The term emotional intelligence was first introduced more than 30 years ago and has since been compared to — and sometimes even favored over — a person’s intellectual ability. There is little to no direct evidence proving better productivity or efficiency, yet it can make a positive difference in the workplace. Why is emotional intelligence important? And how do you become better at it?
An emotionally intelligent person recognizes, defines, understands and manages their own emotions. That’s not to say you can’t have or disclose your feelings. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s learning when, how and where it’s appropriate to express them.
Read the room
What is social awareness in emotional intelligence? In part, it means realizing that the way you express your emotions impacts other people. Awareness is partly self-control — not bursting into tears when someone questions your authority, for example. But it’s also understanding that your eruption could make others uncomfortable, wary, irritated or even distressed.
Why it’s important at work
Most people won’t yell at a coworker for taking their charger, or stomp out of a meeting when someone else gets the primo assignment. We’re all adults here, right? What is emotional intelligence in the workplace, then? And why is it important?
Getting in touch
You likely learned certain behaviors in your childhood home, on the playground and in the classroom. You know, at least, that you shouldn’t throw chairs when the lunchroom is out of chips. Or that hitting is a big no-no, even if someone beats you at Monday trivia. But there’s more to learn.
Recognizing how you respond to your feelings makes an impact in all your interactions at work. With this awareness, you are better able to give and receive feedback, and even have difficult conversations, without hurting feelings. You won’t be yelling at someone because you are frustrated, they won’t be worried about getting sprayed by spittle. Better for everyone.
Emotional intelligence at work also helps your mental health. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that people with high EI were better able to handle both day-to-day and chronically stressful situations.
Another benefit of having emotional intelligence in the workplace is that it helps those around you feel safe. A coworker won’t feel attacked when you ask them to stop cracking their knuckles. Employees won’t worry the manager will do something drastic — “You’re fired!” — when a presentation doesn’t go as expected.
Indeed, employees can feel comfortable asking questions, seeking support and helping others when they are surrounded by people with EI. And as this happens, coworkers build trust and camaraderie. Feeling safe may encourage creativity and loyalty, too.
How to improve EI
What is self-regulation in emotional intelligence? Marc Brackett, a psychologist and founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, suggests an inner dialogue as you experience strong emotions.
- How do you feel?
- Why do you feel that way? What brought about this feeling?
- What is the exact emotion? Are you nervous or excited? Stressed or overwhelmed?
Once you clearly determine the emotion, you can evaluate how to regulate your reaction to it.
Timing is everything
How you respond will depend on your relationship with the other person involved. You can freak out to a friend, but probably not your boss. At work, you may need to step away from a situation for a bit. Or perhaps you simply need to express the emotion out loud to yourself — “Wow, that was brutal!” — and splash a little cold water on your face.
Ultimately, emotional intelligence is about identifying your feelings and knowing the most purposeful way, time and place to share them. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel upset or anxious, or that you will always be satisfied. But it does mean that you may more effectively communicate with your coworkers.