Applying emotional intelligence in the workplace

Emotional intelligence

16 Feb 2019

What do we mean by intelligence?

When we talk about intelligence in everyday conversation, we usually mean a persons’ cognitive intelligence, their ability to process information; facts, figures, correlations, and concepts.  In general conversation the word ‘cognitive’ is left silent – it is implicit.  Because cognitive intelligence has become the accepted norm for the term intelligence all other forms of intelligence have to be specified by how they are different from cognitive intelligence.  This is what is referred to as a persons’ I.Q.  Intellectual quotient (IQ) is the accepted measure of cognitive intelligence, knowledge and logical reasoning skills.

Cognitive intelligence is only one form of a persons’ capacity to understand and capability to excel.  It is the one we most readily recognise as a society, and the one much of our education system is focused on (although this is changing).  However, there are many different types of intelligence people have; many other ways people can understand and excel. 

There are many ways of considering intelligence and ability.  Some people are better than others at music; they may have the musical/ rhythmical ability required to excel at music.  Others may have the linguistic ability required to be multilingual.  Whilst these are alternative types of intelligence, we have a tendency to refer to them as a ‘musical gift’ or a ‘gift for languages’ rather than an intellect – implying they are luck rather than capability.  Until recently ‘alternative types of intelligence’ has usually been confined to the field of psychology, but in recent years this has become a more mainstream part of thinking.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) really became a phrase of common use in the 1990, in the academic  and popular  literature.  EI is in effect an amalgamation of Gardner’ ‘interpersonal’ & ‘intrapersonal’ intelligence theories combined together to create emotional intelligence. 
Emotional intelligence is the ability of a person to recognise, understand and control their own emotions and the impact that their own emotional state is having on their behaviours (intrapersonal), coupled with the ability to notice and interpret the emotions of others and the impact others’ emotions may be having on the interaction between the two (interpersonal).

Emotional intelligence is wholly different to cognitive intelligence, and there is no evidence of correlation between the two; someone my be very intelligent cognitively but be poor at understanding and managing emotions and vice versa. 

The good thing is, EI can be learned.  A bit like cognitive intelligence; the more you study, practice, reflect, the better you will become.

Why does it matter?

Perhaps the best way to describe why it matters is to ask another question; how often have you made a bad decision, or said something you have later regretted, because of the mood you were in at the time – your’ emotional state?  Perhaps you drove too fast because you were worried to get somewhere urgently.  Perhaps you told someone something you ought not have said because you were angry.  Maybe you have not been performing well at work recently because you are feeling overwhelmed.

There is no doubt that your emotions affect your decision making; positively or negatively.  This is the case in our personal/ social life and also in your working life.  The more able you are to recognise your emotions and the impact they are having, the better able you are to manage them positively.

This impact of emotions doesn’t only happen to you, it happens to others too.  I am sure you can think of a time when someone at work, usually happy-go-lucky, has been sullen and moody.  Or perhaps someone talkative in meetings is unusually quiet.  You may not know why they are acting out of character but you do notice a change in their demeanor and behaviour.  We cannot second-guess what is causing them to behave differently but it is good to notice the change – it gives us a clue that something is going on for them.

So, why does it matter that we are more emotionally intelligent?  Well, if you are able to understand your own emotions, you will be better able to control how you behave in stimulating situations.  And the more aware you can be of the impact others’ emotions may be having on their behaviour, the greater likelihood you will manage the situation sensitively.  So, if you are able to act in an emotionally intelligent manner you are more likely to have a positive impact on the situation you are in; to create more balance in your life and harmony with others.

Want to know more?

Developing emotional intelligence takes some time, and not a little practice too.

Training in emotional intelligence techniques, supported by an understanding of your own thinking style, is the most positive way of learning.  This learning is strengthened further if the development of EI skills is done as part of a group, perhaps a cohort of work colleagues.  This allows you to develop the skills with peers, acting as a practise group – supporting each other and encouraging each other.

Training and coaching is available through Re-Think Performance for individuals and groups.  However, by way of introduction, I would like to suggest you consider three steps to beginning your EI journey:

1.  The first thing I would suggest is to begin to notice your own emotions and the impact they are having; observe what is happening for you.

2.  Undertake an exercise to understand your thinking style more fully, how you prefer to approach issues and to engage others.  Two very popular and well renown tools are Myers-Briggs and MindSonar.

3.  Set a routine to reflect. 

The first two steps will just be things of interest, stuff you become aware of but have no impact if you don’t set time aside to regularly consider the following question;

‘How did I behave today, what did I do or say today, that was not helpful to me?  What might I do differently if that situation arose again?’


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