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Building emotional intelligence in the workplace

Building emotional intelligence in the workplaceImage Credit: Niño Jose Heredia,

Since the publication of Daniel Goleman's book — 'Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ' (1995) — there has been a huge surge of interest from people in this field. Previously, a term only used by psychologists or management practitioners, we now often hear the words in the corridors of organisations, in education and social settings.

As one manager recently said to me when describing a colleague ''He just doesn't get it, he has no emotional intelligence at all''.

When thinking about why emotional intelligence is so important at work, it is clear that the most successful organisations are crammed to the brim with highly intelligent and driven people. But, even with similar levels of intelligence, education and drive some are still more successful in work and life than others.

IQ and work ethic are important, but not sufficient for success. Our emotional intelligence — the way we notice, use, understand and manage emotions, both our own and those of others — is central for a successful and positive work experience. Most employees want to work for an emotionally intelligent manager and are more likely to stay with them during challenging and uncertain times.

Unfortunately, still in many organisations, managers feel the need to suppress, ignore and incorrectly manage their emotions and those of their teams, believing that emotions are best kept away from work. By doing so, they overlook a huge amount of data about themselves and the people around them.

So, what is the business case for emotional intelligence and why should we encourage managers to bring their ''emotional radars'' to work and gather emotional, social and relational information from colleagues, as well as gather the technical and operational data?

Here are three benefits of having emotionally intelligent managers leading teams, functions and organisations:

* Emotionally intelligent managers are able to communicate effectively as they possess the social awareness to understand different signs, cues and triggers from individuals, teams and departments. For example, the boss who notices when a member of their team appears under a lot of pressure and adjusts the communication style accordingly.

This social awareness also allows for honest and open conversations to take place. Emotionally intelligent managers are as prepared for the emotional and interpersonal elements of situations, as they are for the technical and operational.

* Emotionally intelligence managers and leaders are able to build relationships as they stay in control of their emotions in difficult situations and are much less likely to make 'heat of the moment' decisions or lose their temper at an inopportune moment. These individuals are extremely unlikely to erode relationships with colleagues by one unfortunate emotional outburst. They are also great at building partnerships, encouraging collaboration and gaining respect and loyalty from their colleagues.

* Emotionally intelligent managers can create positive work environments as they have an advanced awareness of emotions and can utilise these to shape the tone of the environment. Therefore, an emotionally intelligent manager can influence the way individuals, teams and departments feel. They can foster positive emotions through their personal approach and how they work with others.

They can also notice the mood and tone of the organization and can therefore take practical steps to improve this. For example, during periods of low morale, an emotionally intelligent manager will pick up on this early on and actively consider how best to re-engage people.

As you can see, there are certainly some clear benefits for managers behaving in an emotionally intelligent manner. However, for some it may come more naturally than others, but equally there is evidence that emotional intelligence is a developable, learnable and trainable skill.

Here are three brief approaches that Ashridge encourages leaders to apply to develop their emotional intelligence:

1) Start to notice and become self-aware: Take more time to recognise your own emotions and how they affect what you think about, say and do. Then start to notice these emotions in others and in your environment. For example, pick up on when your colleagues' mood changes or when you enter a team meeting and notice a positive and open atmosphere.

2) Better self-manage: Take control of unhelpful impulsive feelings and behaviours and also manage your energy levels appropriately, so you have enough emotional resources available. Don't be afraid to take time out when you need to recharge.

3) Become socially aware: Start to think about the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people; put yourself in their shoes and then think about how you can.

Source: Alex Davda, Special to

The writer is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, Middle East