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Strengthening Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Strengthening Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Success at work hinges on more than just professional skills and brainpower. Emotional intelligence in the workplace can make or break an employee or organization’s ability to reach their full potential in areas like productivity, performance, and leadership. In fact, research finds emotional intelligence (EI) is four times better at predicting success than IQ. Honing emotional intelligence at work isn’t just helpful, but rather necessary to achieve peak performance.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and be agile with our emotions and other people’s emotions. Someone with emotional intelligence is aware of their feelings and uses this awareness to build better relationships and make informed decisions.

Emotional intelligence gained attention from Harvard-trained psychologist Daniel Goleman’s bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman argues that EI is a better indicator of business success than cognitive intelligence or IQ. He names four key components of emotional intelligence:

#1 Self-awareness: recognizing emotions

Self-awareness involves identifying the physical sensations associated with the emotions in your body and mind; for example, recognizing that sadness may manifest as feeling lethargic  or how your stomach feels tight when you’re anxious. Self-awareness helps you recognize these sensations in association with your emotions to help make sense of what is happening inside you.

#2 Self-management: what you do next

Self-management is the ability to understand and regulate your emotions. It’s maintaining composure, making constructive choices, and adapting to challenging situations with resilience. Instead of ignoring or avoiding feelings, people with self-management skills recognize signposts such as frustration or physical tension and choose healthy coping skills like deep breathing, taking breaks, or addressing physical needs such as sleep or hunger before making their next move.

#3 Social awareness: empathy and compassion

Social awareness is the ability to be in your own experience while also noticing and empathizing with others’ experiences, without necessarily reacting. For example, if  a co-worker is distressed, frustrated, or anxious, social intelligence helps you see their perspective, even if you disagree.

#4 Relationship management: effective communication

Relationship management is effectively interacting with others, understanding when and how to engage, and listening actively. This skill is particularly useful when giving constructive criticism or praise.

These four components of emotional intelligence are interconnected and work together to help us navigate our emotions and interact with others more effectively.

Examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace

People exhibit varying levels of emotional intelligence in the workplace, which can significantly impact their interactions and performance. Here are some emotional intelligence examples.

Low emotional intelligence at work High emotional intelligence at work
Lacking empathy for others’ struggles Understanding and acknowledging colleagues’ emotions and perspectives
Trouble expressing emotions Genuine concern and support for others
Interrupting people and misinterpreting communication Paying attention to what others are saying without interrupting, then asking clarifying questions
Difficulty coping with stress, leading to behaviors like outbursts or withdrawal Expressing thoughts and feelings clearly and considerately
Reacting strongly and emotionally to constructive criticism or minor setbacks Delivering and receiving feedback in a constructive, non-confrontational way
Getting defensive, argumentative, or overly sensitive in response to feedback Remaining calm and composed under pressure, and taking responsibility for mistakes
Inability to resolve conflicts Actively seeking resolutions to conflicts instead of escalating disagreements
Unpredictable moods or interactions Openness to self-improvement and personal growth
Poor collaboration skills Proactively addressing tough issues and encouraging open dialogue

It’s important to keep in mind that low emotional intelligence can be improved. Training and development in these areas can help build interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence in the workplace.

Why is emotional intelligence in the workplace important?

Emotional intelligence can benefit you both personally and professionally. In fact, forty percent of leaders in one survey said that emotional intelligence would be a “must-have” in the next three years.

Here are a few benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

Greater job satisfaction

People with emotional intelligence tend to be better at managing stress, navigating interpersonal dynamics, resolving conflicts, and fostering positive relationships, which can make work more enjoyable.

Better performance

Research shows that people with high emotional intelligence perform better at their jobs and experience more career success. Those that struggle to regulate emotions, navigate social interactions, and empathize with others may experience stress, conflict, and communication challenges that impact job performance.

Effective leadership

Emotional intelligence at work is especially important for leaders. Understanding emotions allows them to build trust and rapport with employees, make informed decisions, inspire their teams, and create a positive work environment.

Employee retention

When leaders and colleagues make people feel valued, seen, and supported, they’re more likely to stay at a company.

Healthy team dynamics

Team members who manage their emotions are able to work well together, resolving conflicts with empathy and understanding.

Improved communication

People with emotional intelligence can articulate their thoughts clearly and concisely, which helps reduce misunderstandings.

How to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace

Here are ten ways to enhance emotional intelligence at the workplace:

1. Build self-awareness

Get curious about your emotions. Observe how you react to different situations and what triggers certain feelings. How do they manifest in your body? Maybe you feel different emotions in your stomach, jaw, chest, or muscles. Are there any themes or patterns around your emotions? For example, are some feelings more prominent in particular meetings, with certain people, or at specific times of the day, week, or month?

2. Practice self-regulation

Develop strategies to manage your emotions and “unhook” from them as Harvard Medical psychologist and world-renowned management thinker Dr. Susan David says. For example, if you tend to get angry or anxious in certain situations, learn techniques like deep breathing or take short breaks to calm yourself. Avoid making impulsive decisions when you’re experiencing intense emotions. Instead, try to take a step back and assess the situation more objectively.

3. Improve your communication skills

Effective communication is a crucial part of social intelligence. You can boost your communication skills by focusing on active listening (listening with the intent to understand and asking clarifying questions), giving feedback to ensure more effective conversations, paying attention to nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions, and learning conflict resolution skills.

4. Build empathy

Pay attention to the emotions and needs of your co-workers, clients, and team. Develop your empathy in the workplace by listening actively and practicing perspective-taking, or putting yourself in another person’s shoes to better understand their feelings and reactions.

5. Create psychological safety

Managers have a big impact on employees’ mental health and how comfortable they feel expressing themselves at work. With emotional intelligence training and support, managers can proactively build psychological safety, so their teams feel safe to openly express emotions, ideas, and concerns without fear of being shamed or penalized.

6. Manage stress

Stress is a common emotion in the workplace. Use emotional intelligence techniques to manage it effectively through stress-reduction techniques like exercise, meditation, and time management.

7. Be aware of cultural differences

Educate yourself about different cultures and communication styles to get better at understanding and empathizing with colleagues from different backgrounds.

8. Seek feedback

Ask your co-workers or supervisors for feedback on your social intelligence and communication skills. Regularly reflect on your interactions and consider what you could’ve done differently to improve the emotional tone of the conversation.

9. Model emotional intelligence in the workplace

Leaders can also model emotional intelligence for their teams. Show them how to have empathy in the workplace by doing it yourself. For example, you can acknowledge and validate a team member’s frustration over a challenging project and offer support and constructive solutions.

10. Participate in training

Consider attending workshops or training on emotional intelligence in the workplace. If your employer offers Lyra you can take part in workshops designed to give you more practical communication skills. Share resources and articles on social intelligence with your team. Emotional intelligence training is invaluable for stronger colleague and customer relationships.

Boost your emotional intelligence

Building emotional intelligence is a lifelong exercise that requires ongoing learning and practice. We’re all on a human journey of learning about ourselves and how we’re evolving. You won’t get it perfect every time, but with training and dedication, you’ll see the benefits emotional intelligence brings to your career and relationships.

Thrive personally and professionally with greater emotional intelligence.

Lyra offers workforce training and tools to create a culture of mental wellness.

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About the author
Keren Wasserman
Organizational Development Program Manager

Keren is the organizational development program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Keren has a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago and has worked as a management consultant focused on large-scale change management implementations. She lives in Seattle where she spends her free time hiking, soaking up the PNW's most glorious mountain views.

By Keren Wasserman
Organizational Development Program Manager
21 of November 2023 - 6 min read
Mental health at work
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