The importance of emotional intelligence at workplace

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to understand and manage your emotions. Emotional intelligence skills involved are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Recently, it has become a bit of a buzz word in human resources departments across the globe but researchers are coming out and saying that it is time emotional intelligence be taken seriously. It's more than simply having a positive attitude. Embracing the nuances of human emotion in the workplace can have pragmatic benefits, such as better collaboration among employees and a happier workplace, according to Rex Huppke. His argument is that we are human beings every day, not just when we leave the office.

How does emotional intelligence help?

With many areas of psychology, there is lively debate about how the brain works but Daniel Goleman, a world-renowned behavioural 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 trialled in over 100 schools and there was a reduction of anti-social behaviour, an increase of pro-social behaviour and academic scores rose”, Daniel Goleman goes on to say.

It’s evident then that emotional intelligence is beneficial – both in your personal life and in the workplace.

Addressing our own emotions

The unfortunate trend that has swept Western society particularly, is the inability to fully understand and tackle human emotions. We tend to focus only on positive feelings rather than the full spectrum of personal emotions. This trend has spilled into other areas of life, including in the workplace. 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 clerk 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 job satisfaction and that 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 elements of emotional intelligence?

Let’s break down each element with a contextual definition.

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 yourself. 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 crippling you and instead marshalling your positive emotions and aligning your emotions with your passions. For example, if a team botches a presentation, the leader ought to resist the urge to scream. Instead, they could consider possible reasons for failure, explain the consequences to their team members and explore solutions together.

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

Empathy is understanding other people’s emotions. 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. Imagine a consultant and their team trying to pitch something to a potential foreign client, in this case, it’s a Japanese client. After the pitch, the client is silent and the team interprets this as disapproval. The consultant, however, senses interest owing to the body language and continues with the meeting and the team gets the job. That is what empathy is.

Finally, social skills is building a relationship with others to move them in desired directions. Think active listening and influence here.

How do you improve emotional intelligence?

It’s clear that we’re all emotionally intelligent but we need to take more time to self-assess and work on our emotions. As with anything, 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.

Indeed, when we look at leaders in some of the most successful companies, it’s clear that all of these leaders have and demonstrate high emotional intelligence. It’s important to keep in mind that these are a range of abilities. On the whole, women tend to have higher emotional empathy on average: sensing how someone is in the moment, managing relations between people and groups. Goleman’s view on the connection between emotional intelligence and leadership is that there are differences between men and women in this domain but as people grow, they pick up skills in the area they need.

Has emotional intelligence made a difference in the workplace?

Every day we make emotionally charged decisions. 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 at attuned to each other. With globalisation, 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 and managing, good relationships and solving problems under pressure.

Benefits of emotional intelligence at work

Gary Yukl, a prominent researcher in leadership agrees and goes on to say “Self-awareness makes it easier to understand one’s own needs and likely reactions if certain events occurred, thereby facilitating evaluation of alternative solutions.”

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.  Workplace emotional intelligence matters. What distinguishes leaders is usually their level of emotional intelligence and it is those skills which help to develop a more effective and positive work environment.

If you found this article helpful, you can browse more leadership topics here.

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