- Knowledge Centre

The Problem the Construction Industry Has With Emotional Intelligence

Construction is an industry that has long been struggling with poor performance, with companies and academics alike continuously trying – and largely failing – to identify ways to improve efficiency, quality, and profitability. Looking at key performance indicators, service level agreements, quality measures, and other such factors, issues have been identified and steps taken to bring the construction sector’s performance into line with other similar technical industries. 

But whether it is supply chain management or lean construction, these borrowed ideas have had limited effectiveness. However, one thing that is rarely measured when looking for areas of improvement is the Emotional Intelligence of the workforce. The industry continually looks for solutions in operations management, in optimising the efficiency of processes, and overlooks the importance of the people carrying out those processes, and the personal skills they may or may not possess. 

Why does construction have an Emotional Intelligence problem?

As an industry, construction appears particularly resistant to incorporating Emotional Intelligence into its procedures. Stereotyped as being only interested in ‘getting the job done,’ with no time for ‘soft skills,’ the construction sector has historically been intent on finding solutions to its problems in rational and mechanical processes rather than human ones.

This narrow focus seems rooted in the idea of the worker as simply self-interested and economically-driven, a view which was common in the early twentieth century. From this perspective, the human cogs in the company machine will work as rationally (and predictably) as the mechanical ones, so long as this simple motivation is understood. Psychology and emotions are irrelevant.

However, as research began to show the ways in which employees’ emotions and attitudes affect their work, some industries decided against using this new understanding to benefit their workers and companies – as Emotional Intelligence aims – and instead began to treat employees’ humanity as an unwanted variable to protect rational processes against.

In 1991 a report from the Advisory Community of Science and Technology (ACOST) recommended engineering education move away from entirely factual content and put more emphasis on developing skills such as leadership, communication, teamwork, and other personal skills. Unfortunately, this advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as over a decade later, Chinowsky and Brown (2004) found that American civil engineering education actually inhibited growth of its students’ Emotional Intelligence.

When assessing the Emotional Intelligence competencies of construction industry workers, from site manager to commercial director, too often they score low on two of the most vital skills for a manager – impulse control and reality testing. Impulse control measures whether an individual can stop, think, and plan before they take action, rather than selecting a strategy in a spur of the moment decision. Reality testing means being able to identify realistic and reasonable goals in order to secure a win-win deal that will not end in overrunning deadlines, inflated budgets, and disappointed clients.

Regrettably, it is not surprising that construction managers are so often lacking in these skills, as the industry norm is to promote workers to management roles in recognition of their skill in an unrelated area. These new managers do not then receive the training to equip them with the skills necessary to transition successfully into their new role, such as how to better manage themselves to allow them to manage others effectively.

Achieving outcomes through completing tasks oneself is very different from achieving outcomes through directing, enabling, and supporting others, and an employee moving from one role to the other without guidance is being set up to fail. 

Why does construction need Emotional Intelligence?

The role of the construction manager has numerous responsibilities that require various Emotional Intelligence competencies.

Choosing the best course of action to progress the project requires good judgement; liaising between client, contractors, and specialists requires effective communication; overseeing a team of people requires empathy, cooperation, and leadership skills. It is important to recognise that the phrase ‘Emotional Intelligence’ doesn’t refer solely to social skills, it also covers a wide range of so-called ‘soft skills’ such as conflict management, establishing trust, communicating clearly, and dealing with external pressures – all of which have direct impact on an individual and team’s outcomes. 

A construction manager’s leadership style can and will significantly affect a project’s outcome, for better or worse. The purpose of Emotional Intelligence training for managers is to provide them with the skills to make a conscious choice of how to behave, what style to adopt, in any given situation, in order to create the best outcome.

Managers demonstrating a high level of Emotional Intelligence are able to improve the performance of their team through effective management of their colleagues’ emotions, by fostering the emotions that promote creativity, confidence, and resilience. 

As construction is a project-based industry that relies on bringing different people together (clients, designers, suppliers etc.) for relatively short periods of time, it is essential for effective working that those involved are able to collaborate well from the start.

Where there are no pre-existing relationships between these employees or companies, this can be hard. Emotional Intelligence skills such as cultivating high-trust relationships, clear communication, and co-operation greatly enhance a team’s ability to become a cohesive unit capable of working efficiently.

On a project where multiple specialists are needed, not everyone involved will understand every aspect of the work being done, so it is vital there is sufficient trust in the relationships between workers so they can rely on each other’s expertise.

Having the ability to build high-trust relationships with specialists can reap benefits into the future, as the company will know they can rely on them for upcoming projects, saving time on recruitment and reducing risk. Effective communication becomes especially important on larger projects where many co-workers never meet in person.

In addition to these construction-specific needs, the industry is also in need of better Emotional Intelligence in order to gain the benefits that have been achieved across industries when employers pay attention to the emotional and psychological needs of their staff.

Faking emotions or restraining real ones can cause serious psychological problems such as burnout, which can cause reduced work quality and, ultimately, absences. Emotional Intelligence teaches an individual how to be aware of their emotions and manage them effectively, so they can reduce or eliminate these issues. Emotional Intelligence also boosts efficient cooperation, meaning better outcomes for team projects. 

This doesn’t even come close to a comprehensive list of all the ways Emotional Intelligence training can benefit the construction sector. From ensuring managers are fully equipped to make the most of their team’s potential to creating clear standards around employee conduct, value-focused Emotional Intelligence training could be exactly what your company needs to achieve the high efficiency, high quality, and high profitability that it deserves.

For more information on what Summit can offer your organisation, take a look at the Emotional Intelligence training courses we provide for leaders, for managers and for teams.

Be sure to read our next post to see ways in which the construction industry can become more emotionally intelligent.