Utilising Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to as EQ, refers to a person's ability to recognise, understand, manage, and reason with emotions. It is a critical ability when it comes to interpersonal communication—a hot topic not only in psychology but in the business world. The term itself was coined by psychologists in the 1990s, but its use quickly spread into other areas including business, education, and popular culture.

Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, two of the leading researchers on the topic, define emotional intelligence as the ability to recognise and understand emotions in oneself and others. This ability also involves utilising this emotional understanding to make decisions, solve problems, and communicate with others.

In the past, emotions and intelligence were often viewed as being in opposition of one another. In recent decades, however, researchers exploring emotion psychology have become increasingly interested in cognition and affect. This area explores how cognitive processes and emotions interact and influence the ways that people think. Consider how emotions and moods such as happiness, anger, fear, and sadness influence how people behave and make decisions.

Emotional Intelligence: Important for Success

Interest in emotion psychology and the concept of emotional intelligence really caught fire with the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More Than IQ. In the popular book, Goleman argued that emotional intelligence could be just as important, if not even more so, at predicting success in life. These emotional competencies, he argued, also played a particularly important role in the workplace.

The concept quickly caught the attention of the public, including human resource managers and business leaders. Researchers have suggested that emotional intelligence influences how well employees interact with their colleagues. EQ is also thought to play a role in how workers manage stress and conflict as well as overall performance on the job.

Studies have shown that employees with higher scores on measures of EQ also tend to be rated higher on measures of interpersonal functioning, leadership abilities, and stress management. Other studies have linked higher emotional intelligence with better job satisfaction as well as overall job performance.  

Goleman suggested that while traditional intelligence was a quality associated with leadership success, it alone was not enough. People who are successful at work aren't just smart - they also have a strong amount of emotional intelligence.

But emotional intelligence is not something just for CEOs and senior managers. It's a quality that is important at every level of a person's career, whether you are a college student looking for an internship or a seasoned employee taking on a leadership role. If you want to succeed in the workplace and move up the career ladder, emotional intelligence is critical to your success.

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in the Workplace

So why is emotional intelligence such a valued workplace skill? According to one survey of hiring managers, almost 75 percent of respondents suggested that they valued an employee's EQ more than their IQ.

Some of the reasons why emotional intelligence can be the key to workplace success:

Emotional intelligence can lead to better business decisionsEmotionally intelligent employees are more likely to keep their cool under pressureThose with high EQ are better at resolving conflictsEmotionally intelligent leaders tend to have greater empathy. Employees with high EQs are more likely to listen, reflect, and respond to constructive criticism

Emotional intelligence is widely recognised as a valuable skill, and it is also one that researchers believe can be improved with training and practice. 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 interpersonal understanding, teamwork, and communication.

How to Become More Emotionally Intelligent

Since it is such a highly valued skill, is it possible for anyone to have high emotional intelligence? Can people who lack this skill improve their abilities to understand and manage emotions? Factors such as upbringing and personality tend to play a large role in the development of emotional intelligence, but it is a skill that can be improved with effort and practice.

One study found that participants who trained in key emotional competencies not only showed lasting improvements in emotional intelligence, they also experienced improvements in physical and mental well-being, better social relationships, and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

So if you are interested in improving your emotional intelligence skills to benefit your workplace performance, there are a few things you can do.

Become More Self-Aware

One of the first steps toward utilising emotional intelligence skills in the workplace is to practice recognising your own emotions. 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.

Ways to improve self-awareness:

Pay attention to how you are feeling at any given moment throughout the day. 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 spend more time reflecting 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 your 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 your weaknesses allows you to look for ways to deal with such shortcomings.

Keep in mind that emotions tend to be fleeting and can change quickly. 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, so making rash decisions based on intense emotions can be detrimental to your long-term goals and success.

Practice Self-Regulation

Daniel Goleman identified self-regulation as a critical part of the emotional intelligence. Being aware of your emotions is an important first step, but you also need to be able to manage the things you are feeling. People who possess good self-regulation are able to adapt well to changing situations. They don't bottle things up, but they do wait for appropriate ways to express their emotions rather than just reacting impulsively in the moment. They also think about how their emotional expressions affect others.

Ways to start improving your self-regulation skills in the workplace:

Find techniques to help you deal with 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 when things get stressful at work. Accept the fact that you cannot control everything, but look for helpful ways that you can respond that don't add fuel to the fire.Take time to think before making decisions. Emotions can overwhelm you in the heat of the moment, but you can make a calmer, more rational choice if you give yourself a bit of time to consider all of the possibilities.

Improve Your Social Skills

Research on emotion psychology also 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 overall 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; they are able to take on leadership roles when needed.

Ways to strengthen your own social skills in the workplace:

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 in a management role 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, but make sure that you are capable of managing conflict. 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 listing to what others have to say and look for ways to solve problems and minimise 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 recognising how others are feeling; it also involves how you respond to these emotions.

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

Some ways to work on your empathy in the workplace:

Try seeing 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 known that their efforts have merit often helps everyone feel more willing to compromise.

Work On Your Motivation

Another key component of emotional intelligence is something known as intrinsic motivation. People who have a 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 job. No matter how you feel about your job, there are probably going to be things about it that you love and things about it that you hate. In order to build your intrinsic motivation, try focusing on the aspects of your job that you truly enjoy. Perhaps you love the feeling of accomplishment you get when you complete a big project. Or maybe you love helping your clients achieve progress toward their own goals. No matter what it is, 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 as well. Adopting this kind of attitude can help you feel more positively about your work.

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