Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: A Guide for Leaders

The best leaders have high emotional intelligence (EQ). Learn more about what emotional intelligence is, why it's important and tips on becoming an emotionally intelligent leader.

Humans are emotional creatures.

While some of us wear our hearts on our sleeves, others are a little harder to crack. No matter which side of the coin you fall in when in a professional setting, emotions can be a whole different ball game.

No matter the size of your business or the industry it falls within, the best leaders know how to recognize emotions, how to deal with conflicting feelings, and how to ensure a professional manner in all situations. In short, they have high emotional intelligence. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to as EQ (emotional quotient), is the ability to understand, manage, and use your own emotions positively in situations where you can reduce stress, communicate more effectively, show empathy towards others, diffuse conflict, and overcome challenges.

It’s a process in which you can build stronger relationships, whether in your personal life or professional life, to help you achieve all kinds of goals. Emotionally intelligent people can also be used to help you to better connect with your feelings and make informed decisions about the things in life that matter most to you.

Individuals with a high EQ know not only can decipher what they’re feeling, but also what these emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect those around them.

As an example, in a setting amongst friends, EQ allows us to:

  • Broach an uncomfortable topic of conversation without overstepping or hurting anyone’s feelings
  • Manage our emotions should we become stressed or overwhelmed
  • Improve relationships on a personal level

Explaining further is Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman, who wrote about being a great leader in a Harvard Business Review article. He stated:

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as Emotional Intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

Why emotional intelligence matters in the workplace

Those with high emotional intelligence can also see success in the workplace, as EQ comes in handy no matter your industry, role, or the size of your organization. A high EQ can not only allow you to easily navigate ins and outs of the social ladder at work, but also make it a little easier to excel in your career.

Emotional intelligence also plays a part in:

  • Better decision making and problem-solving skills
  • The ability to keep cool under pressure
  • Quickly and efficiently resolve conflicts
  • Having greater empathy towards others
  • Achieving higher job satisfaction
  • Listening, reflecting, and responding to constructive criticism from your peers
  • Motivating others to achieve their goals
  • Better collaborating and productivity across teams

7 tips to become an emotionally intelligent leader

Think about some of the best leaders you’ve had in your life – and I don’t just mean at work. Maybe it was our 7th grade English teacher or your high school baseball coach. Whatever the case may be, if they were a great leader, chances are good they had social skills and people skills that set them apart. In order words, they were an emotionally intelligent leader.

If that’s something you’re looking to improve upon, follow these seven tips to improve your emotional intelligence.

1 Work on your self-awareness

To truly be emotionally intelligent, you must first work on your own self-awareness. This means, not only are you able to think about how others are feeling, but you can understand your feelings, too. You also know how these emotions are impacting those around you.

In a leadership role, having high EQ transcends to having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. Try and notice which types of workplace situations emit specific emotions, which is the first step in how you can improve on your self-awareness.

2 Improve your communication skills

Emotionally intelligent leaders have an understanding of how to communicate with others, especially when emotions are high. Even the most powerful emotional response is temporary, so in an emotionally charged conversation that involves an angry coworker, it’s important to not only know how to respond but to take some time before responding. 

When you take a moment to collect your thoughts, consider how that individual is feeling, and respond accordingly and professionally, not only does this give everyone a chance to calm down, but they’re also given the chance to think rationally and respond in a professional manner.

3 Understand your team’s motivations

How much do you really know your team? Do you have an understanding of their responsibilities at work? How much do you know about their personal stressors?

Leaders looking to strengthen their emotional intelligence will work on putting themselves in another person’s shoes to have a better understanding of how they feel and what they’re going through. Doing so not only builds empathy but can also improve the dynamics between you and your team.

What motivates you as an employee might not motivate your team members. Getting down to what truly motivates each employee is really critical if you want to drive optimal results across that entire team.

– Sara Varni, CMO at Twilio, Supermanagers Podcast

4 Pay attention to body language

One key step in growing more emotionally intelligent is understanding and paying attention to body language. 

In addition to body language, this also includes nonverbal signals and facial expressions. As a leader, you need to pay close attention to what your team is telling you, both verbally and non-verbally.

As an example, my managers know that if I become bored in meetings, I start to play with my hair. Additionally, my team knows that I’m a little nervous when speaking when I start to fidget or play with jewelry, like a necklace or earrings. 

Knowing this about me, and being able to interpret my body language, my manager exhibits emotional intelligence as they get a sense of how I’m feeling and what could be contributing to these emotions. 

5 Learn conflict resolution

No matter how large or small your workplace, conflict or disagreements are going to happen.

As a leader, knowing how to resolve conflicts in healthy and constructive ways is key to building emotional intelligence. Conflict doesn’t always have to equal tension or negative repercussions. Instead, it can lend opportunities to think outside the box and come up with more creative ideas.

”If you don’t create a team culture where you welcome dissent, you’re going to start to cut it off. Which means you’re going to be single threading ideas and not getting to the best idea. You’ll be getting to the senior person’s idea, which we’ve all been around long enough to know, the odds that the senior person’s idea is the best one is very low.”

– Russ Laraway, Employee Experience Evangelist at Qualtrics, Supermanagers Podcast

6 Manage your own emotions 

Being emotionally intelligent means that you not only know how you feel, and why, but you can change your emotional response to be appropriate in certain situations. 

As you work to manage your emotions, remember that it’s okay to feel a certain way, but it’s not always appropriate, especially as a manager or a leader, to respond or release it at any given moment. Take a beat, walk away, or even do something personal that reduces stress, like doing some exercise and going for a walk. 

Doing so will allow you to keep your emotions balanced and respond professionally in challenging situations. 

7 Learn how to give and receive feedback

When it comes to communication skills, especially surrounding emotional intelligence, it’s crucial that you know how to give and receive feedback, whether it’s positive or constructive. 

Doing so allows you to communicate with empathy, comprehend how your employees are really feeling, and understand what you can do to be a better leader both for your organization and for your team.

Fellow enables your team to share real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance.

Employee feedback app

Examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace

Now that you have a better understanding of what EQ is and how it can affect the workplace, let’s consider some examples of how emotional intelligence can help.

1 Emotional Intelligence in meetings

For instance, think about how many meetings you attend in a typical workday. Sometimes when the conversation and ideas are flowing, people tend to talk over each other, and voices just become louder and louder. When this occurs, your team members are lacking emotional intelligence. To solve this, your team needs to understand that when one person is speaking, others are listening, without the need to constantly interrupt or interject. It also shows mutual respect for one another and can lead to better discussions.

2 Empathy towards colleagues

Let’s also consider the varying moods of our coworkers. Sometimes, we have team members who just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, are upset, or are simply having a bad day. Not to mention, some individuals may be having personal problems that do impact their work and can be difficult to separate and create balance. 

When you exhibit low EQ, you ignore them, snap at them, criticize them, or make them feel guilty for having a bad day. Having compassion and empathy towards this person shows a high EQ. Simply asking them if they want to talk can go a long way. 

Other examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace are:

  • Flexibility with deadlines
  • The ability to express feelings and ideas openly 
  • Active listening in all situations
  • Employees have the freedom to be creative 

What gets you in your feelings?

Whether you wear your emotions on your sleeve or keep how you feel bottled up inside, having emotional intelligence in the workplace can be the deciding factor if a meeting is productive or if it goes off the rails.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you’re in an emotionally charged situation. At the end of the day, people will notice and appreciate when you show signs of high emotional intelligence – especially at work. 

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About the author

Mara Calvello

Mara Calvello, with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature/Letters from Elmhurst University, is a seasoned Content Marketing Manager. Working at G2, Mara is an expert in software reviews and the tech space. Her expertise in content creation is complemented by her passion for literature.

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