perform “because” of something - we hadn’t slept well the previous night, we were not well, we got confused, and so on. We see it as a temporary, external, and situational problem. This bias makes us judge others more harshly than ourselves, which can lead to unpleasant and negative feelings towards them as well as a reluctance to better ourselves.

Team Player Skills: Taking Feedback

Communicating openly and giving and receiving feedback - both pleasant as well as potentially unpleasant at times - are good team player examples of what it takes to accept one’s shortcomings, be humble, and keep learning from one’s mistakes. Such verbal communication and feedback-seeking are important in social groups and settings. But there is something about this form of communication that can put us on our guard; we may perceive this as criticism or rejection by the group, which, according to evolutionary and neuroscience research, is a trigger that can espouse intense emotions of hurt, shame, social anxiety, and embarrassment.

In moments like these, our automatic response may force us to go down the spiral of self-doubt, second-guessing our abilities, and feeling demotivated. But here’s the good part - with awareness of this process in advance, we can bring in a conscious and intentional perspective, where we remind ourselves that “Hey! This is feedback for my growth, and not a rejection or judgement of who I am as a person”. This deliberate shift and revised labelling can change how our brain processes the situation and the emotions it generates. It becomes ever easier then, to identify the good intention in feedback that comes our way, take it gracefully, and ask questions to clarify anything that seems ambiguous.

Developing the humility to accept our shortcomings and mistakes and working on them also requires us to start seeing them as only small inevitable ‘parts’ of us, and not ‘all’ of us.

Team Player Skills: Accentuate The Positives In Others

We all fall prey to a negativity bias in our everyday life, where our attention catches the things that are not going too well (the negatives or flaws of someone or something), while very conveniently ignoring or taking for granted things that are really going well (the strengths of a situation or person). This bias may lead us to direct too much of our energy in highlighting and fixing the flaws, while our team members may rightfully await an honest acknowledgement for their efforts.

Team motivation is highly dependent on the consistent and genuine recognition of the positives and the importance of people in the team. It acts as a reward, encouraging people to invest more in their work the next time. So don’t hesitate to tell a team member of your sports team, debate team, dramatics group, dance group, or academic project group- “Your skills are so important for this team”, or “We love and appreciate what you bring to this group!”.

The Big Picture

In conclusion, whenever we find ourselves taking interest in reading about ‘How to be better at something’, it’s helpful to see it as a process of becoming that person. This needs honest and sincere effort and being able to let go of our unuseful traits, while embracing and befriending the new improved versions of us. The endeavour to have good team player qualities and being a team leader is no different. It requires us to become emotionally intelligent and authentic in our relationships, and see the humanness within us, as well as in each member we interact with.

Saloni Chaudhary is a counselling psychologist and mental health educator. She works with Reboot Wellness, Gurugram.

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