Got someone on your team who always seems able to ease staff tensions, understand the fussiest customers, and say the right thing to spur everyone to tackle a challenge? Managers in such a situation count their blessings, as having an emotionally intelligent superstar around makes so many aspects of office life run much smoother. It also whets the appetite for developing other workers to this level by increasing competency in areas such as self-awareness, relationship management, and motivation.
But is emotional intelligence something that actually can be taught? The encouraging answer is “yes.” Though some people naturally seem to possess more emotional intelligence than others, the skill set involved can be improved upon with practice. Emotional intelligence coaching and other training programs can bring about positive change.
Emotional intelligence (EI), also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is the ability to recognize and effectively manage one’s own feelings and to understand the emotions of others. Individuals with high emotional intelligence do a good job of figuring out how what they feel influences their own behavior and how it impacts those around them. Similarly, emotionally intelligent people pick up on what others feel. Keying in on how a situation is making someone angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, or the like enables emotionally intelligent people to adjust their own behavior to create better interactions and stronger interpersonal connections.
Research shows a plethora of benefits of high EI in the workplace, including improved conflict resolution, greater cooperation, increased morale, better decision-making, lower turnover, and higher employee well-being. Despite these plusses, emotional intelligence improvement may not be top-of-mind for employees when thinking about professional development.
Thomas Brown, Yale-educated psychologist and CEO of Ad Altius Advisors, notes the importance of emphasizing EQ and discussing it openly. “Critically, this must originate with management. In so doing, it sends a message that EQ is as important as efficiency or cost reduction. This takes EQ from the realm of ‘soft’ skills to ‘hard’ skills, which are essential for success in any workplace. It can be particularly helpful if management cites evidence from behavioral science that an EQ-forward culture not only creates a more positive work environment, but it can help individuals get ahead.”
Despite hearing that the organization considers emotional intelligence essential, some people may ignore the message or reason that it doesn’t apply to them. Talking one-to-one with team members, especially those who could most use assistance in boosting their EI skill set, can help these individuals grasp the importance. While managers can conduct such face-to-face meetings at any time, performance reviews prove a logical time to look over behavior and come up with strategies for improvement. Show how emotional intelligence fits into the overall scenario of professional and personal development. Create SMART goals, and schedule times to meet to assess progress.
Options for improving emotional intelligence competencies
After generating interest in EI among staff, organizations can explore various ways to hone skills. Factors such as company size, number of participants, desired outcomes, and budget will likely influence decisions.
Hire an EI coach
Just as athletes hire professionals to guide them to high performance, bringing in a certified coach to work with specific individuals or groups on emotional intelligence can be quite impactful. EQ coaching often starts with a self-assessment such as the EQ-i 2.0 designed to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in EI components such as self-awareness, self-management, motivation, social skills, and social awareness. Such knowledge enables more productive coaching sessions tailored to boost specific skill sets.
Companies will likely weigh the cost of this option with potential returns on investment. Solving an issue plaguing team harmony, helping a highly competent employee change alienating behavior, or fine-tuning the EI skills of an up-and-comer in the name of leadership development are all instances where effective coaching from a professional could be worth the money.
Enroll in classes
Many colleges offer courses in emotional intelligence as part of their business curriculum or through their continuing education program. Some employees may jump at the opportunity to attend on the company dime.
Consider online options, too, as they may prove more convenient or economical. TalentSmartEQ, for instance, offers a self-paced “Intro to EQ” online course. Coursera has more than 200 classes available on various aspects of emotional intelligence, including ones pertaining specifically to the workplace. Scheduling in workday blocks for completion increases interest and demonstrates that the organization considers learning about emotional intelligence a good use of company time.
Gather employees together in a structured environment during the workday to work on core components of emotional intelligence. While organizations can tailor content based on need and available expertise, Brown suggests a series of three separate workshops, each with a different focus:
Self-awareness. “This workshop helps individuals become more aware of their own moods, thoughts, and feelings. This is important because it helps individuals recognize when they are experiencing negative emotions and identify what triggers these emotions.”
Self-regulation . “This workshop focuses on teaching individuals how to manage their own emotions. This involves identifying the most powerful mood for a given situation and then learning to produce that mood in oneself. This is an important skill because it allows individuals to regulate their emotions in a way that helps them connect better with others and avoid negative interactions.”
Noticing moods in others “This workshop teaches individuals how to recognize and empathize with the moods of their co-workers. This is a critical skill because it allows individuals to connect with others on a deeper level and help their peers change their own moods. This is where the real magic of business success can happen because, within that empathic space, the individual can be seen as not only a sympathetic listener, but also as someone who can help their co-workers improve their own situation.”
Other good topics for group gatherings might include stress reduction, anger management, body language interpretation, and mindfulness.
Read (or listen to) relevant books
Whether presented as something interested individuals can do on their own or as a lunchtime “book club” where participants share thoughts on assigned reading, plenty of worthy reading material exists. Perhaps the obvious place to start is the Daniel Goleman classic Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ. This best-seller from the 1990s, often credited with introducing the concept of emotional intelligence to a wide audience, still rings true today.
Consider others, too. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) Guide to Emotional Intelligence receives kudos for its expert “how to” advice. Emotional Intelligence: A 21-Day Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Social Skills, Improve Your Relationships, and Boost Your EQ by David Clark features plenty of emotional intelligence exercises. Team Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by TalentSmartEQ co-founder Jean Graves delivers practical strategies and showcases how an emotionally intelligent team is far more than the sum of its parts.
Managerial efforts to improve emotional intelligence
Some of the best learning occurs when leaders integrate components of emotional intelligence into the workday. Concepts come to life, and seeing emotional intelligence in action solidifies its importance.
For instance, this may involve a manager pulling aside an employee who regularly lashes out at others. The two can explore the person’s own emotions during these situations, figure out how actions make colleagues feel, and go over what measures might lead to better self-regulation in the future. Hold the conversation in private, and aim to discuss rather than lecture. If you notice improvement, speak up. Positive feedback reinforces behavior.
Other times, it might make sense to present helpful measures to the whole group. Consider, perhaps, getting people interested in the benefits of proper breathing.
“I can’t overstate the importance of learning to breathe well,” says Patty McDonough Kennedy, founder of SpeakWell, which helps youth, adults and companies develop emotional intelligence and become more effective communicators. “Slowing down, directing, and focusing your breath (and language) have huge positive effects on our cardiovascular, endocrine, and brain systems including the amygdala — the part of our brain that processes emotions – and the cerebral cortex that resonates reasoning. Simply put, calming and centering our breathing allows us to respond vs. react, identify and process our own emotions, and create a space to identify and process the emotions of others and better respond to situations and interpersonal communication and relationships. This is the definition of emotional intelligence. It requires you to understand yourself first, before understanding and communicating with others.”
Looking for more inspiration on where to direct efforts? The International Coaching Federation (ICF) offers a range of emotional intelligence exercises managers can use in the office. Some may want to try the suggestion to increase self-awareness by setting a timer to go off every 30 minutes and having team members record their emotions in that moment and analyzing the overall picture at day’s end. Other leaders may find asking everyone to write down three things at workday’s end that made them feel proud or thankful helps put events into perspective.
Get your team in on the action, too. Solicit suggestions on measures to increase emotional intelligence, perhaps based on readings, research, or personal experience. In and of itself, generating ideas on how to improve emotional intelligence promotes the vital step of giving the topic importance.