How emotional intelligence can benefit the wine industry



In a recent Very Well Mind article, "Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in the workplace", emotional intelligence is defined as, "The ability to recognize and understand emotions in oneself and others. Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, two of the leading researchers on the topic, explain this also involves using emotional understanding to make decisions, solve problems, and communicate with others."


I will refer to emotional intelligence throughout this article as EQ, known as "emotional quotient."


While this exploration is far from exhaustive, I hope to address how a high EQ can be beneficial in the workplace and the relationships that work within it. After finding myself in myriad dysfunctional winery jobs, I have ruminated over how different my experiences could have been had I been equipped with a higher EQ.


While uncomfortable encounters are inevitable - the amount of toxic behaviour and tendencies I have experienced are far too many and commonplace. We see it all around us - narcissistic family members, energy vampires and micro managers.


In a wage series piece from the fall of 2020, wine consultant Sandra Oldfield shared that roughly 80% of winery staff leave in the first year. "It's a relationship - you have to nurture it, like any other. Wineries have a lot of issues that make it more difficult for them. They are wearing so many hats due to the nature of this business so they're not focused on HR. They're fixated on the product. Their passion is about making wine, not managing people."


Sandra implores winery teams and owners to remember that success is not a pie. "I've always tried to get people to understand that the wine is not made by the winemaker, it's made by everyone at your winery. If you use 'my wine' when I'm talking to the winemaker, I'll correct them and tell them to stop. It needs to come from a position of recognition - everyone who plays a role is part of your success."


While EQ is a recent phenomenon, it's one that may help shift culture in the workplace.


Wes Hunter, general manager of CRAFT, feels one of the biggest problems and changes to be made in the industry is removing the notion of 'leaving your personal stuff at the door'. "As managers, we need to manage people, not just employees. We can’t do that if we are asking our team members to be afraid and uneasy to show what’s happening in their personal life while at work. Their emotions are intertwined with their ability to perform their best. If you remove that, you're not getting the best of someone, and ultimately, losing them as an employee much sooner."


Wes is an advocate of providing an outlet for his staff - a space to unload without judgment. "Don't manage them as a pay rolled employee - just listen."


He continues, "This is also true of owner/manager relations. Too often, we are left to carry the financial burden of an establishment while orchestrating all other parts of the business, and not being permitted any mental relief outlets. It’s not a sign of weakness - good owners know that. Unfortunately, this mentality is few and far between."


It wasn't until wine consultant Caroline Lachapelle started considering whether her day was satisfying, that she realized how detrimental the negative leadership she had withstood had been. "I quickly grew to understand that I had lived for many years in a heavy fight or flight mode. I remember thinking to myself, how many people have I made feel like this who have worked underneath me? I became riddled with self doubt and anxiety for many years from having completely drained myself and burnt out from the wine industry."


Caroline feels EQ in the workplace is the ability to listen to the people you work with. She asserts the distinction of who you work with - not who works for you. Caroline suggests an exercise of considering a past employer or peer where respect was held - what were their traits? Caroline strongly asserts it should be people who allow others to speak before them, do not interrupt, make others feel heard, and show humility. The egotistical need to point out how great they are is nonexistent - they just are. They lead with a "how can I help you?" mentality.


"It never ceases to amaze me how many people I will consult for or simply discuss with in any industry who have a high staff turnover and say they do not know what the issue is. The issue is always you bro. It's a you problem, not a them problem. Your employees are not swiping right. Your attitude and disrespect is unattractive. I get it - I've been a terrible boss. But I learned and evolved."


In an industry that is hemorrhaging with a lack of staff to fill positions, Caroline thinks there's a need for self assessment of employers - on all levels - and for taking accountability.


"Train retired people with an ongoing educational platform at tasting bars. If you cannot afford to pay more, then provide an allocation of wine. If you are having issues with your culture, have open dialogue, and understand that carrying negative people pushes away positive ones. Of course there are instances where the employees are toxic, but the point of having EQ in the workplace is to recognize it and do something about it. I cannot stress enough - the key to any successful business is fostering a positive company culture that is built on servant leadership."


Servant leadership brought to mind a particularly unpleasant memory of mine - employment at a winery inevitably involves many tasks - from being a desk jockey compiling KPI's to throwing on work boots and pressure washing concrete. This particular day found me with a bulk of physical labour on my plate - work I decided to take on myself. My manager discovered me some hours later covered in filth head to toe, only to utter, "What are you doing? You have staff to do this dirty work for you." The sense of disgust left from that exchange is all that remains - as though I was meant to delegate this subpar task to the plebeians below me.


It was after this encounter that I knew I wanted to learn about different - and better - forms of leadership. It was then I discovered the theory of servant leadership.


Purdue University investigated the different styles of leadership in a recent article shared on their blog, "Traditional leadership focuses on such things as strategy, goals, financial performance, and customer satisfaction. Those things aren’t bad, of course," explains Rebecca Herman, Graduate Professor of Leadership at Purdue University Global, “Those are things we expect leaders to do. We want our CEO to focus on things that are going to bring us profit."


“But servant leaders go further. They focus on providing their employees with development opportunities. Employees today want to feel they have a job where they can succeed. They want an opportunity to be coached and mentored by someone. And since servant leaders put people first, they get to know them on a different level. They help them to develop, they give them opportunities because they empower them versus micromanage them.”


Masters student in counselling psychology, Andreas Batten, feels EQ is the ability to be aware of control, but also expression of one's emotions and feelings in handling relationships empathetically, and with grace. "Those with low EQ struggle to build the interpersonal relationship necessary for their career, personal and social growth. Those who have a high EQ are able to read how others are impacted by their words, actions, and employ their grasp of empathy to avoid needlessly hurting others."


The pandemic has brought out the worst in most, as we've transitioned from an in person to virtual workplace - and some people's worst isn't cute. We're living in a pressure cooker, where social outlets for most is doom scrolling. We find ourselves donning keyboard warrior armour, preparing to take on mindless online battles.


Ultimately, there's no better opportunity than now to step back, take stock of ourselves, and consider what we as individuals, contribute to each and every one of our personal interactions.






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