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Martha and Jim each have a very different impact on their center. Martha inspires a high degree of trust. The team members offer solutions to organizational challenges without fear of making mistakes. On Jim’s shift, the feeling is different. Day-to-day, his subordinates don’t know what to expect. His employees generally keep their ideas for improving the center to themselves. Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? Read on and discover the attribute that is the biggest differentiator.


A clear difference

Martha, patient and communicative

There are two supervisors at your center. The first, Martha, is the epitome of patience and understanding during heated, emotionally-charged moments. When dealing with difficult situations on the dispatch floor, she is sensitive, yet direct and to the point. She communicates proactively and thinks on her feet. Martha reads the emotions of others very well, and manages to build relationships with almost anyone.


Martha always looks out for her employees. She has the ability to put herself in their shoes and ask herself what is wrong with a situation. Even during tough conversations, Martha is concerned about maintaining good, comfortable relationships. She helps her staff improve and grow, and she sets a good example for dealing with people assertively and speaking up. She tries very hard to be nonjudgmental and gives people the benefit of the doubt. Martha knows her teammates very well, and this enables her to handle conflict in a calm and positive manner. Even when there’s an atmosphere of resistance, confusion or outright conflict, she tries to find the best way to communicate.

Jim, reactive and hurried

The second supervisor, Jim, lets his emotions rule his behavior. Sometimes he acts or speaks hurriedly. In stressful situations, or when something goes wrong, Jim sometimes responds too quickly, sharply, or disjointedly. He means well, but can panic then stressed. His reactions trickle onto his teammates.


Jim is not one to socialize. He is so focused on work and sometimes comes across as not interested in what’s going on with a person on a particular day. He seems to have a “hardening of his positions,” and it makes him unwilling to accept other people’s viewpoints or include their input in his decisions. If Jim doesn’t see eye-to-eye with someone, he makes it apparent that it’s not worth developing the relationship. He always reacts to people instead of responding to them, and there is a stigma that Jim is tough, difficult to work for, and unapproachable.

The effects of Emotional Intelligence

Martha and Jim each have a very different impact on the center. Martha inspires a high degree of trust. Her teammates are made to feel safe through their interactions with her. They offer solutions to organizational challenges without fear of making mistakes. Martha’s employees take responsibility for their actions and hold themselves and their coworkers accountable. As result, there is a strong sense of team camaraderie and feelings of morale run high.

On Jim’s shift, the feeling is different. Day-to-day, his subordinates don’t know what to expect. He makes decisions without talking to his people, and has been known to give certain employees the silent treatment for weeks or months at a time. His employees generally keep their ideas for improving the center to themselves—“it doesn’t matter what we think anyway,” they say to each other. Jim’s staff members don’t feel valued and regularly complain about the way things are. The shift’s tone is one of victimization and blame.


It might sound like we’re talking about two completely different centers above, and, to employees who find themselves working Martha’s shift, then Jim’s, it can feel like it.

This is an example of the power of working with someone who has a high degree of Emotional Intelligence (or EQ, for short). In this example, Martha is the emotionally intelligent supervisor, intently aware of how she impacts her team and her organization as a whole. Jim, on the other hand, has lower EQ, making it difficult for him to understand how his emotions get in the way of his ability to make an impact.

EQ - The defining factor

Dr. Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves, in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, suggest that emotional intelligence is one of the single most important factors determining the success of an organization’s leadership team. Like Martha, leaders with high EQ tap the true potential of their teams. Bradberry and Greaves’ research, compiled after the participation of over 500,000 test subjects, is conclusive: EQ matters a great deal, yet only 36% of people are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen. It’s true—most of us are still in the dark, sabotaging our own success along with the success of those we work with.


So what can be done about it?

If you recognize yourself in the description of the second supervisor, Jim, don’t worry. There is hope. Begin today practicing the following five EQ-improvement techniques, and watch your effectiveness as a supervisor take a turn for the better:

  1. Observe the ripple effect from your emotions. When you're frustrated or having a bad day, how does it affect the way you interact? Do you notice you’re less patient with coworkers? Do you avoid difficult conversations? Being in a leadership role, your actions and words are amplified while you work with others. One negative interaction can spread your frustration like wildfire.
  2. Know who or what pushes your buttons. We all have hot buttons. Being aware of them so you can work with them or avoid them altogether will prevent you from reacting and saying something you’ll later regret. When emotions take control, it’s much more difficult to respond productively.
  3. Breathe right. The breath is always with us, beckoning us back to the present moment. The problem is, most don’t breathe properly, only taking tiny sips of air into the upper chest. Try a couple of deep breaths into the lower belly right now, and notice how you instantly feel more relaxed.
  4. Practice the art of listening. What’s your listening style? Are you merely waiting for the other person to shut up so you can reply? Or are you actively engaged in the exchange? Notice your thoughts, body language and how you respond the next time you’re speaking to someone.
  5. Explain your decisions, don’t just make them. When your employees feel left in the dark, the rumor mill kicks into high gear. Transparency and openness, on the other hand, make people feel like they are trusted, respected, and connected to the center’s larger purpose.

It takes practice to pave inroads into a lifetime of conditioned ways of communication, but it’s a challenge worth taking. Your employees will thank you.


  • Bradberry, Travis, et al. Emotional Intelligence 2.0: the World's Most Popular Emotional Intelligence Test. TalentSmart, 2009.

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About the Author


Adam Timm is the president and co-founder of The Healthy Dispatcher. Previously a 9-1-1 telecommunicator with the Los Angeles Police Dept. for over a decade, Adam now provides leadership and resilience training to PSAPs around the country. His second book, Dispatcher Stress: 50 Lessons on Beating the Burnout, is out now. Visit for more.

Also available at, Adam's blog How the Best Comm Centers Motivate Frontline Employees.

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