Understanding Emotional Intelligence at Work

Emotional intelligence in the workplace begins from the inside out with each individual.
Understanding Emotional Intelligence at Work
It involves recognizing various aspects of your feelings and emotions and taking the time to work on the elements of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

How does emotional intelligence help?

Daniel Goleman, a world-renowned behavioral scientist said that “the part of the brain which supports emotional and social intelligence is the last circuitry of the brain to become anatomically mature and because of neuroplasticity, the brain shapes itself according to repeated experience” Goleman goes on to say this should be taught in a systematic way to children. “This has been trialed in over 100 schools and there was a reduction of antisocial behavior, an increase of prosocial behavior, and academic scores rose”, Daniel Goleman goes on to say.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to understand and manage your emotions. The skills involved in emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Addressing our emotions

While emotions are often left at the door when you begin work, this has devastating effects not only on businesses but also employees (all the way from assistant to CEO). After all, we are emotional people. Businesses are changing, however, and are beginning to offer extensive and individual work schedules and new services (for example, some healthcare plans include mental health coverage) to ensure people at work are looked after. This includes hiring psychologists for human resources teams: getting to understand your workforce as best as possible, and offering useful training has direct results on employee/employer relationships.

What are the elements of emotional intelligence?

Self-awareness is about understanding yourself: knowing your weaknesses, strengths, drivers, values, and your impact on other people – forces for good intuition, essentially.  In practice, this would look like self-confidence and a thirst for constructive criticism. If you are a manager, you might know that tight deadlines bring out the worst in you. A self-aware and emotionally intelligent manager would plan their time properly and get the work done well in advance of any deadlines.

Self-management is the ability to control and redirect disruptive impulses and moods. Think of trustworthiness, integrity, and comfort with change. It is not letting your emotions cripple you but instead marshaling your positive emotions and aligning your emotions with your passions.

Motivation is enjoying achievement for its own sake. A passion for the work you do, optimism, and energy to improve are the key hallmarks of an emotionally intelligent and motivated person.

Empathy is understanding other people’s emotional makeup. It’s considering others’ feelings, especially when making decisions. Some trademarks of empathy include expertise in hiring and retaining top talent, an ability to develop other people, and sensitivity to cross-cultural differences.

How do you become more emotionally intelligent?

We’re all emotionally intelligent but we need to take more time to self-assess and work on our emotions. It takes practice but even small steps can make a big difference. Much as you would regularly exercise your biceps or any other muscle for that matter, you need to practice working on your competencies so that they improve.

Has emotional intelligence made a difference in the workplace?

We make emotionally charged decisions every day. We feel plan A is better than plan B and we sometimes make choices based on our emotions or gut feelings. When we understand the origin and source of these emotions, especially when working in a team, we are more attuned to each other. Emotional intelligence is more significant than ever when teams are cross-cultural and global, increasing the complexity of interactions of emotions and how they are expressed. Essentially, emotional intelligence in the workplace comes down to understanding, expressing, managing, good relationships, and solving problems under pressure.

Benefits of emotional intelligence at work

For emotional intelligence to be effective, it has to start with yourself. You can’t distill or enhance other people’s well-being, improvement, and sense of self without first understanding how you operate on an emotional level.  What distinguishes leaders is usually their level of emotional intelligence and it is those skills that help to develop a more effective workplace.

According to Gary Yukl, “Self-awareness makes it easier to understand one’s own needs and likely reactions if certain events occurred, thereby facilitating evaluation of alternative solutions.”

How to Become More Emotional Intelligent

How to Become More Emotionally Intelligent

While emotional skills may come naturally to some people, there are things that anyone can do to help improve their ability to understand and reason with emotions. This can be particularly helpful in the workplace, where relationships and business decisions often rely on the interpersonal understanding, teamwork, and communication.

If you are interested in improving your emotional intelligence skills to benefit your workplace performance, take steps to improve your skills in the five categories of emotional intelligence: Self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation.

Become More Self-Aware

Self-awareness involves being aware of different aspects of yourself, including your emotions and feelings. It is one of the foundational components of emotional intelligence. In order to recognize your emotions and understand what is causing these feelings, you need to first be self-aware.

Pay attention to how you are feeling. How do these emotions influence how you respond? Do the things you are feeling have an impact on the decisions you make or how you interact with others? As you reflect on these questions, you may find that you become much more aware of your own emotions and the role that they play in your daily life.

Take stock of emotional strengths and weaknesses. How well do you communicate with others? Do you find yourself experiencing impatience, anger, or annoyance often? What are some ways you can deal with these feelings effectively? Recognizing weaknesses allows you to look for ways to deal with them.

Remember that emotions are fleeting. A co-worker might irritate you or your boss might give you a frustrating task to complete. Before you react, remember that these things are temporary. Making rash decisions based on intense emotions can be detrimental to your long-term goals and success.

Practice Self-Regulation

Goleman identified self-regulation as a critical part of emotional intelligence. Being aware of your emotions is an important first step, but you also need to be able to manage your feelings.

To improve your self-regulation skills in the workplace:

Find techniques to release workplace stress. Having hobbies outside of work is a great place to start. Physical exercise is also a healthy way to release stress.

Keep your cool. Accept the fact that you cannot control everything. Look for helpful ways to respond that don't add fuel to the fire.

Think before making decisions. Emotions can overwhelm you in the heat of the moment. You can make a calmer, more rational choice if you give yourself time to consider all of the possibilities.

Improve Social Skills

Research on emotion psychology suggests that people with high EQs also have strong social skills. Because they are adept at recognizing other people's emotions, they are able to respond appropriately to the situation. Social skills are also highly valued in the workplace because they lead to better communication and more positive company culture.

Employees and leaders with great social skills are able to build rapport with colleagues and communicate their ideas effectively. People with good social skills are not only great team players, but they are also able to take on leadership roles when needed. To boost your social skills:

Listen to what others have to say. This doesn't mean just passively listening to other people talk. Active listening involves showing attention, asking questions, and providing feedback. Whether you are a manager or a team member, active listening can show that you are passionate about work projects and willing to work with others to help the group reach its goals.

Pay attention to nonverbal communication. The signals that people send through their body language can convey a lot about what they really think.

Hone your persuasion skills. Being able to carry influence in the workplace and convince team members and supervisors to listen to your ideas can go a long way in advancing your career.

Avoid office drama. Do your best to stay out of the petty office politics that sometimes take over the workplace, but be aware that conflicts are not always avoidable. Focus on listening to what others have to say and look for ways to solve problems and minimize tensions.

Become More Empathetic

Emotionally intelligent people are good at stepping into another person's shoes and understanding how they feel. Empathy is more than just recognizing how others are feeling. It also involves how you respond to these emotions.

In the workplace, empathy allows you to understand the different dynamics between colleagues and supervisors. It also allows you to recognize who holds power and how it influences the behaviors, feelings, and interactions that flow from such relationships.

See things from the other person's point of view. It can be challenging at times, especially if you feel like the other person is wrong. But rather than let disagreements build up into major conflicts, spend time looking at the situation from another's perspective. It can be a great first step toward finding a middle ground between two opposing points of view.

Pay attention to how you respond to others. Do you let them have a chance to share their ideas? Do you acknowledge their input, even if you disagree? Letting others know that their efforts have merit often helps everyone feel more willing to compromise.

Work on Your Motivation

Another key component of emotional intelligence is intrinsic motivation. People who have strong EQ tend to be more motivated to achieve goals for their own sake. Rather than seeking external rewards, they want to do things because they find them fulfilling and they are passionate about what they do.

Money, status, and acclaim are great, but people who are highly successful in the workplace are usually motivated by something more than that. They are passionate about what they do. They have a commitment to their work, they love taking on new challenges, and their enthusiasm can seem contagious. They don't give up in the face of obstacles and they are able to inspire others to work hard and persist in order to achieve goals.

Focus on what you love about your work. There are probably things about your job that you love and things that you hate. Try focusing on the aspects of your job that you enjoy, such as the feeling of accomplishment you get when you complete a big project or help your clients progress toward their own goals. Identify those components of your job and take inspiration from them.

Try to maintain a positive attitude. Notice how optimistic people in the workplace tend to inspire and motivate others. Adopting this kind of attitude can help you feel more positive about your work.

Two Employees that are Emotionally Intelligent at Work

How do you know an employee is intelligent?

1. They’re willing to delay gratification

One thing an exceptional employee never says is, “That’s not in my job description.” Exceptional employees work outside the boundaries of job descriptions. They’re neither intimidated nor entitled; instead of expecting recognition or compensation to come first, they forge ahead in their work, confident that they’ll be rewarded later but unconcerned if they’re not.

2. They can tolerate conflict

While exceptional employees don’t seek conflict, they don’t run away from it either. They’re able to maintain their composure while presenting their positions calmly and logically. They’re able to withstand personal attacks in pursuit of the greater goal and never use that tactic themselves.

3. They focus

Student pilots are often told, “When things start going wrong, don’t forget to fly the plane.” Plane crashes have resulted from pilots concentrating so hard on identifying the problem that they flew the plane into the ground. Eastern Airlines Flight 401 is just one example: The flight crew was so concerned about the landing gear being down that they didn’t realize they were losing altitude until it was too late, despite alarms going off in the cockpit. Exceptional employees understand the principle of “Just fly the plane.” They don’t get distracted by cranky customers, interoffice squabbles, or switch to a different brand of coffee. They can differentiate between real problems and background noise; therefore, they stay focused on what matters.

4. They’re judiciously courageous

Exceptional employees are willing to speak up when others are not, whether it’s to ask a difficult (or “embarrassingly” simple) question or to challenge an executive decision. However, that’s balanced with common sense and timing. They think before they speak and wisely choose the best time and place to do so.

5. They’re in control of their egos

Exceptional employees have egos. While that’s part of what drives them, they never give their egos more weight than what is deserved. They’re willing to admit when they’re wrong and willing to do things someone else’s way, whether it’s because the other way is better or it’s important to maintain team harmony.

6. They’re never satisfied

Exceptional employees have unparalleled convictions that things can always be better—and they’re right. No one is ever done growing, and there is no such thing as “good enough” when it comes to personal improvement. No matter how well things are going, exceptional employees are driven to improve, without forgetting to give themselves a healthy pat on the back.

7. They recognize when things are broken and fix them

Whether it’s a sticky desk drawer or an inefficient, wasteful process affecting the cash flow of the entire department, exceptional employees don’t walk past problems. “Oh, it’s been that way forever,” simply isn’t in their vocabulary. They see problems as issues to be fixed immediately; it’s that simple.

8. They’re accountable

If you’re a manager trying to decipher a bungled report, “It’s not my fault” is the most irritating phrase in the English language. Exceptional employees are accountable. They own their work, their decisions, and all of their results—good or bad. They bring their mistakes to management’s attention rather than hoping no one will find out. They understand that managers aren’t out to assign blame; they’re out to get things done.

9. They’re marketable

“Marketable” can mean many things. Inside the organization, it means “likeable.” Exceptional employees are well-liked by co-workers. They have integrity and leadership skills (even if they’re not in an official leadership position) that people respond to. Externally, it means they can be trusted to represent the brand well. Managers know they can send these employees out to meet with clients and prospects without worrying about what they’ll say or do.

10. They neutralize toxic people

Dealing with difficult people is frustrating and exhausting for most. Exceptional employees control their interactions with toxic people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a toxic person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. They also consider the difficult person’s standpoint and are able to find solutions and common ground. Even when things completely derail, emotionally intelligent people are able to take the toxic person with a grain of salt to avoid letting him or her bring them down.

Author Details

Written by:
Najeeb Khan
Head of Training & Events
Leadership Development, Team Training, Belonging, Diversity & Inclusion, & Innovation
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