Emotional intelligence is the capacity to understand and manage your emotions. The skills involved in emotional intelligence are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. Recently, it has become a bit of a buzz word in human resources departments across the globe but researchers are coming out and saying that it is time emotional intelligence be taken seriously. Embracing the nuances of human emotion in the work place can have pragmatic benefits, such as better collaboration among employees and a happier workplace, according to Rex Huppke. His argument is that we are human beings every day, not just when we leave the office.

How does emotional intelligence help?

With many areas of psychology, there is lively debate about how the brain works but Daniel Goleman, a world renowned behavioural scientist said that “the part of the brain which supports emotional and social intelligence is the last circuitry of the brain to become anatomically mature and because of neuroplasticity, the brain shapes itself according to repeated experience” Goleman goes on to say this should be taught in a systematic way to children. “This has been trialled in over 100 schools and there was a reduction of anti-social behaviour, an increase of pro-social behaviour and academic scores rose”, Daniel Goleman goes on to say.

It’s evident then that emotional intelligence is beneficial – both in and out of the work place.

Addressing our emotions

The unfortunate trend that has swept western society particularly, is the inability to fully understand and tackle human emotions. This trend has spilled into other areas of life, including in the workplace. While emotions are often left at the door when you begin work, this has devastating affects not only on businesses but also employees (all the way from clerk to CEO). After all, we are emotional people. Businesses are changing, however, and are beginning to offer extensive and individual work schedules and new services (for example, some healthcare plans include mental health coverage) to ensure people at work are looked after. This includes hiring psychologists for human resources teams: getting to understand your work force as best as possible and offering useful training has direct results on employee/employer relationships.

What are elements of emotional intelligence?

Let’s break down each element with a contextual definition.

Self-awareness is about understanding yourself: knowing your weaknesses, strengths, drivers, values and your impact on other people – forces for good intuition, essentially.  In practice, this would look like self-confidence and a thirst for constructive criticism. If you are a manager, you might know that tight deadlines bring out the worst in yourself. A self-aware and emotionally intelligent manager would plan their time properly and get the work done well in advance of any deadlines.

Self-management is the ability to control and redirect disruptive impulses and moods. Think of trustworthiness, integrity and comfort with change. It is not letting your emotions crippling you and instead marshalling your positive emotions and aligning your emotions with your passions. For example, if a team botches a presentation, the leader ought to resist the urge to scream. Instead, they could consider possible reasons for failure, explain the consequences to their team members and explore solutions together.

Motivation is enjoying achievement for its own sake. A passion for the work you do, optimism and energy to improve are the key hallmarks of an emotionally intelligent and motivated person.

Empathy is understanding other people’s emotional make up. It’s considering others’ feelings, especially when making decisions. Some trademarks of empathy include expertise in hiring and retaining top talent, an ability to develop other people and sensitivity to cross cultural differences. Imagine a consultant and their team trying to pitch something to a potential foreign client, in this case it’s a Japanese client. After the pitch, the client is silent and the team interpret this as disapproval. The consultant, however, senses interest owing to the body language and continues with the meeting and the team gets the job. That is what empathy is.

Finally, social skill is building a relationship with others to move them in desired directions. Think influence here.

How do you become more emotionally intelligent?

Lucyna Bolin, Talent Development Manager at PageGroup says it’s important to “assess yourself and be open to self-assessment. Ask yourself where you are in the 5 key components. Ask for feedback from others, be more self-reflective and be more honest with yourself.” It’s clear that we’re all emotionally intelligent but we need to take more time to self-assess and work on our emotions. As with anything, it takes practice but even small steps can make a big difference. Much as you would regularly exercise your biceps, or any other muscle for that matter, you need to practice working on your competencies so that they improve.

“I incorporated emotional intelligence into our management development training programme because when we impart this important information to our managers, its effects will be felt throughout all of business. The aim is that people will be happier managers who will get to know and understand their teams better. It’s good to be an effective manager but it’s vital to develop yourself and only then can you really be a good leader.”

Indeed, when we look at leaders in some of the most successful companies, it’s clear that all of these leaders have and demonstrate high levels of all the key components of emotional intelligence. It’s important to keep in mind that these are a range of abilities. On the whole, women tend to have higher emotional empathy on average: sensing how someone is in the moment, managing relations between people and groups. Goleman’s view on the connection between emotional intelligence and leadership is that there are differences between men and women in this domain but as people grow, they pick up skills in the area they need.

Has emotional intelligence made a difference in the work place?

Every day we make emotionally charged decisions. We feel plan A is better than plan B and we sometimes make choices based on our emotions or gut feelings. When we understand the origin and source of these emotions, especially when working in team, we are more at attuned to each other. With globalisation, emotional intelligence is more significant than ever when teams are cross cultural and global, increasing the complexity of interactions of emotions and how they are expressed. Essentially, emotional intelligence in the work places comes down to understanding, expressing and managing, good relationships and solving problems under pressure.

Benefits of emotional intelligence at work

Gary Yukl, a prominent researcher in leadership agrees and goes on to say “Self-awareness makes it easier to understand one’s own needs and likely reactions if certain events occurred, thereby facilitating evaluation of alternative solutions.”

Bolin continues “You have to start with yourself and management isn’t confined to one aspect, there are many other aspects of business to consider. But starting with developing your self-awareness, you will be able to manage others more effectively. Management isn’t necessarily about leading others immediately either. Often when someone is promoted to a manager position they think they need to lead others but it is about leading yourself first which can only come with greater self-awareness.” Managers need to understand how they would re-act in situations and this is why it is important to start with yourself as a base and build upon that. What we do is break it down into three areas: leading the business, leading yourself and leading others - the most important element being leading yourself.”

For emotional intelligence to be effective, it has to start with yourself. You can’t distil or enhance other people’s well-being, improvement and sense of self without first understanding how you operate on an emotional level.  What distinguishes leaders is usually their level of emotional intelligence and it is those skills which help to develop a more effective work place.

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