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Emotional intelligence didn’t really become a topic of discussion until Daniel Goleman released his best-selling 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Until then — and still in many workplaces today — employers valued how smart their employees were as a measure of success over how well they interacted with each other to get the job done. The focus was on what got done rather than how it got done, which led to office cultures that were highly competitive and not collaborative, in some cases creating environments in which helping others succeed was seen as counterproductive to individual success.
Emotional Intelligence Defined
The dictionary defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”
In a work context, people often associate emotional intelligence with good leadership. While it’s important for leaders to be emotionally intelligent, it’s also important for all employees to display these same characteristics.
Why does it matter?
Think about the best teams you’ve been a part of. Typically, they’re teams where everyone felt their views were welcome and were led by bosses who were open to input and to discussion when presented with information that challenged their position. In general, teammates listened to each other and encouraged everyone to succeed.
Of course, not every team is this well set up, but the elements of a well-functioning one include behavioral traits like this. Typically, teams exhibiting higher emotional intelligence will perform better than those where there is conflict and where empathy is low. In the 1980s and ’90s, General Electric was notorious for its toxic culture; employees were ranked and the bottom 10 percent fired on an annual basis. This encouraged employees to avoid helping others and to take credit for work that was not theirs to survive the annual cull.
Build Emotional Intelligence
The key to building your own emotional intelligence lies primarily in committing to understanding how you react emotionally to different situations. Knowing what your emotional triggers are can be beneficial. For example, if pressure at work causes you anxiety and impacts your ability to focus, then it’s important to learn skills to manage that. Can you take a quick walk to remove yourself from the environment and allow yourself time to think, even if it’s just to the kitchen to make coffee?
Similarly in meetings, if you know you have a habit of interrupting people before they finish their point — which can be frustrating for everyone — try counting to 10 as you sense they’re nearing the end of their point so you allow them time to finish their thought before you launch in with your own.
Is a colleague giving off nonverbal clues in a meeting that she either doesn’t understand the discussion or is struggling to clearly communicate a point? A simple gesture can be politely reminding the room someone else has the floor if she is being spoken over and then supporting what she says.
Emotionally intelligent workplaces are becoming more and more common. They are the workplaces reinforcing that how the job gets done is just as, or more important than, what is done and rewarding employees based on how they interact with others.
For more information, check out Goleman’s book. It still holds true today and is a great resource for anyone looking for a more productive workplace.
In the member-exclusive Letter to My Younger Self, 2011 WISE Women of the Year honoree Stacey Allaster stresses the importance of emotional intelligence to a successful career.
About Jane Hollman
Jane Hollman has more than 25 years experience in senior human resources roles at large multinationals and sports across Asia Pacific and the United States. Currently a career coach, she helps business leaders and university students think through their career paths. Hollman is passionate about creating flexible, innovative work places and mentors women looking to start their own businesses. She is also a freelance writer covering the business of sports for publications such as Women Talking Sports.
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