The term “emotional intelligence” (EI) came into widespread use back in the 1990s when researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer published a report on its importance and psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote the New York Times best-seller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In the decades following, the concept made its way into business school curriculums, countless TED talks and podcasts, and reference books (Cambridge English Dictionary defines EI as “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems”).
But while often talked about as something people possess or lack, it is important to remember that emotional intelligence actually consists of several competencies. Individuals may be stronger in some areas compared to others, and working to improve weaker aspects can have a profound effect.
Let’s break down the five emotional intelligence competencies and see how each bolsters the work environment:
Self-aware individuals know their internal state. They recognize their feelings and the effects of their mood on themselves and others. Such information promotes mental well-being through the ability to identify what’s going on inside oneself. It also improves relationships because emotional self-awareness promotes better action. For instance, realizing that you came to work cranky today because of an argument with your teenager last night might lead you to decide a relaxing lunch hour walk is better for your nerves than hanging out with chatty colleagues..
Accurate self-assessment allows people to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and limits. This knowledge boosts self-confidence through recognition of capabilities and how you add value. It also allows constructive criticism to be taken as helpful to self-improvement rather than as an attack. And understanding limitations can assist with setting boundaries, such as knowing when to say “no” instead of instigating burnout.
Perhaps a good way of comprehending how self-awareness affects office life is this example of what can happen when someone lacks this important piece of emotional intelligence. Jeannie Assimos, head of content at Way.com, notes that a negative employee at a previous company routinely caused disruption on the team. “She had no self-awareness that her constant complaining about work and the company was affecting everyone around her, to the point where it started interfering with project deadlines. People didn’t want to deal with her, so they would put her off as long as possible.”
Strengthening self-awareness starts with introspection. Reflect on how you feel at different times and in different situations. Examine behavior that accompanies the emotions, and evaluate if healthier, more productive actions exist.
Following closely from self-awareness, self-regulation deals with how what one feels inside gets expressed outside. We’ve all heard that there’s a time and a place for everything. Good self-regulators take the adage to heart. They don’t bottle up their emotions, but they realize they cannot just willy-nilly say or do what they want without possible consequences.
Employers prize effective self-regulators for their ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check. Their self-control promotes a calmer environment that encourages focus, productivity, and civil relations. Workers high in this aspect of emotional intelligence also often excel at adaptability. They handle change without negative emotions such as anger or fear taking over or clouding judgment. They present concerns rationally and encourage others to do the same.
Sergio Diaz, CEO of the Motivational Speaker Agency, is among the leaders who appreciates team members capable of self-management. His company books high-profile speakers for business conferences and seminars. “When producing events, they never go according to plan,” he notes. “There are lots of quick pivots and negotiations going on which requires our employees to be able to be cool, calm, and collected. More importantly, we have a lot of demanding clients who are sometimes not the nicest. This requires that our employees be very diplomatic and be able to manage their emotions well. If they take things personally, get triggered, or stress out, then things can go south very quickly.”
To improve self-regulation skills, try pausing before reacting. These “extra beats” allow time to gain composure and evaluate action, as harsh words and behavior prove difficult to take back. Excusing oneself for a moment to cool off or asking to meet with an offensive colleague in private are two positive ways of handling a tense situation.
Motivated individuals possess high achievement orientation. They have an internal desire to succeed. While external rewards are nice, they are not the primary source of satisfaction. Rather, motivated people commit to a standard of excellence for its own sake. Their drive and positive outlook despite obstacles and setbacks encourages teamwork and a sense of what’s possible if everyone remains optimistic and committed to shared goals.
Motivation is one of the EI competencies most useful in leadership roles. Managers influence their direct reports through their own attitude. Inspirational leadership creates a sense of purpose, the confidence to fix problems, and a desire to exceed expectations.
To increase your own motivation level, try thinking about aspects of your job that you truly enjoy and the feelings they generate. Draw inspiration from them. Another tactic is to observe motivated people around you. What do they do or say that gives them a special spark and draws others to them? Make such actions valuable additions to your own behavioral arsenal.
Empathy involves two crucial components. The first is recognizing what others are feeling and experiencing. The second is responding based on this information. Empathetic individuals often possess excellent listening skills and ability to pick up on cues. They use what they hear and see to better grasp someone else’s state. Then, they act accordingly, which might mean anything from lending a hand to an overwhelmed colleague to allowing a frustrated client to vent to leaving a boss in a bad mood alone. Because this aspect of emotional intelligence involves being in tune with other people, experts sometimes call it “social awareness.”
When thinking about empathy in relation to work, interaction with customers is frequently the first thing that comes to mind. With their ability to sense others’ feelings, anticipate concerns, and see things from another person’s perspective, empathetic employees relate well to clients. This talent comes in handy in a variety of situations, from better conflict management with an irate consumer to figuring out exactly what would satisfy a buyer and land a deal.
But empathy’s worth is not limited to only sales or service industries. As Percy Grunwald, co-founder of Compare Banks, notes, “Empathy is particularly valuable in any workplace because it allows employees to build strong relationships with their colleagues. When employees can put themselves in another person’s shoes, they are more likely to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and collaborate effectively. In addition, employees who demonstrate empathy are more likely to be trusted by their colleagues and viewed as valuable members of the team.”
Likewise, empathetic leaders draw the best out of each team member by seeing and feeling things through their lens. Such awareness makes employees feel valued and can assist with company retention efforts by sensing what actions will keep a top performer satisfied. Empathy also helps with things like decision-making and teamwork. Instead of looking out for just themselves, empathic leaders consider choices in light of what they will mean for others involved.
Workplaces thrive when people interact and communicate effectively. This final aspect of emotional intelligence serves as sort of a catch-all for various abilities that contribute to harmoniously being together. Some experts call social skills “friendliness with a purpose.” Being cordial to others definitely contributes to a positive atmosphere, but social skills go beyond niceness.
For starters, people with good social skills possess awareness of social norms. These include things such as looking people in the eye when talking, not interrupting, respecting personal space, monitoring tone, and smiling when greeting someone. Such behaviors create a comfortable environment..
Beyond comprehension of social rules, socially skilled individuals are proficient at bringing out desirable responses from others. They grasp how to use their own words and actions to negotiate, inspire, and persuade. They nurture relationships, calm or resolve disagreements, and promote cooperation. Situations run smoother because they know how to find common ground and how to make those around them feel important and heard.
Social skills are obviously an important part of leadership development. Anyone looking to improve in this area of emotional intelligence gains from becoming better at active listening. Give others your full attention, ask questions, and try to understand their viewpoint. Your interest and ability to navigate give and take boosts the likelihood of positive outcomes.
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