eq vs iq

Crisis EQ versus Crisis IQ

December 16, 2018

Critical takeaways

  • Success in a crisis requires a solid foundation in the individual and team tactics and skills required to manage a crisis.  We call this your Crisis IQ.
  • But the emotional aspects of a crisis also need to be taken into account so you need to develop your Crisis EQ.  This will give you the ability to understand, acknowledge and respond to the feelings and emotions of those affected and your staff.
  • A high Crisis IQ or Crisis EQ will make you a good crisis manager but you need to both to be a world-class crisis manager. Use these four techniques to develop your Crisis EQ alongside your Crisis IQ.

I spend a lot of time writing and talking about the hard skills that you need to develop your crisis readiness. We are strong advocates of training, benchmarking and simulations to ensure that the fundamentals of crisis response are firmly embedded in you as a CEO and in your senior leadership team.

Individual and team crisis management skills need to be honed and tactical systems need to be in place for message development, social media monitoring tools and stakeholder engagement. These are easy to template and learn but hard to master.  These skills plus your prior experience all help “sharpen the saw” in preparation for a critical moment.

I call this overall skills ability your Crisis IQ.

However, crises are not sterile situations where simple mastery of skills is enough.  By their very nature, crises are highly emotional situations particularly for those affected by the event.  You need to be aware of, understand and respond to the emotional aspects of a crisis or critical moment.

I call this ability your Crisis EQ.

Your Crisis EQ is the mindset and behavior that allows you to move beyond systems and tactics of a crisis.  Crisis EQ is what helps you see the situation from the perspective of those affected and to understand how the situation is affecting your team, yourself and to react accordingly. Often, it is your Crisis EQ that will help guide your thinking of what needs to be done while your Crisis IQ tells you how to do it. In this respect, EQ is not unlike aspects of the framework for ethical decision-making which requires an acknowledgment, understanding and respect of the feelings of those affected.

I have seen CEOs and executives manage a crisis well due to their high Crisis IQ. I have also seen good crisis managers succeed because of their high Crisis EQ.

But the best crisis managers I have seen have both: a high Crisis IQ and a high Crisis EQ.  

This not dissimilar to other situations where raw intelligence (IQ) or ability is not enough to succeed and one HBR article goes as far as to describe EQ as “the key attribute that distinguishes outstanding performers”.

Luckily, Crisis EQ is something that you can develop and improve like other abilities in your crisis management toolkit.  Here are four techniques to help you develop your Crisis EQ alongside your Crisis IQ.

Ask ‘what if…?’

The first and most simple way to improve your Crisis EQ is simply to stop and ask yourself, ‘What if…?’

‘What if this had been done to us?’

‘What if a competitor had done this?’

‘What if this behavior had been brought to the public’s attention?’

Ask ‘what if’ and think about how that would make you and those affected feel.  Your first response is likely to be more raw and emotional. This is your System 1 thinking at work instead of the more considered viewpoint you might have after mulling things over.

But these initial feelings are going to be very similar to other people’s when presented with the same situation. Get into the habit of asking ‘what if…?’ to get a sense of how others will react to a situation.

Listen to your feelings

Asking ‘what if…?’ is conjecture – you are dealing with a hypothetical before something happens. But you also need to pay attention to your instinctive reaction when you are actually dealing with a crisis or critical moment.

In short, learn to trust your gut.

If your head is telling you that you are doing the right thing but you still feel queasy, it’s likely that your Crisis IQ is sound but you are missing something from an EQ perspective.

That doesn’t mean that a developed Crisis EQ will eliminate the stress and unease of a crisis. If anything, it might increase the stress as you are more aware of how the event affects others.  However, there is a difference between the feeling of stress and uncertainty that come with a crisis and the feeling that something isn’t right. Remember, even Jedis listen to their feelings.

Listen to the feelings of others

In addition to your own feelings, learn to listen to what other people are saying.  It can be easy to get caught up in a bubble during a crisis and purely focus internally. But the crisis is happening outside the room and you aren’t the only ones involved.

Your communications team will be gathering and relaying these external perspectives to you but you need to take the time to actually listen to these other perspectives.  People are usually very clear about what they think and feel so you won’t need to guess as to their emotions but you will need to learn to take time and listen.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Get feedback

Lastly, debrief with your team and ask for very direct feedback about your crisis leadership from both the perspectives of your Crisis IQ and EQ.  You may be able to develop a comprehensive plan and deliver clear, understandable directions but how you deliver these could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your team and the response overall.

One technique we recommend to our clients is a simple framework where feedback covers both Crisis EQ and IQ.

The person providing the feedback begins by making an observation about a particular situation or action – ‘I observed…’ – and then follows up with feedback of how effective this was (Crisis IQ) and how this affected them emotionally (Crisis EQ). Finally, they make specific recommendations based on that observation and impact. For example:

‘Your directions to me and my team were very clear and delivered in a way that allowed us the freedom of action to adapt to the situation and to apply our own expertise to the situation.  (The observation.) This was effective because we were clear of the overall objective and our part in making that happen (Crisis IQ feedback). We also felt that our abilities were being respected and not constrained (Crisis EQ feedback). I know there are times when we might not have as much freedom but I feel that delivering direction in this way is very effective and we should try to follow this approach as much as possible. (The recommendation.)’

You can also apply this to how effective you think something was as far as those affected are concerned. E.g. ‘We delivered the message clearly and efficiently but it didn’t seem to resonate with the audience so we seem to have misunderstood their perspective of this issue.’

This three-step process of observation, feedback and recommendation gives you very clear actionable insights related to the tactical response and your Crisis IQ but also allows you to probe deeper and get feedback to help you grow your Crisis EQ.

IQ or EQ = Good. IQ + EQ = Great

It is relatively easy to learn the hard skills of crisis. You can learn these through simulations, by observing others, through conferences, seminars and books. This will help you develop a solid set of skill which makes up your Crisis IQ.

The greater challenge is learning about yourself and understanding your emotional intelligence: how you react emotionally to these crisis situations and how your emotions directly impact the overall response and the team around you. This need for a developed Crisis EQ is vital to being a great crisis leader and it’s an ability you should enhance and develop alongside your Crisis IQ.

So take time to think not just about the tactics, but the emotions that go into how you respond in a crisis and move from being a good crisis manager to a great crisis manager.

Filed under: Crisis Leadership


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.