Why Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace Matters

When you’re engaging in conversation with someone and notice their mood shift, or you’re noticing that your own feelings have changed, you’re using emotional intelligence (commonly referred to as EQ) to identify and understand those changes.

The Institute for Health and Human Potential describes emotional intelligence as being able to, “recognize, understand and manage our own emotions,” as well as, “recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.” Emotional intelligence is also used when you’re choosing which words most effectively get your point across to another person, which can be useful in personal and professional relationships.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Conflict can sometimes arise in a workplace, and when looking for a solution or preparing to have an uncomfortable conversation with a co-worker, you want to handle the situation as appropriately and professionally as possible, without causing any further issues or making regretful decisions based solely on how you’re feeling in the moment. This is where emotional intelligence is greatly beneficial. With emotional intelligence, you can acknowledge how you’re feeling and control how you respond to those emotions.

Having good emotional intelligence enables you to continue your day without a bad mood or a conflict influencing and affecting your performance. Emotional intelligence can also help you look more objectively at others when they mistreat you, rather than assuming you’re at fault for their behavior, and it promotes empathy towards others since you’re trying to understand where another person is coming from.

Here is a recent interview with Stacy Williams, the Director of Learning and Development here at Collaborative. In it, Stacy provides a little background on her experience with emotional intelligence and provides some tips for developing your own EQ.


How did you first learn about Emotional Intelligence (EQ)? 


My earliest memory of the term “EQ” took place a few years after I left the traditional classroom as a Journalism/Literature teacher and entered the corporate world as a Corporate Trainer. I was at a conference listening to Jen Shirkani, author of Ego vs. EQ, speak on how today’s leaders can overcome ego traps using emotional intelligence. It was fascinating! 


Did you grow up in a home with caregivers who had high levels of EQ or was it more learned later in life?


I’m an 80’s kid, so I grew up in a time where IQ was recognized and valued over EQ. As a matter of fact, I’m not too sure EQ was even talked about in my community at large as it certainly wasn’t addressed in schools. My parents, especially my dad, emphasized the importance of earning good grades, getting into top colleges, and landing an excellent job. That said, EQ never entered my world until I became a part of the working adult world.


What have been some things that have really helped you increase your EQ?


EQ’s importance and influence has increased in my life over the last decade, and the exciting part about it is there’s always more to be learned. My growth and maturity around this concept started by reading books by authors like Daniel Goleman and listening to speakers like Brene Brown. Engaging in these activities created the awareness I needed to begin recognizing EQ when I interacted with my then-manager and colleagues (I also began recognizing missed opportunities to apply EQ). As my awareness and understanding of the subject deepened, I began practicing the following to increase my own EQ:


  1. Making it a point to recognize when I was negatively emotionally charged (self-awareness)
  2. Remembering to slow down enough to determine the best course of action during those emotionally charged times (self-management)
  3. Attempting to understand others’ unspoken responses to my actions and words based on my observations of them (social awareness)
  4. Doing my best to be a servant leader who puts her team’s needs before her own by coaching and inspiring them to become bigger, better versions of themselves (social management)


What are 1-2 examples that you can point to of situations where your increased EQ really helped?


This is an easy one as I try to apply my emotional intelligence every day.  I have a 13-year-old son, and just last night after I discovered he didn’t do his chores, I reminded myself to talk to him calmly vs. express my annoyed disappointment with him. We ended up having a good conversation about why they weren’t done. My son’s a smart kid and he came up with a few good reasons, but I had examples like “we’re a team so we need to work together” and “doing your chores helps keep our home clean and organized”). MY EQ has given my son a voice.


How can you tell if someone has high levels of EQ?


They listen well. They lean in when you are talking to them, and they make you feel like you’re the only person in the (real or virtual) room. Someone with a high EQ also knows what to do with the information they’re hearing. They often reflect the other person’s sentiments, they recognize the emotional and mental space they’re in and sit in it with them while acting as an anchor that keeps them in a safe, protected place.


What's one thing you wish everyone could take to heart from an EQ lesson learned?


The one thing I wish everyone took to heart when it comes to EQ is that it’s a highly effective, trust building tool that works in any people-oriented situation, so APPLY IT EVERY DAY. You can practice it by choosing not to yell at your children when they’re misbehaving and instead take some time to collect yourself before having a calm conversation with them. You can choose to listen in silence when your partner is sharing a concern they have (bonus points if you look them in the eye when you do). You can make it a point to recognize a coworker who appears overwhelmed and ask them how you can help. The point is, EQ must be practiced. It’s not enough to simply understand it.   


If someone is just starting out on the path to greater EQ, which quadrant would you recommend that they start with? Why did you pick that one?


Of the four EQ quadrants (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management), I would recommend folks start with self-awareness because once self-awareness is mastered, the other three quadrants will follow suit. For example, it’d be difficult to recognize a room full of confused clients (social awareness) if you’re having difficultly recognizing the mental and emotional states that exist in you (self-awareness). Likewise, you’ll have trouble getting “buy in” from your team if your intentions as a leader or team player are off-kilter (self-awareness).


Do you have a word of encouragement that you'd be willing to share concerning this subject topic? 


My words of encouragement are these:  Never stop learning.  Mastering EQ, like so many other abstractions, requires years - if not a lifetime - of learning, applying, failing, and trying again. Enjoy the journey, and don’t worry so much about the destination (EQ mastery). If you set a goal to become more self-aware but fail, try again. If you miss an opportunity to make a small difference in someone’s day, that’s okay. Each time you fail, you create more awareness of EQ in your life, and one day when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll recognize and act on it. This metacognition, by the way, is self-awareness in practice.


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