How to Benefit from Emotional Intelligence and User Research

Is your team leveraging nine emotional intelligence traits that can positively impact your company's bottom line? 

In this video presentation, Shannon Graf -- Director of Experience Strategy and Insight (ESI) with projekt202 -- examines emotional intelligence and its business applications, highlighting crucial traits and competencies to put into practice today.

A transcript of Shannon's presentation also follows.

I'm here today to talk to you about emotional intelligence and its application to us as a research team. We'll hit on what emotional intelligence is and then where it intersects with our practice in research.

Emotional intelligence is a hot-button topic today, so it's even more important as researchers that we become aware of how emotional intelligence does come into our practice.

Starting with the definition of emotional intelligence, it's your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself as well as others.

Then, beyond that, the importance to us as researchers is that we use that awareness to manage not just our behavior, but the behavior around us, in relationships and engagements with our clients, with our respondents.


It's very important for us to really be aware of ourselves so that we can apply emotional intelligence in our practice.

There are four competencies that make up emotional intelligence.

They're both personal and social. The personal is really the foundational competencies that you want, to be able to have an understanding of before you build on the social.

For self-awareness, it's your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment, as well as understanding your tendencies across various circumstances. Once you have that self-awareness and you know yourself enough to know that in any given circumstance you're going to respond or react a certain way, the more you can prepare yourself for the next competency, which is self-management.

Self-management's your ability to use that awareness of your emotions to stay flexible, and then direct your behavior more in a positive direction. If your tendency is to be a little bit tense or maybe skew negatively, self-management and really practicing your self-management emotional intelligence competency will help you direct things more in a positive direction.

Once you've got that understanding of your self-awareness and your self-management, and where you score on those scales, which we'll talk about later, then you can build on the social competencies, starting with social awareness, which is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and then understand what's really going on there.

You can be aware of this person's tendency to behave a certain way or that they're reacting a certain way, but beyond that, to really understand that you haven't really walked a mile in their shoes, so you may not know what's going on, but you do have some sort of empathy toward the fact that something else might be triggering those reactions. That's social awareness in a nutshell.

Finally, relationship management is your ability to use that awareness of both your emotions and those of others to facilitate interaction successfully.

Once you've achieved that self-awareness and self-management, you can really build on turning the focus externally toward the social awareness and the relationship management, super important for us as researchers.

Some of us inherently have those skills. Others, they just develop over time by the nature of what we're doing, which is often interacting with a variety of different personality types.

Next, we'll talk about some key traits of researchers that tie back to emotional intelligence.

Nine of those key traits:

  • Leadership

  • Attentiveness

  • Curiosity

  • Empathy

  • Compassion

  • Perceptiveness

  • Resilience

  • Boundaries

  • Intuition


Quick scenario that we often find ourselves in -- pretty common one here -- is, as researchers, we're often in a conference room, say, of various project members, ranging from the client side composed of maybe stakeholders or maybe some of the execution team that we're working with directly, as well as our internal team.

You can find yourself in that situation often, whether it's in person, over the phone, and those key components come in handy. Those traits that we embody as researchers really do get tapped into when we're talking to a conference room full of these variety of roles and personality types that have different stakes in the project.

In this scenario, the meeting is consisting of a kick-off where the collective goal of the group is "We're here to improve the overall user experience or else budget cuts might take place."

This may be a common scenario where there's a lot at stake here, so there might be some tensions in the room that are being brought in from the client side. They've enlisted us to help them, guide them through this process, so we're responsible for really making sure that that meeting goes well by the nature of the fact that we know of the existing issues in the room. We may not know the existing issues in the room, but there are going to be a variety of different personalities at play here.

Having said that, let's go back to those key traits that we'll tap into.


Leadership. We have to have the ability to read the room when we walk in, maybe even before we walk into the room, knowing the roles of the different people there, any existing tensions, like I mentioned before. Leadership really starts with being able to read the room.

Then, with attentiveness, assessing body language. Where are people sitting? How are they interacting? Are there side conversations going on? Are people engaged? Just having that sort of awareness and being attentive to that, maybe even at the beginning of the meeting and throughout.

Curiosity. Asking questions according to those observations. We can't help ourselves as researchers, we build on our observations and we like to ask a lot of questions, but really specifically honing in on the questions that will help us understand what we're observing and then, therefore, we direct the conversation when need be.

empathy team.jpg

A really key component that I've mentioned a couple of times is empathy. So, acknowledging those sentiments, understanding, again going back to any existing tensions that might exist, acknowledging, "Hey, we're here collectively to work you toward that common goal. We're on the same team with you. We're going to get there together." Acknowledging if there is some frustration, a little bit of tension, and being able to redirect accordingly using that self-management component of the social competencies.

Compassion. Giving each person a voice. In a large conference room, there will be dominant personalities. We need to be aware of that as researchers so that we can help, again, redirect the conversation. Also, making sure that everybody is heard, because everyone's there for a reason. They're part of the team. They each play a key role in making sure that that person's voice is heard, so that everyone understands their perspective and their role as it pertains to that project.

meeting compassion.jpg

Perceptiveness. Being able to identify varying personality types in the room and their tendencies based on your observations. So, going back to those four social competencies. The better aware you are of your tendencies and how you're going to manage yourself, the more you can apply it externally to how to manage others.

With resilience, we're bringing a tense situation back around to a positive spin. So, again, going back to acknowledging any existing tensions, giving awareness to that sentiment that that person has, but also being able to redirect it in a positive spin to re-engage the dialogue even, to bring it back around. Acknowledge that "Yes, there's tension. We got it. Let's go back and talk through a positive path."

Boundaries. Establishing some parameters, so whether that's internal or things that you're going to state explicitly to the group externally and maybe even put up on a whiteboard, just some rules, some guidelines for the dialogue, the conversation, the meeting. Again, those can be things that you've established internally and you know when to call the shots, call time-out, and redirect.

Which leads us into intuition, so sensing when and how that needs to happen. Knowing that that conversation probably needs to come to a halt. "Think we've got everything we need. Now let's go ahead and talk back to our topic at hand."

That's just a way that those key traits can come into play given that common scenario that we often find ourselves in as researchers.

Some key resources that we often recommend are to go out and take a test, find out what your EQ is. EQ stands for emotional quotient. That's the same as emotional intelligence, but it's more commonly referred to as EQ in the industry.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is the second edition of a really good book. It's a compilation of authors that have come together and really given you some strategies, so depending on where you score in each of those four competencies. If you need to work on any of those to bring that score up, they give you a variety of strategies to really practice, depending on what your style is.

Another really good resource [Atlas of Emotions] is out there. It was actually the Dalai Lama who posted this website in conjunction with a lot of other folks. It's a great way to understand emotions, what some of those triggers are behind it, and it's a cool website, too. We like cool technology here at projekt202.

That's all for emotional intelligence today as it pertains to research. We've just scratched the surface, so feel free to reach out for any questions.

projekt202 is the leader in experience-driven software strategy, design and development. We have a unique and established methodology for understanding people in context — we reveal unmet needs — which drives everything we do. This leads to a crisp, clear understanding of the customer, which shapes the design and development of new solutions and experiences. We have the expertise, teams, skills and scale to deliver sophisticated software solutions that improve any and all touchpoints across the user journey.

projekt202 has spent over 15 years bringing to life and to market compelling experiences through our Experience Strategy & InsightUser ExperienceSoftware DevelopmentMarketing & Analytics, and Program Management practices. Our talented team has delivered emotionally-rich and intuitive solutions for global brands and clients such as 7-Eleven, Allstate, Canon, Capital One, Dell, McKesson, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, Neiman Marcus, Samsung Electronics, Subway and The Container Store, among many others.

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