C&T Scene: How emotional intelligence matters in the workplace

Over 30 years ago, Yale president and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology Peter Salovey and University of New Hampshire Professor of Psychology John D. Mayer first introduced the concept of “Emotional Intelligence (EI) in the article Imagination, Cognition and Personality.” Emotional Intelligence is different than IQ (Intelligent Quotient).  IQ gauges how well you take information and apply logic to answer questions or make predictions. Salovey and Mayer define emotional intelligence as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Learn about the components of EI and why it matters in the workplace.

Components of Emotional Intelligence
Researchers suggest that there are four different levels of emotional intelligence.

  1. Perceiving emotions:  The first step in understanding emotions is to perceive them accurately, understanding your own emotions and the emotions of others.  This might involve translating non-verbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.
  2. Reasoning with emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
  3. Understanding emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. When you observe a behavior, you interpret what that person’s behavior could mean to you. For example, if your co-worker seems to be more quiet than usual, you may interpret this behavior to mean she was displeased with something you did, but it could mean your colleague is under pressure to meet a deadline.  
  4. Managing emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a crucial part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions and responding appropriately as well as responding to the emotions of others are all important aspects of emotional management.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
Imagine a workplace where you perform better, have better relationships with colleagues, experience less anxiety, and can resolve conflicts easier. Who doesn’t want that? As it turns out emotional intelligence plays a role in how well we perform in all these important areas. If you are applying emotional intelligence, you:

  • can more accurately identify and describe what people are feeling;
  • are aware of your personal strengths and limitations;
  • can let go of a mistake;
  • are better able to accept and embrace change;
  • show sensitivity to the feelings of other people;
  • can manage your emotions in difficult situations;
  • exhibit empathy and concern for others.

Attributes of emotional intelligence can be seen as requirements in today’s jobs. You might recognize these attributes as soft skills. Below are some common “soft skills” you might see in job descriptions today.

  • Must perform under pressure or tight deadlines
  • Is adaptable to change
  • Has well-developed problem-solving skills
  • Consistently meets deadlines
  • Able to work as part of a team
  • Exhibits excellent communication and customer service skills.

Hiring managers value emotional intelligence in candidates and  see it as a critical skill for career advancement, according to a study done by Career Builders in 2011. If you are looking to advance in your career, take a good look at your soft skills and see where you might benefit from improving.

Building Your Emotional Intelligence:
Emotional Intelligence is a learnable skill. Take steps to develop and build on your baseline. Below are some helpful tips and tools to build your emotional intelligence.

Recognize feelings —in you
Marc Brackett, Ph.D., founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor in the Yale Child Study Center, introduced the Mood Meter in 2005 to help recognize and understand our emotions. The mood meter allows you to self-assess your energy and pleasantness levels to help you label the emotion you feel. Naming or labeling your emotions can help you express exactly what you are feeling to others.  Recognizing your emotions is the first step in the RULER process.

Recognize feelings — in others

  • Emotions are complex and may not be visible to others.  When we see emotions displayed, it is our instinct to interpret what that means to us. For example, if you present an idea in a meeting and your colleagues are quiet, it could be because they are reflecting on your idea, or it could be because they are tired after a long day of meetings.  
  • Resist the urge to interpret what an action means to you and label what others are feeling. Instead, test your assumption by asking what are they feeling?  If the room is quiet after presenting an idea, state the facts by saying something like “The room is quiet. I’m unsure what that means. Can you tell me what you’re thinking/feeling?” 
  • Getting in the habit of encouraging others to express their feelings will help you refine your skills in recognizing the emotions of others more accurately.   

Monitor your mood to plan your day:

  • Utilize the mood meter to monitor and recognize when you have high and low moments of energy and pleasantness.   
  • If you can understand what you are currently feeling, you can then apply strategies to move into the emotions that best suit the situation.  
  • For example, if you determine you have low pleasantness and low energy,  you may have difficulty sitting through the full day of meetings that requires you to be engaged and creative.  Ask yourself, “What do I need to do differently to move to a more pleasant mood.” Perhaps its blocking 5 minutes at the end of each meeting to stretch and debrief one meeting to get ready for the next meeting or maybe its blocking time to walk outside over lunch or break.
  • If you practice the technique of monitoring and regulating your mood, you can tackle a tough day of meetings with less stress.

Use emotional intelligence to perform under pressure

  • Research shows that employees with higher emotional intelligence handle pressure and perform better under stress than employees with low EI.
  • When things don’t go as planned, emotions can run high and interrupt one’s ability to think through a situation clearly.  Emotional intelligence acts as a buffer for stress…how?  When you exercise EI, you are not eliminating the stress but rather you are recognizing and labeling the emotion you feel.  Dr. Brackett says, “If you can label it, you can tame it.” He explains that if you can identify and label your emotions, you can then apply strategies to tame them, allowing you to think through the best approach to a situation.
  • The next time you’re under pressure…stop… ask yourself, “What am I feeling? What emotion am I displaying to others?  Will this approach get me the results I need to resolve the issue?” Then ask yourself, “What might be an alternative approach?”

Test your assumptions:  
Use the Ladder of Inference to test your assumptions and understand your thinking and reasoning as well as the thinking and reasoning of others.    

  • Developed by Chris Argyris and later highlighted in a book called “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization” by Peter Senge, the Ladder of Inference uses rungs on a ladder to depict steps in the thinking process.
  • When events occur, we often jump to conclusions or assumptions.  By using the Ladder of Inference, you can identify where on the ladder you are and mentally “walk” down the rungs to unpack your thoughts, feelings, and reasoning process.  
  • Once you understand your thinking and reasoning, it becomes easier to share your thought process with others,
  • When others make assumptions, help them articulate their thinking process by asking questions with the intent to understand.  State something like, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean, can you walk me through your thinking?”  Ask questions like, “What assumptions might you be making here?  What data supports this thinking?  What other information might be helpful here?”
  • Using the Ladder of Inference to test others’ assumptions increases communication among colleagues and can build solid working relationships.

Your emotional intelligence effects your decision making, problem solving, relationships, communication as well as the ability to advance in our career. Emotional Intelligence is a skill you can learn, but you need to be willing—willing to be more self-aware and to exhibit emotional self-control. Check out these links and resources to learn more.

Writer’s sources /helpful links:
Permission to Feel:  The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-Being and Success by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
Salovey P., Mayer J.D (1990) Emotional Intelligence.  Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.  
Developing Your Emotional Intelligence (LinkedIn Learning)
Collaboration Principles and Process – Ladder of Inference (LinkedIn Learning)