Possessing strong emotional intelligence at work is one of the best ways you can improve your happiness and productivity in the office.

How are you feeling right now? Are you relaxed as you sit calmly reading this article, or do you find your shoulders are raised tensely? Identifying, understanding, and controlling our emotions are a set of skills known as emotional intelligence.

The idea that humans have multiple intelligences has been popularized since the 1980s. Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is one of the models that has grown in importance. Daniel Goleman spearheaded much of the emotional intelligence research and application in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ.

Not only are these skills vital at home and in your personal relationships, but using emotional intelligence at work can help you make better decisions, achieve more of your goals, and be more productive.

Have you ever failed to control an emotional outburst? Or acted in a way you felt was irrational after you had calmed down?

emotional intelligence

Many people struggle with these basic emotional intelligence skills as (like other people skills) it is not often taught as part of our education as children. This means a lot of us will struggle at interpreting our emotions and their resulting behaviours, which can be harmful for ourselves, others, and society as a whole.

If you can crack the skills of emotional intelligence, you can start to use emotions positively to overcome anxiety and improve your communication and empathy. In the long term, if you apply these skills, you will find you can overcome issues, solve problems, and manage conflicts much easier.

Feeling emotions comes naturally to most of us, but to express them properly and stay in tune with our true self (rather than becoming overwhelmed and acting on a fleeting emotional reaction) is a much harder skill. As Aristotle once wrote in The Nicomachean Ethics,

“Anyone can become angry — that’s easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-this is not easy”.

I’ve put this article together to help you learn more about your emotions, how they impact your judgement and decision making skills, and six tips to improve your emotional intelligence at work.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the skill, capacity, or ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. It’s a broad time, and describes a combination of different skills, including being able to ready body language, introspection and reflection, and effective communication (both to others, and yourself).

Psychologist Daniel Goleman identified five components that make up emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness

This is when the person has the ability to read their own emotions and recognize the impact they have on their emotions.

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2. Self-regulation

Once a person has identified an emotion they are having, they have to learn to control it or make decisions based on it. Self-management is the ability to use intuition or gut feeling to guide decisions based on their emotions. For young people especially, it involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances of their environment.

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3. Motivation

A passion for what you do is far better for your emotional intelligence. This leads to sustained motivation, clear decision making and a better understating of the organisation’s aims. Being driven by only money or material rewards is not a beneficial characteristic, according to Goleman.

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4. Empathy

Not only must you understand your own emotions, but understanding and reacting to the emotions of others is also important. Identifying a certain mood or emotion in a colleague or client and reacting to it can go a long way in positively developing your relationship.

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5. Social skills

This is the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social status, standing and where you are in your social network of people. Actually, teens are quite good at this because social hierarchy often matters the most in High School. The key is tying their heightened social intelligence to their self-awareness and then making positive relationship management decisions. Goleman describes them as “friendliness with a purpose”, meaning everyone is treated politely and with respect, yet healthy relationships are then also used for personal and organisational benefit.

I’d like to add one more to Goleman’s list, which is one of the principles I teach in one of my talks.

Relationship Management: This is the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while successfully avoiding or managing conflict. This is an essential part of emotional intelligence for us in incidents with bullying or issues with bosses. We have to be able to effectively handle problems without creating conflict.

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Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Emotional intelligence is an essential part of our day to day interactions and well-being. I think it is important in three major ways:

  1. Relationships With Others: Having a high emotional IQ helps individuals connect with others and develop deep, fulfilling relationships because they are able to read their companions, and then respond with empathy and compassion. Emotional skills are essential in working and friendly relationships.
  2. Personal Satisfaction and Contentedness: Emotional Intelligence is not only important for your interaction with others, but also for personal well-being. People who are better able to express themselves and distinguish their own emotions — whether that is guilt, anger, fear or even jealousy, are typically happier in life. They also can gauge their well-being and how they can improve it much more easily.
  3. Worldview: Emotional Intelligence helps us be empathetic and compassionate. Our emotional button is often what drives us to help another human being whether that is a homeless person on the street or giving a hand to our mother struggling with the groceries. Those who have low emotional intelligence have trouble giving back and understanding the world around them.

Emotional intelligence is incredibly important to handle the everyday stresses that life throws at us.

Especially as we enter a technological age, emotional skills are becoming less important and therefore less practiced. We are spending less time with our peers talking about emotions, or attempting to read and gauge others emotions. Instead, we ‘read’ emotions through text, email, chat or Facebook status updates. Because of this, we must teach ourselves emotional intelligence skills.

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Emotional Intelligence Quiz

Assessing your emotional intelligence can be a difficult task, but it’s important you tackle this before you try to develop your skills in this area. It’s vital that you understand your strengths and your weaknesses, as this will give you direction when you start refining these skills.

Answer the 20 questions below, awarding yourself a number of points depending on whether you

  • ‘completely agree’ (4 points)
  • ‘somewhat agree’ (3 points)
  • ‘neither agree or disagree’ (2 points)
  • ‘somewhat disagree’ (1 point)
  • ‘completely disagree’ (0 points).

Remember, answering honestly will help you in your personal development, even if it can be hard to admit right now.

  • When I feel anxious or upset, I know how to calm myself down ____
  • I rarely act impulsively (i.e. comfort eating, drinking too much alcohol) ____
  • I have set long term goals, and I’m focussed on achieving them ____
  • When I feel frustrated or unhappy, I am still able to move on with the day ____
  • I know my strengths and weaknesses ____
  • I can recognize what emotions I am feeling as I experience them ____
  • When I am feeling emotional, I am good at understanding why ____
  • My emotions have little or no impact on how I behave ____
  • I’m good at explaining my emotions ____
  • I don’t lose my temper ____
  • I can adjust my behavior and language depending on who I am speaking with (e.g. my parents, my boss, my doctor, my best friend) ____
  • People have told me that I’m a good listener ____
  • Generally, I feel positive about myself and my life ____
  • I ask people for feedback on what I do well, and how I can improve ____
  • I’m confident at voicing what I believe in, even if my opinion isn’t popular ____
  • I stay focused when I am under pressure ____
  • I set long-term goals, and review my progress regularly ____
  • Other people’s emotions are easy for me to understand ____
  • I often build friendships and rapport with others ____

= ______ Total

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Emotional Intelligence Quiz Results

0 – 20 Points
Very Poor Emotional Intelligence

Don’t be disheartened. The first step in improving your emotional intelligence skills is to identify your weaknesses. If you feel overwhelmed, perhaps pick out one or two things you’d like to work on first. Is there anything you feel is particularly detrimental to your life? Perhaps you are finding that losing your temper means losing your friends, or maybe you know that you need to learn the vocabulary to describe your emotions before you start trying to control them.

20 – 40 Points
Poor Emotional Intelligence

If you have scored between 20 and 40 points, you have developed some emotional intelligence skills. However, there are still many areas you will need to improve. Note these down somewhere, and use them to build a development plan for the future. Also note the things you have scored higher on – these are your strengths, and you might find it easier to develop these further before learning a new emotional intelligence skill entirely.

40 – 60 Points
Moderate Emotional Intelligence

You might still have some work to do on your emotional intelligence but 40 – 60 points is a decent score. Have a look over your results – are you scoring consistently across all of the questions? Or are there definable strengths and weaknesses? Write these down somewhere, perhaps in a personal development plan or a diary. You can use them to develop a plan of action to help you improve these skills.

60 – 70 Points
Good Emotional Intelligence 

Woo-hoo! You have good emotional intelligence skills. Perhaps you have already put time into developing these skills. Are you consistent in your scoring across the questions? Ask yourself if it was just a couple of questions that bought your score down to ‘good’ rather than ‘great. Identify any areas you are struggling with before moving on to further developing your emotional intelligence skills.

70 – 80 Points
Great Emotional Intelligence 

If you’ve scored over 70 points, your emotional intelligence is fantastic. You’ve obviously spent some time working on your personal development. Have a look back on your answers, and see what you have scored the lowest on if you feel you still need to improve.

If you’ve scored full points, we’re preaching to the converted. Make yourself a cup of tea, and watch this cute cat video compilation (you deserve it).

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Improving your Emotional Intelligence Skills

Once you’ve identified which areas need the most improvement, it’s time to get into developing your emotional intelligence skills. There are so many great techniques and methods to do this – they’re impossible to pack into one article. But I’ve put together some of my favourites just to get you started.

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Practise reflecting on your emotions

Our lives are getting faster. If you feel like you barely have time to think, you’re not alone. Now that we have our work emails pushed through to your phone, constant notifications from social media, and technology connected homes with bluetooth speakers in so many rooms, many of us can’t even shower in silence anymore. Music, podcasts, radio, Twitter, smart phones, and all the rest of the tech that has become part of our daily lives, is great at drowning out our inner voice. It is why many of us use it so frequently (and why our family has a ten day digital detox every year).

Does that sound familiar?

If you have had a bad day at work you find yourself scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed for a few hours, you might have already realised you have a problem facing your emotions. When we use vices like technology (or alcohol or other damaging behaviours) to cope with our stresses, we never find out the root cause of our unhappiness uncomfort. Instead, we need to shift our attention into activities that allow us to reflect.

Here are some ideas (you can also search for other great mindfulness activities elsewhere online), but by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Setting aside regular ‘tech down’ time
  • Colouring
  • Crafting (knitting is particularly therapeutic)
  • Walks in nature (without your iPod)

It’s important to note here that extroverts and introverts (and ambiverts) tend to deal with emotions differently, so find what works for you and your personality type.

Whatever activities you choose to reflect on your emotions, they should be quiet and away from technology. This will give your brain the time and space it needs to tick over and process your emotions.

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Learn the Language to Describe Your Emotions

Instead of saying you feel angry, is there a better word for it? Perhaps you could say you are feeling irritable or frustrated, uptight, annoyed. Or if you are happy – joyous, elated, excited, motivated.

Use language to help you express yourself more specifically.

This will help you communicate more effectively, meaning others understand you better – it might even help you understand you better.

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Get into Healthier Habits

You might have heard it takes 21 days to make a habit, but the real statistic is actually nearer 66 days. See if you can adopt some of these healthy emotional intelligence habits into your life over the next two months.

  • Regularly reflect on how you feel
  • Count to 10 when in stressful situations
  • Start breathing correctly
  • Live in the moment – take a few minutes every now and then to appreciate your surroundings
  • Stop taking your phone with you everywhere, and let yourself feel bored
  • Ask more questions about other people

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Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

If you are in a management role, it is vital that you refine your interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. A leader’s job is to guide themselves, and a team, to the vision of the business as a whole. This means keeping a lot of people on track, productive, and motivated.

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Assessing your Emotional Intelligence as a Leader

A leader with poor emotional intelligence skills will likely make themselves miserable, and the rest of the team – research has suggested that unhappy teams are the most unproductive.

The most successful leaders have strong emotional intelligence skills.

There are 8 biggest symptoms of poor emotional intelligence as a leader. Work through this list, and note how frequently you find yourself doing each of these behaviors.

  1. Treating people badly⁠ (i.e. not saying thank you, not showing respect, being short-tempered or easily angered when someone makes a mistake).
  2. Not taking responsibility when you have made a mistake or something hasn’t turned out the way you had hoped.
  3. Breaking your own rules for your team (i.e. checking social media at work, arriving to meetings late, lacking commitment to complete tasks).
  4. Multitasking to a level that it has become a detriment and the quality of your work is slipping.
  5. Not telling people the ‘why’ or the ‘big picture’ behind tasks.
  6. Focussing on one particular goal or deadline and pushing the team so hard that you have forgotten the people behind.
  7. Giving inconsistent direction.
  8. Communicating with your team poorly (or not at all).

Identify three of these behaviors that you struggle with the most, and commit to fixing them over the next few months.

Like other skills, emotional intelligence is a skillset you can learn and will make you a better leader and could even make you a better person – you just need to dedicate some time to learning new methods and techniques to help you better identify, understand, and control your emotions.

Want to improve your other skill areas?

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