Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Why You Need It, How to Get It
An interesting thing is happening in the 21st century workplace: The more technology we have in this digital age, the more we automate tasks and trust machines to take over duties, the more we realize the importance of emotions.
Yes, emotions, and more specifically emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is our ability to recognize emotions in ourselves and others, to understand their effect, and to use that knowledge to guide our thoughts and behaviors. Because emotional intelligent people tend to get along better with others and be more empathetic and compassionate, they are likely to be more successful compared to their counterparts. And that makes emotional intelligence something worth learning more about.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
If emotional intelligence sounds like an oxymoron to you, that’s understandable. We tend to think of our emotions and our intelligence as two separate things. But put them together as emotional intelligence, and it’s essentially a different way to be smart because it’s “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically” according to the dictionary definition.
The term was made popular by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, in which he redefines what it is to be smart. In the book, Goleman lays out five components of emotional intelligence:
- Self-awareness: When we’re self-aware, we know our strengths and weaknesses, as well as how we react to situations and people.
- Self-regulation: Because they are self-aware, emotionally intelligent people can regulate their emotions and keep them in check as necessary.
- Motivation: People with high emotional intelligence tend to be highly motivated as well, which makes them more resilient and optimistic.
- Empathy: People with empathy and compassion are simply better at connecting with other people.
- Social skills: The social skills of emotionally intelligent people show they genuinely care for and respect others and they get along well with them.
What Is the Difference Between IQ and EQ?
If emotional intelligence is a type of intelligence, how does it differ from the mental type? In part, by how it’s measured. One’s intelligence quotient (IQ) is a score derived from standardized tests designed to measure intelligence. Your IQ relates directly to your intellectual abilities, like how well you learn as well as understand and apply information. People with higher IQs can think abstractly and make mental connections more easily.
Emotional intelligence is very different. Sometimes called EI (for Emotional Intelligence) or EQ (for Emotional Intelligence Quotient), emotional intelligence is like using emotions to think and enhance our reasoning. Those with high emotional intelligence are able to manage their emotions as well as use their emotions to facilitate their thinking and understand the emotions of others.
When it comes to the workplace, some say emotional intelligence is more beneficial for your career than IQ, although others argue IQ matters more. Regardless of which is more important, emotional intelligence plays a decidedly important role at work.
Why EQ Is Needed in the Workplace
Just because you walk through the door and into an office building does not mean you check your emotions at that door before starting work, although it used to seem that way. In reality, emotions have always been in the workplace, but they were to be kept in check, with people pretending not to feel while they were on the clock.
These days, however, we are allowing emotions at work and recognizing the benefits of doing so. And emotional intelligence matters more than it used to because the workplace has changed. Today we work largely in teams, not isolation, for one thing, and savvy companies are realizing that recognizing emotions exist can lead to healthier environments. This doesn’t mean it’s an emotional free-for-all by any means, but it does mean people are more likely to be aware of their own and others’ emotions and act accordingly. People with higher emotional intelligence are also more adaptable to change—a must in our fast-changing digital age.
In addition, leaders with higher emotional intelligence tend to have happier employees who then stay longer, reducing the costs of attrition, and try harder, increasing productivity. An article at Forbes cites examples of salespeople with higher emotional intelligence significantly outperforming other salespeople, and states that in a study of 515 executives, emotional intelligence was a higher predictor of success than experience or IQ.
Companies that are hiring want to make sure they choose job candidates who will mesh well with existing teams. As a result, about 20 percent of organizations are now testing for emotional intelligence as part of their hiring processes. Even the smartest person needs good people skills to succeed these days. A high IQ alone is no longer enough.
How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
A high IQ is also something we tend to be born with while emotional intelligence is something we can work to improve. To a large degree, our emotional intelligence starts in childhood with how we’re raised, but as adults, we can take steps to get emotionally “smarter.” Justin Bariso, author of EQ, Applied: A Real-World Approach to Emotional Intelligence, offers seven ways to improve emotional intelligence in an article written for Inc:
- Reflect on your emotions. This is where self-awareness begins. To grow in emotional intelligence, think about your own emotions and how you typically react to negative situations, whether they involve a co-worker, family member or stranger. When you’re more aware of your emotions and typical reactions, you can start to control them.
- Ask for perspective. What we perceive to be reality is often quite different from what those around us are seeing. Start getting input from others to understand how you come across in emotionally charged situations.
- Observe. Once you’ve increased your self-awareness and you understand how you’re coming across, pay more attention to your emotions.
- Pause for a moment. Stop and think before you act or speak. It’s hard to do, but keep working at it and it will become habit.
- Become more empathetic by understanding the “why.” Try to understand the “why” behind another person’s feelings or emotions.
- Choose to learn from criticism. Who likes criticism? Possibly no one. But it’s inevitable. When we choose to learn from criticism rather than simply defend our behaviors, we can grow in emotional intelligence.
- Practice, practice, practice. Becoming more emotionally intelligent won’t happen overnight, but it can happen—with effort, patience, and a lot of practice.
We live in an age when we can earn a certification in any number of topics to boost our careers, thanks to technology, but sadly we can’t earn one in emotional intelligence. That’s something we have to address as individuals, to recognize it as important, choose to improve it and continue to work on it—probably for the rest of our lives. But the payoffs are worth it as we become better employees, better spouses, and all around better people.
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