Organisational Emotional Intelligence – practical tips for developing your sense of EQ
According to The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2020, Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) is one of the 15 most in-demand skills which employers see as rising in prominence in the lead up to 2025. Emotional intelligence is a guiding principle to improved stress management, emotional wellbeing, and relationship building, therefore organisations who recognise these benefits will promote EQ capacbilty – however, there is often a disconnect between what individuals and organisations say they value and what they do in practice, when it comes to building, demonstrating and supporting EQ. A recent Harvard Business Review research paper found that 98% of their respondents considered EQ capability as essential for employee success and job satisfaction, but only 18% strongly agreed that EQ was ingrained in their organisational culture.
In this article, we will be discussing what emotional intelligence is, why it is important at an individual and organisational level, and practical tips for improving it.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, understand and manage your own emotions, as well as identify, understand and respond constructively to the emotions of others. EQ has as much to do with knowing when and how to express emotion, as it does with controlling it. Practically speaking, having high levels of emotional intelligence enables you to:
· Recognise your own feelings and why they are happening;
· Understand how your feelings may affect others;
· Make good decisions based on what you see, hear and feel;
· Manage strong emotions that might interfere with making good decisions or achieving goals;
· Understand and respond constructively to other people's feelings;
· Manage relationships and respond appropriately to conflict.
At an individual level, empirical research conducted over the past 20 years has claimed a surprisingly strong relationship between job performance and self-reported EQ. In saying that, EQ by itself is probably not a particularly strong predictor of job performance in or of itself. Rather, a person’s ability to perceive, identify, and manage emotions more likely provides the basis for the kinds of social and emotional competencies (such as emotional stability, conscientiousness, agility, optimism, and perceptions of self-efficacy) that are important for success in almost any job.
But what about EQ at an organisational level? A growing body of literature has identified the importance of EQ and its association with positive organisational behaviour and health. Research has suggested that higher levels of emotional intelligence are significantly related to better collective mental health, greater work engagement, more satisfaction with social support in the workplace, and increased percetions of power (control over their environment) in the workplace (1). EQ is also thought to play a role in predicting positive leadership outcomes (2) and the quality of workplace relationships, which in turn appears to lead to greater job satisfaction and lower turnover intentions (3).
Generally speaking, the emotional competencies that tend to affect group or organisational performance are self-awareness, awareness of others, self-management and social awareness. For instance, coping effectively with change will require an individual to be able to perceive and understand the emotional impact of that change on both themselves, and the people around them. For a leader to successfully implement and manage change, they will need to be aware of their own feelings, to regulate their feelings about the change, to consider others’ potential emotional reactions to the change, and help their team to cope with their reactions.
Better perception, understanding, and regulation of emotion has the potential to significantly influence individual, team, and organisational-level effectiveness.
Increasing your EQ
Factors such as upbringing and personality tend to play a large role in the development of EQ, but the good news is that the components that make up emotional intelligence can be gained and improved at any point in life. The following are some practical tips for improving your individual, and organisational-level EQ.
Start with self-awareness and acknowledge how you feel
Self-awareness—how we see ourselves and the effects we have on our environment—influences our behaviour and the type of person we want to become. This means understanding that you have strengths and weaknesses, as well as motivations and emotions that will shape how you behave. Self-awareness is an act of reflection, where you can learn to recognise your emotions, to understand what is causing a particular feeling, and to appreciate the impact your emotions might be having on you and/or your team’s performance.
Even though most people believe they are self-aware, researchers estimate that only 10-15% of people actually are (5). To improve your levels of self-awareness, you can start by simply paying attention to how you are feeling (whether that is about your work, your colleagues, or other elements in your life), and consider how these emotions can have an impact on the people around you. This may mean taking 5-10 mins a few times a week, and asking yourself: How do these emotions influence how I respond? Am I allowing negative emotions affect the way I interact with your my colleagues, or how I are making decisions? Are my emotions and responses helping me or hindering me?
In order to bring out the best in others, you first need to bring out the best in yourself. Learning to see yourself more clearly through productive, objective self-insight also involves asking yourself “what” questions, rather than “why”. As researcher Tasha Eurich highlights (6), why questions draw us to our limitations; what questions help us see our potential. Why questions stir up negative emotions; what questions keep us curious. Why questions trap us in our past; what questions help us create a better future. For example, asking yourself “why do I feel this way?” is more likely to bring up unhelpful, or at least emotionally reactive, answers. Asking instead, “what am I feeling right now?” forces you to name your emotions, and could help you realise that you are tired, burned out, or frustrated.
Once you are familiar with identifying and tracking your emotions, you can isolate potential areas for development. For instance – are you allowing emotions of frustration or irritation to have an undue impact on the ways in which you communicate with your team? Do you have a tendency to procrastinate when you are feeling stressed? What impact might this be having on others? How well you connect with and understand your current emotions is key to clearly understanding the ways in which your emotions impact your thoughts, actions and decisions.
Get a baseline measurement of your EQ
In addition to self-reflection, before thinking about where you might need to improve, it can be useful to conduct a baseline assessment or self-evaluation of your current levels of EQ. These measures vary widely in both their content and in their method of assessment, but typically tend to use either a self-report personality-based approach, an informant approach, or an ability-based assessment procedure.
An EQ assessment such as the Emotional Intelligence Profile Questionnaire (EIP) or the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) can give you some good information on where your strengths lie, and where you might need to concentrate your development.
Leaders can also get a measure of the emotional culture of your organisation, by discussing the emotions your workplace (at an organisational or team level) needs, and doesn’t want, for success. A tool like The Emotional Culture Deck can help you to discover your people’s motivations and desires regarding how they want to feel at work, and explore how leaders need to behave in order to help people experience and avoid those desired and undesired feelings.
Practice emotional regulation
Being aware of your emotions is important, but if you want to strengthen your EQ, it’s equally important to learn how to regulate them. Emotion regulation describes the processes by which we control what emotions we have, when we have them, and to what extent. Both individuals and leaders who have poor emotional regulation skills tend to react, and have a harder time keeping their emotional impulses in check. To learn or improve emotional regulation, you'll need to practice it. You can do this by taking a few minutes to focus on identifying your regulation ’through questions like:
- "How did I react?”
- "What was I feeling when I reacted?" and then describe it as specifically as possible
- “How often to I react in this way?”
- What led to be reaching that way?”
- “What was the impact of my reaction?”
A lot of emotional self-regulation is about learning to respond, rather than react to situations as they occur. It’s an important skill, because it gives you the power to choose your emotional responses, instead of letting your emotions dictate what happens.
For example, if you're angry at a co-worker for not doing their share of the work, ask yourself what's making you angry? Once you've identified what exactly is upsetting you, consider why this upsets you so much. Are there similar situations in which others have made promises but didn't follow through with them? How does this make you feel about yourself as an employee and colleague if other people aren't held accountable for their actions while you feel you always are? If we were all held equally accountable, how would that change our relationships with one another at work?
Reactions tend to be automatic, and when emotions overwhelm us, it can become challenging for us to think clearly and make rational decisions. Remember that you have a choice in how you respond, and how effectively you regulate your emotional responses can be critical for developing your EQ.
Work on your social awareness and social skills
Showing that you're socially aware is about recognising and responding to other people's emotions, understanding the role of emotions in conversations, reading body language and being aware of your own emotions and how they affect others. It also describes your ability to recognise the social dynamics in play within your organisation. In the context of EQ, this area refers to your ability to steer your relationships and navigate social situations. It’s less about control, and more about “reading the room” – understanding how to handle and influence other people’s emotions appropriately, and how to get where you want to be with other people. That might mean sharing your ideas with your colleagues, effectively leading a team, or dealing with a conflict in a relationship in such a way that is empathetic, and sympathetic to current organisational dynamics.
It stands to reason that you would expect people with a higher EQ to have both strong social skills and awareness. A good leader, for instance, needs to be able to communicate influentially. They will need to have the skills to fine-tune their presentations to appeal to the listener; to use complex strategies like indirect influence to build consensus and support; and accurately register emotional cues in attuning their message. From an awareness perspective, they will need to be attentive to emotional cues and listen well; show sensitivity and understand others’ perspectives; and be willing to help out based on their understanding of other people’s needs and feelings. So how can we go about developing our capabilities in this area? To start with:
- Observe body language and nonverbal communication. The signals that people send through their body language can let you know how they are really feeling, how their emotional state is changing from moment to moment, and what's truly important to them. This can be tricky if you're not used to reading it, because people may be trying not to show their true feelings, or may have learned not to show them. They may also be harder to ascertain when not present in person e.g. via an online forum. Social awareness requires your presence in the moment. If someone shares something emotive with you, try asking yourself whether the person looks angry or sad when they talk about the topic or situation; if so, ask them directly what they think or feel. You could say something like: "You seem upset when talking about [topic]. Is there anything I could do?"
- Become more aware of, or get feedback on your own emotional behaviour. Understanding your own emotional behaviour in a social context can be quite challenging, so it’s worth getting some feedback on how you convey emotions to others. This can be from your manager, a peer, or someone who knows you well enough to provide meaningful information about how you to tend to typically respond, depending on your mood/level of stress/time of day/work tasks etc. For example, some people tend to appear angry when they are actually concentrating hard, , and they can be unaware of the expression they are conveying, and the potential unintended consequences, in a social context.
- Practice active listening. The basic skill of not only interpersonal communication but also of social and emotional intelligence is the skill of active listening. Genuinely listening to what other people have to say is an intentional, empathetic process, that involves paying attention, asking questions, and providing feedback on the content. Note that true active listening is not just paraphrasing – there need to be intention to understand the interaction for it to be considered truly active. It can be easy to bring all conversations back to our own experiences and feelings, instead of remaining as neutral as possible to ensure that you are listening to understand what a person is saying, how they mean it, and how they feel about it. By actively listening at work, it will be easier to connect with others and truly understand their thoughts and feelings.
The role of emotional intelligence in the workplace is widely recognised, and the components of EQ can have a significantly positive impact on performance, communication, interpersonal relationships, leadership and organisational effectiveness. Building your own EQ is one thing, but to create and embed a culture of high EQ within your organisation, leaders need to be willing to develop their own capabilities in this area, role model and reward emotionally intelligent behaviour, and weave these qualities into the values that are encouraged from the top down.