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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Higher EQ often makes you a better teammate, client, employee, and leader.

Key points

  • Honing emotional intelligence skills can help individuals succeed over time.
  • Developing emotional intelligence skills takes time, focus, and commitment.
  • To improve your EQ, or emotional quotient, it may help to work on self-awareness, self-regulation, and finding your personal passion.
Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock
Source: Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock

Most people in psychological circles understand the importance of emotional intelligence, often referred to as one’s EQ (or emotional quotient). When you are trying to improve or change something, having self-awareness, being able to self-regulate, understanding social awareness, and leveraging intrinsic motivation and empathy—all factors of emotional intelligence—are key.

The importance of being in touch with your emotions is well documented in most psychological literature, and any good therapist will ask you about your thoughts and feelings on any given topic.

But what about when it comes to the business world, where technical knowledge is often supreme and people get promoted based on what they know, how long they have been somewhere, and their technical contribution? Rarely do you hear in business, “We promoted him/her because they showed such excellent self-awareness”! It doesn’t mean it isn’t critically important; in fact, honing EQ skills often helps you succeed over time—they just aren’t as—well recognized as other aspects of getting ahead.

EQ in business comes naturally to some people, and they often wonder what the fuss is all about. It seems obvious to watch how angry you get in front of your boss, or to read the room when there is tension over changes happening in your workplace, or to find ways to stay motivated even when things aren’t going great with your department or unit.

Many times, when someone has grown up in a dysfunctional environment, they actually learn good EQ as a result: Learning how to wait and watch and observing the dynamics of the family unit on any given day. Understanding when is the right time to pose a question or ask for help on something. Reading the body language, listening to tone, and watching the interplay between people to know whether trouble is brewing. Despite the unpleasantness of living through the dysfunction, the upside is that EQ skills are often refined as a result of being in the environment.

If you haven’t developed them, and might wonder why you aren’t getting ahead at work or receiving the accolades and recognition you think you deserve, it might be time to consider whether you could improve your emotional intelligence at work. It takes time and focus, like anything, and requires a commitment. The payoff is that higher EQ often makes you a better teammate, client or customer service person, employee, and leader.

Consider the following to hone your skills in the important area of emotional intelligence:

1. Be in the moment more often in order to strengthen your self-awareness. It’s easy to get swept up in the business of the day and stay focused on what you need to do. Or you might get drawn into the drama and difficult relationships among team members. Or your focus might be on just “getting through the day.” Stop several times throughout your day to take stock of what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Consider keeping a journal of some kind to note your experience and your reactions. Everyone has triggers—things that make you happy or sad or frustrated or joyful. Become aware of your triggers, and recognize the emotional reaction you have when you experience them. Becoming more self-aware involves being watchful. Don’t judge them, or react to them, or try and fix them. Just notice them as often as you can.

2. Step into "interested observer" mode throughout your day to improve your self-regulation. This means stepping out of your involvement and engagement and observing yourself as if you were a third party watching what is happening. Are you overly effusive, setting a negative tone by your approach, resisting too hard, or pushing an agenda? See how your emotional responses are playing out. Watch your interactions as if a detective were observing what’s happening and consider your emotional range. Do you make good choices when you need to? Are some situations more challenging than others for you? Again, no judgment—just take stock and see what you can learn. The more you learn about what you do now, the more self-regulation you will have in the future.

3. Move away from judgment and assumptions and self-ego, and put a focus on your team members and what’s happening in your culture in a more objective and analytical manner to improve your social awareness. Instead of being drawn in by someone else’s responses, or worried about the trends in your company or business and thrown off by the tense tone in a meeting you attended, become more aware and analytical as you consider what’s happening and why. Adopt a curiosity approach—“I wonder why?”—rather than taking a position or believing what might be said on the surface. In life in general, you win more friends, and influence more people, by showing a genuine interest in who they are, what they care about, why they care about it, and how it impacts them in different ways.

4. Lastly, find your own personal passion. Don’t wait for someone else to inspire you or motivate you. Yes, good leaders should provide inspiration and a willingness in their team members to want to follow them because of how they lead, but many organizations of different shapes and sizes don’t have managers who can lead like this. Determine what is beneficial to you—the opportunity to learn and grow, take on a challenge, enjoy your co-workers, develop a skill, or simply use your workplace and environment to get better at your EQ. Set your intention and your motivation will follow.

Consider where you might need to improve and start to work on just one area. The stronger your EQ, the better contribution you will be able to make, no matter whether you are a contractor working on a new home, a bus driver, a customer service rep, or a senior executive. These skills are applicable and useful in any forum.