Benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace
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Benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace
If you want your workplace to be more productive and healthy you need to be thinking about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Doing so relieves stress, improves effective communication, builds empathy with others, and defuses conflict. All of which is good for employee mental health.
Developing emotional intelligence skills can help us to be more successful in both our personal and professional lives: developing better relationships; adapting to, and coping with, challenging situations; and improving mental wellbeing.
What is emotional intelligence?
The best psychological abilities a person needs to thrive in complex workplace situations have been debated for many years. Clearly, there must be other skills involved other than someone’s IQ tests – ones that help build relationships, manage emotions and navigate social situations.
Psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer were especially interested in the influence of emotion on cognition – do people think and behave differently when emotions are higher? They argued against traditional thinking that emotions lead to irrational behavior. Instead, they proposed that understanding your own emotions and those of others may allow us to manage and positively adapt our behavior. And it is these skills they called emotional intelligence.
In 1990 Salovey and Mayer’s presented a framework for emotional intelligence. This framework lays out a set of skills that enable us to perceive and manage emotion in ourselves and others and use feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in life. This framework was not widely known until 1995 when Daniel Goleman’s book – Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ – was published. This book translated Salovey and Mayer’s research into an accessible and bestselling book.
Since then, emotional intelligence has been the subject of much research, including looking at the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace. So how might this research help managers and employees navigate life more successfully?
What does research tell us about the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace
The benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace are well researched and documented. Findings from the large body of research into how emotional intelligence affects individuals at work indicate that the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace are:
Plays a crucial role in promoting wellbeing and positive emotions.1
Protects against emotional distress when faced with stressful situations.2
Preserves higher self-esteem and self-efficacy (belief in the ability to control our own behavior, emotions, and motivations), reducing the influence of adverse events and strengthening the power of positive events.3
Builds and supports close relationships, increasing availability of social support, which also improves wellbeing.4
Fosters positive coping strategies, such as expressing feelings and eliciting social support, instead of unhelpful strategies such as stewing over or avoiding.5
Is twice as necessary, for higher performance in every field, as cognitive abilities.6
Can be developed through relevant workplace training programs.7
The benefits of emotional intelligence abilities continue to be of relevance when navigating the challenging workplace. Emotional intelligence is a key part of improving mental health in the workplace.
Models for improving emotional intelligence in the workplace
The most influential models strive to take emotional intelligence research and bring it to the workplace, which can be applied as a simple tool. It is possible to learn and develop emotional intelligence skills. Still, it takes practice to notice and manage attitudes, emotions, and behavior in a changing social workplace. This is a continual process.
Emotional intelligence is also reflected in what a person does in the present moment: it is something people do, not something they automatically are – it is about being emotionally intelligent. Therefore, many models concentrate on three areas of emotional intelligence that can be improved. Firstly, attitude (regard for ourselves and others), secondly, emotions (self and social awareness), and thirdly, behavior (self and relationship management). Thinking about these three areas of emotional intelligence and how they interact together may develop more skills to help with daily workplace challenges.
When thinking about regard for ourselves and others both people also need to be cognizant of the diversity of people in the workplace. This is particularly relevant when it comes to neurodiversity. For example, knowing how to create an autism-friendly workplace and manage autistic employees effectively will only multiply the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
Emotional intelligence is about attitude
Self-regard is key to emotional intelligence. Self-regard is about respecting and accepting yourself, warts and all, feeling inner strength and self-confidence, plus positive attitudes towards work and life. However, negative internal voices can often bring in doubt (self-limiting beliefs) and drive thoughts and behavior. This leads to a poor and incorrect self-image (‘you will never be good enough; they are always against me’).
These misguided attitudes often stem from our experiences as children. Understanding where our attitudes come from can help develop higher self-regard, recognize strengths, and work on blind spots. This also facilitates higher regard for others (who also have self-limiting beliefs!).
There are several ways to develop more awareness of attitudes. Once we begin to build this greater regard for ourselves and others, attention can be turned towards being more aware of our and others’ emotions.
Emotional intelligence is about emotions
Emotional intelligence is not about suppressing your emotions. It involves noticing, labeling, and interpreting our emotions and the emotions of others. We can learn to pay more attention to how we feel and how these emotions influence responses, such as our decisions or how we interact with other colleagues.
Over time, this aspect of emotional intelligence facilitates greater empathy, which is more than just recognizing how others are feeling and how we respond. Empathy also helps develop a greater understanding of other people’s situations.
Even if we feel they are in the wrong, suppose we can see things from another person’s point of view and not allow disagreement to escalate into a significant workplace conflict. In that case, we can get closer to finding a middle ground between opposing points of view.
Techniques such as mindfulness or ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) can help with this awareness.
Emotional intelligence is about behavior
Emotional intelligence also involves managing our behavior and doing the best we can, no matter the situation, e.g., using all our intellectual capabilities, behaving in the best way under pressure. This takes practice. Once we become more self-aware and identify and dismantle limiting attitudes and beliefs, we can replace restrictive emotional behaviors with enhancing ones.
Emotions in the workplace are also a crucial social and adaptive function, increasing awareness of other people’s perspectives and needs and how we interact with them. This enables greater openness, trust, mutual regard, and collaboration. Which, if achieved, creates a healthier work environment.
Learning to listen more actively and ask questions that deepen insight makes it possible to demonstrate empathy and defuse conflict. Furthermore, paying much more attention to non-verbal communication may provide a deeper understanding of what others really think.
Taking some time to explore the interplay between attitudes, emotions, and behaviors will aid a better understanding of personal strengths and barriers to success. The Mind Tools video below may help with thinking about this, as may talking about emotional intelligence with a trusted work colleague, helping each other to develop further skills towards better relationships and wellbeing.
Looking beyond 2021 (and the scaling back of remote work) businesses that harness the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace will thrive.