Emotional intelligence. You’ve heard the buzz word but what does it really mean? Emotional intelligence is that something extra that takes you from smart — to wildly successful in your personal and professional life.
It’s what sets you apart from the crowd.
Here, we’ll explore the essence of emotional intelligence, the importance of building your EQ, and simple things you can do today to unlock your greatest potential.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to both recognize and express your own emotions as well as handle the feelings of those around you with empathy and understanding. If you possess emotional intelligence, you’re generally able to anticipate your feelings and redirect unhealthy or inappropriate thoughts and behaviors with ease. You know which situations are most difficult for you to handle and you have tools in your toolbox to navigate them.
Perhaps most important, you understand how your team members and even superiors think and behave, and you’re able to adapt your communication style to their needs to improve the outcome of almost any conversation. Those who are emotionally intelligent are able to understand a wide range of perspectives and viewpoints that differ from their own, improving their skills in almost every area of business from sales to leadership.
In a nutshell, there is no single, all-encompassing definition for emotional intelligence. Psychology Today summarizes it by saying it includes “three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like…problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.”
Forbes’ definition is different yet; they define EQ as “the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible” and includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
Why Should Leaders Focus on Improving EQ?
Until 1995, researchers were unsure what differentiated the most successful people from the masses, especially after a study found that people with mediocre IQs outperformed those with high IQs most of the time. That’s when emotional intelligence was introduced and came as an answer to the question, “Why do some succeed while others don’t?”
Almost every workplace conflict results from an inability — on the part of one or more people — to understand the perspectives, feelings, and behaviors (or their own, for that matter). Given that, emotional intelligence is a crucial characteristic for leadership for a number of reasons:
- Emotionally intelligent leaders are better able to guide their employees through conflict resolution by broadening perspectives
- Leaders who are aware of their own feelings and reactions can better accept feedback, which results in continuous growth and improvement and increased trust from their teams
- A high EQ enables a leader to learn more about what his or her team members need and fear and then adjust their leadership and communication styles accordingly, building rapport and getting the results they need from their staff
- Understanding a wide range of perspectives creates a well-rounded leader who is able to think creatively to solve problems in a way that satisfies most stakeholders
- Leaders with high EQ are often better able to recognize their own shortcomings and work toward improvement, both at work and at home
Put simply, developing your emotional intelligence skills can set you apart, opening a myriad of doors for you both personally and professionally.
How Can Leaders Improve Emotional Intelligence?
You don’t have control over every aspect of life, but you do have a hand in your own EQ. Emotional intelligence can be grown and developed over time with a little effort.
Try these steps to begin improving your awareness and management of emotions at home and work:
- Take a moment to identify how you’re feeling. Perhaps you’ve received an email from your manager that implies you’ve overstepped your boundaries. Before responding, ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now? What emotions am I experiencing?” Recognizing emotions is the first step toward mindfulness and control.
- Listen to your own dialogue. Making assumptions about the way others think or feel – especially when those assumptions are negative – limit your ability to maintain control of your own feelings and manage relationships with others. Consider the last time you said hello to somebody and they continued walking without response. What was your dialogue? “I must have done something to upset her,” or, “She sure doesn’t have much respect for management,” might be on the list of assumptions that negatively impact your day and your relationships. Listen to your own dialogue and change it when it’s assumption-ridden or leaning toward the negative side.
- Ask others to share their perspective. Ask your team members, leaders, and those who report to you how you could have handled a difficult situation a little better or in which areas you can most improve. Don’t forget to take their feedback seriously and thank them for being transparent.
- Follow the hockey-parent rule. In hockey, coaches often request that parents take 24 hours before approaching the coach after a game. In some cases, angry and upset parents are much calmer after 24 hours and can approach the coach respectfully, and in other cases, parents have better perspective after 24 hours and no longer need or want a meeting. In the workplace, taking a pause to gain some perspective and address your own emotions before responding can be a great step toward improved emotional intelligence.
- Put yourself in their shoes. When dealing with others at work, consider their perspective and try to identify the emotions they’re experiencing. This exercise can help you better connect with others, relate, and build rapport.
At first, building emotional intelligence requires focused effort, but over time it becomes more natural. And the end result? An edge that sets you above the rest – along with less conflict and anxiety and improved self-confidence. It’s a win-win.