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Developing Group Emotional Intelligence Increases Team Trust


With ambiguous and interdependent projects, the potential for conflict puts team trust at risk. Though, it’s been shown that teams with elevated Group Emotional Intelligence (GEI), who recognize, understand, and manage its emotional state, as well as develop norms that mange emotional processes (Ghuman, 2011) are more likely to effectively manage that conflict and trust others (Christie et al., 2015). McAllister defines trust as […] the extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to act on the basis of the words, actions, and decisions of another” (1995, p.25). Specifically in the form of two types of trust: Affective and Cognitive. Affective Trust is based on caring and concern, while cognitive trust is formed from assessing an individual’s expertise and reliability (Barczak et al, 2010).

This article discusses ways GEI increases trust by managing emotions (McAllister, 1995) and being sensitive to the needs, interests, thoughts, and feelings of others (Chang et al, 2012). As well as offers preliminary steps teams can take to strengthen GEI, which is a collective representation of individual levels of emotional intelligence. It should be noted that the terms emotional intelligence and GEI are used interchangeably.

The Business Case

With team trust and GEI positively linked to team performance (Breuer et al., 2016; Chang et al., 2012), understanding the relationship between emotional intelligence and team trust is important for team effectiveness. Teams with established trust share knowledge (Jao-Hong et al., 2008), are willing to work with team members, and more satisfied than those without (Mayfield et al., 2016). Compared to teams who lack trust and are disengaged and lack innovation (Hastings, 2011). Making any factor that builds trust, like GEI, is an important consideration regarding team effectiveness. By recognizing how GEI builds team trust, practitioners can strategically implement interventions that enhance individual emotional intelligence and GEI to facilitate team trust.

Problem Analysis

The literature review below highlights how building group emotional intelligence through emotion management and displays of sensitivity to others increases team trust.

Emotion Management

Members with high emotional intelligence effectively deal with emotional situations in a secure manner by being aware of and managing their emotions. This, in turn, invokes feelings of trust from others (McAllister, 1995). Team members demonstrate trustworthiness by regulating their own emotions (Chang et al., 2012), decreasing interpersonal conflict and miscommunication; leading to more productive relationships (Rezvani et al, 2019,). See Figure 1.

Figure 1
The Impact of Team Emotional Intelligence on Trust in Team and Conflict in Team


Notes: AWOE and AWAE = awareness of own and others’ emotions; MOE and MAO = management of own and others’ emotions

Notes: (Rezvani et al, 2019, p.129)

In addition, emotional intelligence impacts affective and cognitive trust in different ways. For affective trust, awareness of one’s own emotions and management of other’s emotions were positively correlated (Barczak et al., 2010). While with cognitive trust, the management of one’s own and other’s emotions proved statistically significant (Barczak et al., 2010). What’s important to note here is that while trust may not cognitively form after assessing a teammate’s expertise or reliability, it may develop non-cognitively (i.e., affective trust) by caring about and expressing concern for them. This means that team trust may develop by adopting a human-centered approach to conflict and tapping into the emotional intelligence factors we’ve seen impact affective trust; being aware of one’s own emotions and creating a positive environment with constructive emotional contagion (Barczak et al., 2010; Jordan & Lawrence, 2009).

Display of Sensitivity

Those with high emotional intelligence are sensitive to the needs, interests, and feelings of others. These individuals assess others, make appropriate accommodations, and respond accordingly, and this demonstration of care and dependability are behaviors that inspire trust (Chang et al, 2012). Teams with high GEI develop trust by creating emotional attachments amongst their team members, and therefore experience a deeper understanding of them. This builds trust in addition to overcoming conflict and decreasing miscommunication (Christie et al, 2015). To build affective trust, display sensitivity by being aware of one’s own emotions and creating a supportive environment.

By managing emotions and tapping into sensitivity to others, team members can increase their emotional intelligence and develop greater team trust.

Solutions and Best Practices

To assist team member’s emotional intelligence development in managing their emotions and developing sensitivity to others to increase team trust, Druskat and Wolff (2001) offer creating a check-in ritual at the beginning or end of meetings. For example, a tool like “oops/ouch” may stimulate discussion and conflict resolution. Within a psychologically safe environment, this tool offers individuals to take accountability for an “oops” they may have made or express their feelings around an “ouch” they experienced. This practice allows members the opportunity to be responsible and awareness, get to know each other, express what they’re thinking/feeling and gives quiet members the opportunity to share. With explicit discussion surrounding individual emotional experiences, members gain perspective on the group emotional temperature and are provided opportunities to display sensitivity to their teammates.

To support this team emotional check in ritual and team interactions in general, Stone, Patton, and Heen (2010, p.233-234) recommends a 5-Step “Difficult Conversation Checklist” that incorporates emotional awareness and sensitivity to others. The five steps guide readers through not only the details of the situation but encourage emotional and identity exploration. This tool supports individuals raising issues with others by first, exploring self-contributions to conflict, and considering the other side’s perspective and possible emotions. This reflection increases emotional awareness and regulation, and in exploring what others may be feeling presents an opportunity to display sensitivity. The remaining steps continue to promote emotional awareness and encourages active listening, alternative perspective taking and joint problem solving.

Not only can the checklist help guide team discussions, elevating the caliber of GEI and trust, but it can be implemented in various ways. From a simple sticky note for individuals to reference at the privacy of their workstations, to conference room posters that encourage consistent team use. This checklist may also inspire skill-building workshops focused on emotional intelligence and conflict management. Workshops that offer members formal learning opportunities as well as psychologically safe spaces to practice skills and resolve conflict. These experiences can elevate awareness, group emotional intelligence and team trust.


Emotional intelligence is an essential building block to the development of trusting relationships. By developing group emotional intelligence, displaying affective trust behaviors like emotional awareness of one’s self and building a supportive environment, teams are better positioned to manage their emotions and display sensitivity to others, ultimately increasing overall team trust.


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