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June 22, 2018

small biz advice

Relating to employees

Jerry Osteryoung | 4/2/2012

So much of my job is coaching and mentoring the management of both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. It is really not surprising to me that both types of businesses share a similar set of problems, all rooted in the managers' lack of emotional intelligence, which is an inability to relate to or empathize with staff.

Jerry Osteryoung
Jerry Osteryoung

I was brought in by the CEO of a firm to coach one of his managers. The CEO reported having received numerous complaints from the staff about this manager and also said that the department seemed to be less productive than it could be.

In these situations, I typically use a variety of assessments, some meant to help determine the manager's strengths and some to test their emotional intelligence. Additionally, I survey the manager's colleagues and staff to get an idea of their effectiveness as a leader.

In this case, it became very obvious early on that the manager was not relating to his staff very well. When I asked the staff whether the manager was sensitive to their challenges, I got responses like, "Are you kidding me? He is the worst manager ever," or "He is an emotional iceberg."

Given these accounts, my task was clear. The bottom line here was that the manager was completely cut off from his own emotions, and I knew if we were going to teach him how to have empathy for his staff, he first needed to learn how to have empathy for himself.

After several long coaching sessions, I discovered that he had a difficult upbringing and had learned at a young age to stuff his emotions in order to survive. Expressing emotions just was not tolerated in his family. I now understood his behavior, but the fact of the matter was if he was going to be a better manager, he was just going to have to learn to allow himself to feel and have empathy.

Because he knew his lack of emotions was having a negative impact on many areas of his life, he was very willing to work with me. I told him early on that this would not be a quick fix. I warned him the process would require much work but assured him I thought we could make him a better manager.

The first step was to teach him how to feel emotions, so I started by helping him understand where in the body most people register their feelings. Once I was able to get him to start feeling, we moved on to phase two, which had him recording whatever he was feeling every 15 minutes - in essence, forcing him to continually take stock of his emotions.

The purpose of this exercise was to increase his emotional awareness and improve his sensitivity to his feelings.

What was really neat about this transformation was that while I was working with the manager, his staff - even his CEO - started to notice changes in him as well. They all seemed to agree that he was becoming much more pleasant to be around.

I continue to work with this manager, and he still has a long way to go, but he has made substantial progress.

Now go out and make sure that you and your managers are relating well to your staff. If either of you are not, it could be that you need some training on improving your emotional intelligence. There are a number of very good books out there on this topic.

You can do this.

Go to Links Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at The Florida State University; The Jim Moran Professor Emeritus of Entrepreneurship; and Professor Emeritus of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book" is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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