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How leaders can use emotional intelligence to connect with all employee types

Feb 11, 2021

Figuring out how to effectively manage employees with different personalities and working styles is a critical part of emotionally intelligent leadership.


Organizations have spent a lot of time, effort, and resources in recent years  to find ways to motivate employees. From office perks, to personality tests designed to determine working styles and preferences—many employers devote a lot of effort to try to increase worker performance.

This is understandable: Each employee is different and what motivates one may not work for another. So figuring out whether someone is highly extroverted, introverted, likes to work alone, or loves to be part of a team can be valuable information for leaders to have.

Managers who take the time to get to know their employees are well-positioned to get their best effort—but only if they then leverage that information. Here’s how to do it effectively:


Personality tests are often given as part of a team-building exercise at a company retreat, meaning there is often no follow-up and the information is forgotten shortly after it is collected.

To do this effectively, you must first make it perfectly clear that all styles are equal and will lead to a stronger team and organization. The person who hates to be micromanaged and enjoys working alone has just as an important role as the extrovert who loves attention and wants to be surrounded by others.

It’s equally critical that you follow up after the tests to see how your employees see these traits playing out in the workplace. It is also an opportunity for you to get to know your people on a deeper personal level. An area to explore would be their favorite parts of the job, as well as the parts that they dread the most.


To get your staff to be more open and build the trust that is needed for your staff to share, you need to model the behavior they are seeking. Start by being honest, and transparent about your own traits, likes, dislikes, and how you best like to be approached. (Some even go so far as writing this down in a “user’s guide.”)

In my book on emotional intelligence, The Other Kind of Smart, I offer examples of how leaders were able to build trust and sharing. Leaders who are able to fully engage all types of staff must first learn how to become excellent listeners. The fifth of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Most people listen to respond, rather than to hear what is really being said. Emotionally intelligent leaders continuously strive to listen to understand.

Large numbers of staff and new members continuously being onboarded make it more difficult for leaders to learn about individual preferences and to get to know their people at a deeper level. But leaders can combat this by using portions of staff meetings to share personal information. To do this successfully, they need to take the lead, and be open and vulnerable with their own sharing. Staff should never feel that they have to share more than they are willing to or comfortable with.


In order to keep track of preferences of a lot of staff (and especially those who are new), it may make sense to keep a record of relevant information that you can use to make to help organize people into teams and assign work. As work needs to be done, deadlines met and new projects are taken on, it will not always be possible to put people in areas that they prefer and take advantage of their natural skill sets.

For example, say a particular employee is very independent and productive, but prefers to work alone. The organization takes on a new project that needs all hands on board working closely as a team. Knowing that this person works better—and prefers to work—alone, the leader approaches him and first acknowledges his preference, but is told that the project needs his input during this time. By first acknowledging the person’s preference, the chances of getting their buy-in to the project go up substantially.


Giving recognition is another area that it becomes important to know someone’s preference. The loud extrovert who loves attention may welcome public recognition while the introvert may be very uncomfortable and prefer to be recognized privately. This is an area that an emotionally intelligent leader needs to get right, as recognition given in the wrong manner could defeat the purpose and turn the receiver off. If the leader isn’t sure, they could check with coworkers, past employers, or anyone that knows the person well.

Everyone loves to be recognized and appreciated for who they are and the unique attributes and skills they bring to work.  Leaders who make the effort to go the extra mile to do this will be rewarded with increased loyalty, less absenteeism, and a happier, more productive workplace.


Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to


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