What is Emotional Intelligence, and Why Does it Matter?
Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Quotient
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and regulate one’s own emotions, as well as those of others, to guide one’s thinking and actions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). It is often referred to as Emotional Quotient or EQ, and has been increasing in public and professional spheres since the 1990s. It was introduced by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer and further researched by numerous other psychologists, including Daniel Goleman. These researchers attest that all individuals possess the capacity to harness their emotional states to improve thinking, judgement and behavior (Brackett, Delaney & Salovey, 2022). This would be great, but does EQ matter in the workplace?
EQ in the Workplace
We are human, we have emotions. We sometimes experience a myriad of emotions in one day or even in one hour. Emotions are the bedrock of relationships, personal and professional; performance; health; and potentially, the impetus for decision-making. If emotions are a fundamental part of who we are, how can we use them to facilitate logical thought processes and behaviors?
Imagine you arrive to work. Everything is as usual, and you place your things down on your desk. You sit down and take a sip of coffee. In the quiet hours of the morning, you’re ready to turn on your computer and respond to emails. You have about 30 minutes of peace, and then your co-workers filter in. They seem a bit excited this morning, as it’s Friday and they’re ready for weekend festivities. They are conversing about plans for the weekend while putting their things down, turning on their computers, making coffee, putting their lunch in the community refrigerator; and the buzz of the office begins. One co-worker, whom you work closely with, seems a bit frantic and more hurried than usual. He comes over to your desk to give you some files to revise for a project that is due by the end of the day. He knocks over your coffee. It spills over your keyboard and onto your lap. What are your immediate thoughts? Chances are, they’re probably not positive. Would you share those thoughts out loud in the moment?
Emotional intelligence would dictate that even though you feel angry, frustrated, annoyed or any other combination of sentiments, you don’t have to act upon them immediately. By acting immediately, you would be reacting to the emotions and lacking in a rational thought process. Looking back at the example above, if you chose to say your thoughts out loud, you may regret being so harsh when you find that your co-worker needed to leave immediately because of a family emergency. It could potentially damage the relationship and the dynamic within the team and hinder progress on projects. In one study, “Emotional Intelligence was associated with enhanced performance indicators such as company rank, percent merit increase, ratings of interpersonal facilitation and affect and attitudes at work” (Lopes, Grewal, Kadis, Gall & Salovey, 2006). It’s evident that efforts to increase EQ in the workplace lead to better overall performance.
High emotional intelligence is also correlated to the social interactions of transformational leadership, where “leaders are able to motivate, influence, guide and empower followers to achieve organizational goals” (Bass & Riggio, 2006). By identifying and managing your emotions to facilitate logical thinking, you are harnessing your EQ. You are choosing to foster a more positive relationship with your co-worker, hence building trust, empathy, patience and kindness. It is also important to note that emotional intelligence includes the identification and management of others’ emotions. This is done through reading body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. Is your co-worker remorseful and apologetic? Is the apology authentic? What does their body language say? Use those cues to produce an appropriate response. After all, would anger, frustration and annoyance toward your colleague serve you and your team best?
How can you improve your EQ?
Having high emotional intelligence is a key indicator for success individually as well as for organizations. Think about which organization might perform better—one whose employees and leaders shout and blame or one whose employees and leaders stay in control of their emotions and respond calmly. Cultivation of EQ leads to more productive, supportive and healthy experiences, but it takes time, mindfulness and, above all, practice. Fortunately, there are some steps we can follow:
- Practice self-awareness. Try to notice what you are feeling, when and why. When you experience a strong emotion, slow down and take a deep breath. Assess why you are feeling that way.
- Practice self-regulation. Think about a response that would be most advantageous in that situation. Is expressing anger going to get the result you want? If not, which expression of sentiment should you demonstrate to achieve the best possible outcome?
- Practice empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s position, pay attention to body language and respond to their feelings. If you hear disappointment in someone’s voice, acknowledge it. This is vital to gain trust and respect from others. It is also more likely that this will be reciprocated for you in the future, thereby improving the relationship.
- Communicate respectfully. Think about the end goal or resolution to a situation. How can you most effectively get there? Make sure to choose words that do not blame or condescend. Also be mindful of your tone because delivery is just as important as the message.
Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.) Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Brackett, M., Delaney, S., & Salovey, P. (2022). Emotional intelligence. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. Retrieved from http://noba.to/xzvpfun7
Lopes, P. N., Grewal, D., Kadis, J., Gall, M., & Salovey, P. (2006). Evidence that emotional intelligence is related to job performance and affect and attitudes at work. Psicothema, 18(Suppl.), 132–138
Psychology Today. (2022). Sussex Publishers, LLC. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-intelligence
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J.D. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.
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