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How to Exercise Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The most common attribute I have seen of all the great business leaders I have worked with and am inspired by is emotional intelligence. They have tremendous understanding of how they are perceived by others and how to adjust their approach for different people and situations.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage our emotions as well as the emotions of others. Daniel Goleman is the leader in generating awareness of emotional intelligence in the workplace and continually draws on the research of scientists to present to the world a greater understanding of emotional intelligence and its relevance for life success.


In Goleman’s book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, released in the 1990s, he says, “In a time with no guarantees of job security, when the very concept of a job is rapidly being replaced by portable skills, these are prime qualities that make and keep us employable. Talked about loosely for decades under a variety of names, from character and personality to soft skills and competence, there is at last a more precise understanding of these human talents, and a new name for them: emotional intelligence.”

Are you and others in your organisation using emotional intelligence at work? Here’s what emotional intelligence looks like.

Goleman’s Five Elements Of Emotional Intelligence Are:

1 – Self-awareness

People with high EI understand their emotions and don’t let their feelings rule them. They usually have a high self- confidence and an open mind. They understand their strengths and weaknesses and work within these to improve their performance.

2 – Self-regulation

The ability to control emotions and impulses. The ability to think before you act on negative emotions like anger or jealousy.

3 – Motivation

People with high motivation and initiative are highly productive, love a challenge and are effective in whatever they do.

4 – Empathy

The ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions, needs and perspective. Empathetic people avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly. They live their lives in an open and honest way.

5 – Social Skills

People with strong social skills are usually good team players and adaptable. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, have good powers of persuasion and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.

How Do You As A Leader Use Emotional Intelligence Day To Day To Create A More Harmonious And Productive Workplace?

Here are three tips, from Daniel Goleman’s writings, on how to be aware of the impact of emotions and emotional intelligence and make them work for you and your organisation:

1 – Watch for the emotional contagion effect

Andrew Meltzoff at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at University of Washington studied how people are hardwired to pick up emotional signals from others. Meltzoff also found some people have more influence in passing along their feelings.

Where there are power differences between people, the person with most influence is the “sender” of feelings. In a workplace this could be the manager or more senior person.

Be conscious of your facial expressions and the mood you’re conveying to others as it could be setting the overall mood of your workplace.

2 – Avoid amygdala hijack

The amygdala is an area in the centre of our brains that is the trigger point for emotional distress, anger, impulse and fear, when this circuitry takes over our brain’s areas for self-regulation it can lead us to take actions we might later regret. It can take 20 minutes for our bodies to process the adrenal surge caused by the amygdala.

Take a break from a situation that is causing stress, annoyance, anger or other negative emotions for a brief period (e.g. 5 – 20 minutes) this can help you regain your brain’s self- regulation from the amygdala hijack and act and react more rationally rather than emotionally.

3 – Practise the three types of empathy daily in your workplace

This is especially important for leaders. Goleman references Jean Decety from the University of Chicago’s findings about the three types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy – allows you to sense how others think about the world
  • Emotional empathy – being aware of how another person feels
  • Empathetic concern – being able to sense what someone else needs and show you care about those needs.

Need Further Advice? Talk To Harrison Human Resources

With our HR Consulting service, we can provide practical advice and guidance on how to exercise emotional intelligence in the workplace.

Simply click here to request an obligation-free 15 minute phone consult to get some initial advice on your HR needs.



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