Back in 1995, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman published a groundbreaking book call Emotional Intelligence.
The book was on The New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half, with more than 5,000,000 copies in print worldwide. The Harvard Business Review called Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence “a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea.”
So what is emotional intelligence, and why is it so important? In short, emotional intelligence, or EQ, refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. It is a measurable component of who we are, just as IQ is.
The concept and criteria for EQ has been studied for decades, but what made Goleman’s work so powerful was it’s application to the workplace and leadership based on his research at nearly 200 large, global organizations.
Goleman discovered that although the qualities commonly associated with leadership, like intelligence, decisiveness, determination, and vision, are necessary for success, they aren’t enough. Highly effective leaders also have a solid degree of emotional intelligence. In fact, Goleman revealed direct links between a leader’s emotional intelligence and measurable business results.
Emotional intelligence isn’t necessary just for senior executives. It’s necessary for success at any level in your career. Organizations that value emotional intelligence look for employees with high EQ’s in order to promote from within and groom for leadership roles. If you want to rise to higher levels of responsibility in your job, having a strong EQ is essential.
So that begs the question: can everyone have a high level of emotional intelligence? If you don’t have it now, can you improve your EQ? Studies show that although your level of EQ is relatively firm (based on personality and upbringing), it isn’t unchangeable. If you are willing and desirous of improvement, you can change.
In fact, the benefits of improving your EQ are not just confined to your career. Research has proven that a stronger EQ translates to more general happiness, better mental and physical health, improved relationships, and a decrease in levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
If you’re inspired to increase your odds for success on the job and in life, here are 5 ways to improve your emotional intelligence in the workplace.
These strategies are based on Daniel Goleman’s five components of emotional intelligence in the workplace.
1. Improve your self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to understand and interpret your own moods, emotions, and inner drives, and how these impact other people. People with a solid sense of self-awareness are generally self-confident and have a realistic assessment of themselves, their thoughts, and their behaviors. This enables them to have a self-deprecating sense of humor without losing their sense of inner self-worth.
Actions to improve self-awareness:
- Practice noticing how you feel throughout the day and the source of your emotions. Recognize that emotions are fleeting and mercurial and shouldn’t be the foundation of communication or decision-making.
- Consider how your negative emotions (anger, jealously, frustration, disengagement, etc.) may have impacted your boss, clients, and co-workers in the past. Acknowledge the fallout and repercussions of your behavior.
- Think about ways you can manage your emotions on the job so you don’t have knee-jerk reactions or make inappropriate or off-putting comments.
- Take an honest look at your own strengths and weaknesses. Look at past performance reviews and ask for feedback from your boss and others at your office whom you trust. Actively work on improving your weak areas.
2. Improve your self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the ability to control or redirect impulsive actions and emotions that negatively impact your potential for growth and leadership. This is the ability to “rise above” petty arguments, jealousies, and frustrations.
Those who have a strong sense of self-regulation show trustworthiness and a high degree of integrity. They are open to change and willing to accept the discomfort of ambiguity and uncertainty. They think before they act and don’t make impulsive decisions.
Actions to improve self-regulation:
- Practice waiting a few hours or days before responding or making a decision when a situation is emotionally-charged or difficult.
- Try to stay uninvolved in office politics, drama, or conflict. Don’t allow your desire to be part of the group undermine your integrity and professional behavior.
- Accept that uncertainty, frustrations, and disappointments are simply part of any work environment. Rather than complaining or acting out, brainstorm alternatives or solutions that might be beneficial to you and your company. Present those ideas in a professional and calm way.
- Find ways to release and manage stress outside of work through exercise, meditation, talking with friends and family, and other hobbies or interests. Don’t allow stress to compromise your EQ and integrity.
3. Improve your motivation.
In this context, motivation is your passion and enthusiasm for your work — beyond your position, status, or income. You are driven by your energy and fulfillment in your work, and you pursue goals with persistence. You love a challenge and you’re highly productive.
Motivated leaders and employees have a strong desire to achieve. They are optimistic, can easily move past failure and frustration, and they are committed to the success of the organization. They are willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. As a result, they are inspiring and motivating to others.
Actions to improve motivation:
- Identify what you love about your job and the bigger reason why you find your job fulfilling. Even if there are parts of your job you don’t like, focus your attention on what you do. Brainstorm ways to spend more time focused on what inspires you, and speak with your boss about ideas for facilitating this, as you’ll be more effective on the job.
- Practice optimism in general. Although optimism is a trait one is born with (or without), you can improve your level of optimism by choosing to change your thoughts and words, even if you have to fake it at first. Catch yourself speaking and thinking negatively and consciously reframe your thoughts and words.
- Set inspiring goals for yourself and determine specific actions to reach your goals. Reward yourself for every milestone and accomplishment along the way.
- Recognize that everyone is more drawn to positive, energized, and inspiring people. As you improve your motivation, you’ll see that you get more attention from decision makers, clients, and peers.
4. Improve your ability to show empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and respond appropriately to the emotions of other people. You are skilled in treating people with respect, kindness, and professionalism.
An empathetic leader or employee has the ability to identify with and understand the feelings, wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around them. They are able to listen well, relate easily to others, and avoid stereotyping or judging too quickly. They might also be good at choosing and retaining employees.
Actions to improve empathy:
- Consciously try to view situations from the other person’s point of view. This is particularly important in conflict situations that can easily create a stalemate. Recognize that we’re all working from the knowledge and experiences we have — rather than judging the person as right or wrong or good or bad.
- In addition to looking at the person’s point of view, actually validate it. Let them know you understand where they’re coming from and that their perspective has merit.
- Examine your own attitude and motives. Do you just want to be right, to prove a point or win the argument, or are you truly interested in the best outcome or solution, even if it’s not yours?
- Practice active listening and reflect back what the other person is saying, so it’s clear you both understand what’s being communicated. When people feel heard, they tend to be more willing to cooperate and compromise.
- Practice the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want to be treated in all situations.
5. Improve your social skills.
Having good social skills in the workplace means you’re proficient at managing relationships and building networks. You’re persuasive and effective at initiating change. You also know how to build and lead teams.
When you have good social skills, you’re typically a team player who wants to see others shine. You don’t always put your own needs ahead of the team’s needs. You’re a great communicator and excellent at building and maintaining relationships.
Actions to improve social skills:
- One of the best ways to improve social skills is by becoming an effective communicator. Learn to listen carefully, ask good questions, and be clear and accurate in providing information. Be sure your writing skills are sharp and that you use a proper and professional tone when writing.
- Learn the elegant art of persuasion. Persuasion involves making real connections with people based on your passion, as well as solid knowledge and sound reasoning for your point of view. Here’s a great article on persuasion.
- Become the go-to person who finds solutions and resolves conflict. When you have integrity, you’re even-handed and calm, and you’re committed to finding the best and right outcome, people will begin to see you as essential and knowledgable.
- Understand the person you’re talking to. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to interacting with everyone in the workplace. You need to know how to finesse and tailor an interaction to the person involved, based on their personality, cultural orientation, and position in the company. Here’s a great article on managing and communicating with different personalities.
Developing emotional intelligence takes time and commitment, but having a strong EQ is now a necessary quality for career success. Fortunately, you can learn the skills of emotional intelligence and begin applying them in your workplace right away. As you do, you’ll begin to notice a change in the way decision makers and co-workers respond to you.
If you don’t know your current emotional intelligence score, you can find a variety of free online assessments to give you a baseline and show you where you need to focus your efforts for improvement.