Emotional Intelligence at Work


I conducted a session on 'Emotional Intelligence (EI) at Work' for Axelerant team members. This article explains more about the topic and the reason behind its selection.

Talking of Emotional Intelligence

I remember for years struggling with anger, irritation and frustration at work. As a young corporate aspirant nearly 20 years ago, I couldn't understand why people couldn't think and act the way they were supposed to. To make matters worse, while the frustration made me feel discontented, those who caused me to feel this way seemed perfectly cheerful! 

Comprehending how our emotions affect us is challenging. But it is necessary if you're looking to grow as a person and create an impact at work.

All those experiences taught me some valuable lessons with time:

  • Accept people the way they are
  • If you have good reason to be frustrated, speak up with context and sound reason. Your opinion or perspective alone aren’t sound reasons
  • You don't have to win every argument. Pick your battles wisely

Why Do You Need It?

If you're working for a tech services company, you've little choice but to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancement. That means spending countless hours upskilling yourself through the latest courses and grabbing every opportunity of hands-on training.

All of this directly revolves around your work-related skills. But it does little to help you understand how you feel every day, communicate with others, and perceive your daily experiences. Though you may be highly talented at what you do, there's always a perilous risk of losing control over yourself because of the way people and situations at work impact you. 

I believe that sound Emotional Intelligence is imperative for mature workplace interactions, which consequently reduce stress and anxiety.

What Exactly Is Emotional Intelligence?

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There's a saying: 'Don't make promises when you're happy. Don't make decisions when you're angry.'

We tend to speak and act based on our emotions. Think about it. A low, quivering voice in a meeting could reflect the anxiety and nervousness that you are experiencing. A joyous promise to deliver more than you can stems from significant praise that you've just received from the client. 

Our thoughts, actions, and words have repercussions that impact us, the people around us, and our situations. When we think, act, and speak within our emotions, rationalization often takes a backseat. How often have you said something you needn't have or impulsively sent a message that felt good at the moment but not so later?

The Science Behind It

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, in their book ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0,’ provide this illustration as I quote from the book of how our brain processes information it receives.

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Here's how it works: everything you see, smell, hear, taste and touch travels through your body in the form of electric signals. The signals pass from cell to cell until they reach their ultimate destination, your brain. 

They enter your brain at the base near the spinal cord, but must travel to your frontal lobe (behind your forehead) before reaching the place where rational, logical thinking takes place. The trouble is, they pass through your limbic system along the way - the place where emotions are produced. This journey ensures you experience things emotionally before your reason can kick into gear. 

The rational area of your brain (the front of your brain) can't stop the emotion "felt" by your limbic system, but the two areas do influence each other and maintain constant communication. The communication between your emotional and rational "brains" is the physical source of emotional intelligence. 

The Takeaway

From the above passage, you can infer:

  • Our emotional response is the most likely go-to reaction to any given situation
  • A tendency to lean on emotional responses reflects a low Emotional Intelligence
  • We need to engage in rational and logical thinking consciously. It involves acknowledging the emotion, understanding its triggers and impact, and taking a rational, evidence-based decision-making approach 

Emotional Intelligence is one's ability to weave emotions into thought processes to make decisions. 

The key here is using our emotional and rational brain effectively by thinking through our emotions. A combination of rational thinking and emotions will inevitably lead to better decisions. 
 

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important At Work?

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Your knowledge, ability to process information, and job-related skills are crucial in succeeding in a role at work. Yet even if you have all of them, without Emotional Intelligence, you are exposed to:

  • Deriding your career due to arrogance or lack of confidence
  • An inability to take feedback or acknowledge flaws 
  • Insensitivity 
  • A lack of empathy to others with differing perspectives
  • An unwillingness to compromise or submit to authority

You can see the impact each of the points mentioned above can have on your career. Many professionals would accomplish considerably more if they were willing to hear differing points of view instead of proving their point each time someone disagreed with them.

Mark Brackett, the author of 'Permission to Feel' and the founding Director of the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence, offers five areas of EI impact based on research:

  • Attention, memory, and learning
  • Decision making
  • Relationships
  • Health
  • Creativity 

Each of these areas has a considerable influence on one's performance. If one of them becomes unstable in life, you see its impact on your performance.

Emotional Intelligence at Work

How Can You Increase Your Emotional Intelligence?

One of the most popular models of EI —by Daniel Goleman— introduces us to its four central elements.

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Self-Awareness

You cannot take action without observation. That’s where self-awareness begins. When you become aware of emotionally appropriate and inappropriate responses, then begins the process of reflection. In his Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, James Prochaska specifies that a personal change process is unlikely to start until we begin to "contemplate" change. 

Feedback is a critical component of self-awareness when it comes to Emotional Intelligence. There is always a tendency in us to justify an emotional response and not be self-critical about it. Seeking feedback about your interactions, attitude, and reactions to difficult situations provides a necessary reality check.

Once you are more emotionally aware, you start working on an action plan that will help you manage your emotional response and have resultant healthier relationships.

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Self Management

Mark Brackett, in his book 'Permission to Feel,' offers us the RULER ™ acronym to improve our Emotional Intelligence.

Recognize Emotions

You grow better at it as you learn to listen closely to your thoughts, energy, body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones. Considering these factors, reflect on:

  • What are they saying to you
  • What are you feeling
  • How are you getting affected
     
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Understand Emotions – Their Underlying Causes And The Consequences

Make a note of behaviors, attitudes of a person that can provoke you to irritation, unprofessionalism, and even conflict. Some traits that people may find emotionally offsetting at work are:

  • Unreliability 
  • Demanding
  • Unappreciative
  • Micromanaging
  • Rude
  • Perfectionist
  • Egotistical

Contemplate whether these or any other such traits emotionally offset you. As you peel the proverbial onion, you’ll start to understand precisely why these behaviors in others upset you and then begin to consider what you could do about it. 

Label Emotions

Emotions in themselves have a vocabulary of their own. Knowing the correct wording allows you to label the emotions that you experience in a situation. It also enables you to assess the triggers, the impact, and the required changes objectively. 

In addition, as Brackett puts it: "Once we are able to communicate, with specificity, what we’re feeling, the people in our lives can look beyond our behaviors to understand their causes. Now empathy is more available."

Several experiments point to the fact that appropriately labeling emotions can significantly reduce the impact of those emotions on individuals experiencing them.

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Express Emotions 

Emotional Intelligence is not the subduing of emotions but appropriately expressing them. Appropriate emotional expressions include:

  • Well-reasoned responses
  • Control over the emotion
  • Maturity in leading the other person to a well-reasoned conversation

For example, it can be difficult to report to a manager whose overbearing nature rarely leaves scope for constructive criticism or open collaboration. Dealing with such a person can be frustrating or even agitating. In most cases, avoiding interactions with the manager or slipping into ‘yesmanship’ may seem the easiest responses to keep one's cool. 

But you have the option to stop and ask yourself: 

  • What emotions are working in you when interacting with the manager 
  • Is your response appropriate or inappropriate
  • What are your other optional responses
  • What is the possible impact of each optional response
  • What discomfort do you experience when attempting to address the situation with an optional response without being impulsive
  • How might you express your emotion giving yourself the right to be heard and yet communicating respect to your manager

Such reflections will enable you to keep your emotional expressions on the right track.

Regulate Emotions 

Regulating emotions helps us avoid feeling overwhelmed by them. After identifying the triggers and subsequent generation of emotions, the question is how to deal with them.

Dr. Caroline Moors offers these strategies to regulate emotions and not be directed by them alone:

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Think of the smallest action you can take beginning today (or this week, month) with consistency to grow your Emotional Intelligence.

At Axelerant, team members have the benefit of seeking help from performance coaches to achieve EI growth. 

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According to the Harvard Business Review article, the best way to work on one’s EI deficits is with the help of a coach. A coach or an accountability partner can help us see past our subjective self-evaluations and biases, and keep us on track. You want to work with someone who is objective and will hold you accountable for your commitments (without being hard on you). The steps to beginning are simple: be more self-aware and take action. Get Started!