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Emotionally intelligent workplaces aren’t just more productive, they’re nicer places to work. Find out how you can improve EI at your organisation. still treat it as an urgent priority. Here are the 8 trends you should keep an eye on

If you want to lead effectively, you need to have reliable emotional intelligence. Here are three ways you can improve it at the workplace


If you had the opportunity to improve the quality of every human interaction at work – between staff and boss, between team members or between staff and customer – wouldn’t you take it? It might seem like an impossible challenge, but the secret to success is Emotional intelligence (EI).

What is emotional intelligence and how does it work?

Emotional intelligence refers to the capacity to be aware of and control one’s own emotions and to be able to handle interpersonal relationships prudently and empathetically. It dictates how we feel ourselves and other people. People with high EI use information from analyzing their own emotions to modify their behaviors. It’s also an essential factor in developing resilience and a positive attitude to change. In workplaces where everyone is smart, it’s EI that dictates who will succeed and who won’t.

What makes someone emotionally intelligent?

Emotional intelligence was first popularised in 1995 by author, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman through his book of the same name. Although different EI models have been developed over the years, Goleman’s model is a standard and has five components:

1. Self-awareness

If your self-awareness is well developed, you can correctly identify your emotional state. Those with good self-awareness can mentally step back from a situation and think “Ah, that’s anger I’m feeling,” or “This is anxiety.”
2. Self-regulation

Self-regulation allows you to control your emotions, and stop them negatively impacting any situation. Feel like stapling something to a co-worker’s head, but don’t? That’s self-regulation.
3. Intrinsic motivation

When someone has the inherent motivation, they have a will to achieve that isn’t driven by an external motivator like money, but by a drive to improve or accomplish something. If you have this sort of self-motivation, you have the initiative and energy to take action rather than wait to be told what to do.
4. Empathy

Empathy means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another; ‘it’s the awareness of others and how they might be feeling. Compassion goes one step further than sympathy, which is a feeling of care and concern for someone because it involves a shared perspective or shared emotions. If you can put yourself in the shoes of others, you have empathy.
5. Social skills

Social skills are a broad set of tools that facilitate interaction and communication with others to manage relationships and activities successfully. They help build essential character traits like trustworthiness, reliability, respectfulness, compassion, fairness, and citizenship. People with excellent social skills can apply them with positive results to anything the workplace throws at them; from managing dictatorial bosses to negotiating and collaborating.

Why emotional intelligence is good for business

Whether practiced well or poorly, emotional information has an impact on organizations whenever and wherever people interact.“ Emotions can travel from person to person like a virus,” says Sigal Barsade, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania, whose academic specialism is emotion in the workplace. “[People] bring all of themselves to work, including their traits, moods, and emotions, and their effective experiences and expressions influence others.”

You probably know how low EI creates problems in the workplace from your own experiences. Perhaps there is one person in your office who never has anything positive to say. Maybe you have a leader whose overreactions create a climate of fear. Or perhaps there’s that one co-worker who brings out the worst in you. When low EI persists, productivity drops, tension rises, results in a plateau, and people leave – and it’s hard to reverse the damage.

On the flip side, high levels of EI can bring a diverse range of benefits to organizations. Numerous studies have suggested that high EI can improve job satisfaction, creativity and innovation, decision making, teamwork and job performance. “Positive people cognitively process more efficiently and more appropriately. If you’re in a negative mood, a fair amount of processing is going to that mood. When you’re in a positive mood, you’re more open to taking in information and handling it effectively,” Barsade notes in a recent paper.

But can high EI be learned? You might think that any intelligence is a static, unchangeable phenomenon, but if you have a growth mindset, you’ll know this just isn’t right. Many different types of knowledge can be improved, and the same goes for emotional intelligence.

Developing emotional intelligence in the workplace

For those of you who love competency frameworks, there are plenty of options available online which can act as a basis for developing an organizational EI learning strategy. But if you’d like to work on your own EI and that of your team, consider implementing a team learning project that incorporates these three simple steps:

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice can help develop self-awareness and self-regulation, which will make you better able to identify the emotion you’re feeling, and why. Mindfulness also gives you some space to modify how you react. In times of stress, you’ll be better able to control any knee-jerk response and all the negative consequences it brings.

Encourage your team to embrace tools to practice mindfulness and share helpful techniques with each other, for example:

  • Breathe mindfully to create enough space to think before you react
  • Examine “How is this person like me?” to help you connect positively with someone who usually annoys you

2. Active listening

Active listening is a useful tool for developing empathy, but it takes self-discipline. How many times do we think we’re listening to someone when in reality we’re planning what we’re going to say next? How often do we jump to conclusions about what the other person is trying to say?

Active listening is listening to what the other person is saying. Your focus is on the other person. You’re concentrating not just on what they’re saying, but how they are saying it, observing their tone of voice and expression. You’re also focussing on ensuring that the other person is entirely confident that you are listening to them. This means using verbal and non-verbal communication such as nodding, eye contact, smiling and an appropriate posture – being in an open and receptive position or using a mirroring posture. Questioning the speaker for clarification or paraphrasing what they have said also shows that you’re listening. Give team members time to practice active listening exercises with each other.
3. Improve one relationship

Ask each team member to use mindfulness and active listening to improve one connection at work. This task will give them the opportunity to analyze why the link isn’t working for them, to be mindful of their perceptions and to practice emotional intelligence. By asking to meet with the person for an informal chat over coffee, they’ll open up a dialogue, which is a sensitive intelligence activity in itself. Help them start the conversation by suggesting openings such as: “It’s my perception that we’re not working together as well as we could. How do you feel about this?” Using their active listening skills, they’ll understand more about the relationship from the other person’s point of view.

And of course, don’t forget to improve one of your relationships, too. Don’t use the conversation to fix anything, unless it’s a very straightforward fix, and resist the urge to become defensive (remember your self-regulation). Open up a dialogue and actively listen to the other person instead, and your relationship will likely improve.
Emotionally intelligent workplaces aren’t just more productive, they’re more beautiful places to work. And because you can improve your emotional intelligence with only a few tweaks to your habits and thought processes, it’s something that you can start to develop today.


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