Improving our Emotional Intelligence for a happier workplace (Part One)

What is Emotional Intelligence? Put really simply, if our general intelligence is our ability to process information and facts in order to come to sound decisions, then our emotional intelligence is our ability to process emotions (our own and those of others) to come to sound decisions. It’s sad but true: sometimes, really intelligent people do really stupid things. Often this can be put down to a lack of emotional intelligence.

By: James Blair on

So, can emotional intelligence be taught or imparted?
It can certainly be worked on and improved. And, often, for the good of our own mental wellbeing, the experience of those around us, and the benefit of the business, it should be!

Regardless of the industry, leadership is a people business. So, in the name of enhancing emotional intelligence for the better leadership of others, may I present eight tips to try? Here are the first four…

1. Work on your Self-Awareness

If you are not aware of your faults or shortcomings, you cannot begin to work on them. If you don’t think you have any, you’re kidding yourself and this article probably isn’t for you.

We should try to focus on, and be mindful of, the things we are doing (especially when on autopilot, or when under pressure) and how we are feeling at key points during our working days. The hardest things to work on are the things we don’t know about ourselves. Honest feedback from peers, subordinates and those we report to, received in good spirit and with an open mind, is a great place to start.

2. Listen more than you speak.

And I mean really listen – we should be focusing on what is being said and hearing the emotions behind it, not thinking about our next meeting or what’s for tea whilst an employee lays their soul bare for us. Listen to the words and the tone of voice, and observe facial expressions and body language. Are they congruent? Or is the person talking hiding something or afraid to be completely honest with you?

Sometimes, listening is enough, and no further action is required. A team member offloading in this way to a receptive audience can be enough for them to feel valued and understood, and lead to improved productivity. Plus, of course, if it’s a work-related rant we’re hearing, we may learn some valuable insight into what’s going on at the coalface.

Do we really know how our teams are feeling about their work lives? Do we know what makes them tick? Or, better still, what makes them happy? Are we listening to their thoughts and what they appreciate in each other? A happy team is a productive team.

3. Restrain (or retrain) your reactions

If you are one for knee-jerk reactions or emotional responses, then train yourself to keep these in check. This ties in with point one. We should try to identify our emotional triggers. (Tip: being too busy or stressed and reacting poorly to interruptions or issues that we consider to be of little importance at that time may be a good place to start.) Then we should learn to avoid them, or to control our emotions when they bite. Respond, don’t react. Think before you speak.

4. Empathy is everything

Empathy doesn’t come naturally to all. It is a personality trait as well as a learned behaviour. If you are not naturally empathetic, then teach yourself to stop what you are doing and thinking, and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. The more we understand the perspective of others, the better our responses will be.

Empathy is about understanding why someone is feeling and behaving the way they are. It may be entirely at odds with how we (think we) would feel or behave, but that doesn’t make them wrong, it just makes us different.

Once again, we’re talking self-awareness: noting, remembering and analysing how we feel and behave in certain situations will undoubtedly improve our self-awareness and should improve our emotional intelligence and, hopefully, help us to show more empathy to others.

You can find tips five to eight in part two of this blog here.