How to Build Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in The Workplace

October 20, 2021

Growing up many of us were told that having IQ was the key to being successful, but research has shown that people with high emotional intelligence (EI) and average IQ consistently outperform those with higher IQ and lower EI.

What is EI?

EI, or emotional intelligence, is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions.

The term “emotional intelligence” was created by researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer and popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name.

According to Salavoy and Mayer, there are four different levels of EI:

  • Perceiving emotions
  • Reasoning with emotions
  • Understanding emotions
  • Managing emotions

Along with other forms of intelligence (CQ, or the measure for cultural intelligence, and IQ), EI plays a critical role in developing emotional wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, and professional success. 

In fact, a study by TalentSmart found that EQ played the biggest role in performance when compared to 33 other workplace skills. This same study found that emotional intelligence influences 58% of successes across every type of job.

Why EI Is Important for Success

People who are successful at work aren’t just smart — they also have high EI!

High EI isn’t something that only C-Suite managers and CEOs should develop. It’s a set of “buildable” skills that can be honed over time with practice and training, and is something that needs to be fostered in every workplace in order to help team members at all levels succeed and collaborate effectively.

Why Does EI Matter at Work?

According to one survey of HR managers, almost 75% responded that they valued EI more than IQ when making hiring decisions. 

These days, EI is widely seen as a valuable skill that improves management, problem-solving, communication, and can help create diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces where everyone feels supported and connected.

People with low EI might:

  • Play the victim and avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes
  • Use passive-aggressive communication styles
  • Struggle to work as part of a team
  • Be overly critical or dismissive of others’ feelings and opinions

People with high EI, on the other hand might:

  • Solve problems and make better decisions with ease
  • Better manage stress and maintain composure under pressure
  • Be kinder and more empathic towards others
  • Take constructive criticism as a learning opportunity

Start Building EI in Your Workplace

Use these techniques to start building greater EI among your team members, employes, and even yourself:

1. Think About Your Feelings

Building awareness about our emotions and reflecting on how we react to them is the first step to building our EI. Encourage team members to ask themselves questions like:

  • What are my emotional strengths and weaknesses?

  • How does my current state of mind influence my thoughts, actions, and decisions?

  • How are what I say and do influenced by my emotions?

Questions like these help us understand how we come across to other people, which builds our interpersonal skills and helps us manage our emotions in the moment.

2. Practice Empathy

Empathy is a critical leadership trait, but it’s important for every team member to work to develop this skill since “putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes” can dramatically reduce workplace conflicts.

Even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye, practicing empathy goes a long way towards creating inclusive and collaborative workplaces. HBR found that empathy — saying “I understand you” — is often enough! 

Encourage team members to ask themselves questions like:

  • Do I treat people the way they want to be treated (vs. how I want to treat them)?

  • Do I question my gut reaction to people and ideas?

  • Do I have trouble working with people who aren’t like me?

Showing others that we’re trying to see things from their perspective fosters deeper connections within workplace teams, and can be especially useful if someone on the team is challenging to work with.

Learn how to develop emotional intelligence with us! Sign up for our November EQi 2.0 certification that’s already been pre-approved for CPD credits with CPHR Manitoba and CPHR BC & Yukon. Click here to join us.

3. See Criticism As a Chance to Learn

Accepting constructive feedback is hard no matter what, but building EI can help us reframe criticism as chances to learn and grow in positive ways.

When receiving feedback, encourage team members to ask themselves questions like:

  • Why did this feedback upset me?

  • How did I react to my upset feelings?

  • What can I do without finding excuses or blaming others to explain why I reacted this way?

By repeatedly asking these questions over time we can change our perspective on feedback to one of motivation and positivity, which is essential to foster among workplace teams.

4. Listen to Understand, Not to Answer

Listening is one of the most underrated but important skills we can develop. Even if you don’t agree with a team member’s point of view, it’s important to listen, acknowledge, and make sure you say “I hear you” so they feel validated and understood.

To encourage your workplace teams to develop their EI and become better listeners, encourage them to ask themselves questions like:

  • How are my body language and facial expressions coming across to the person I’m talking to?

  • Am I practicing “active listening” and genuinely listening to what’s being said?

  • Do I interrupt people? If yes, then what are the triggers that cause me to interrupt?

  • Am I listening in order to speak next, or am I listening to understand?

Reflecting on these questions is important for developing our listening skills, but is invaluable when working as a part of a diverse workforce where cultural differences might make consistent communication a challenge.

Start Developing Your EQ Today

Of course, it’s not enough to insist that your workplace teams take steps to build their EI — you need to lead by example!

When thinking about how you treat other people at work, ask yourself:

  • Have I neglected or overlooked anyone’s needs?

  • Have I been too direct when communicating with someone from another culture?

  • Have I been consistent in delivering positive feedback and acknowledging how individual team members have contributed to our success?

Asking yourself these questions and modifying your behaviour based on your results is how you can build trust with your team and inspire them to collaborate and work together successfully.

If you’re ready to take a proactive approach to developing your EI, sign up for our emotional intelligence training to be delivered in your workplace or consider signing up for one of our upcoming Leadership for Women programs.

If you’d prefer a more self-directed approach, consider picking up a copy of our bookEmotional Intelligence
 – Your Foundation For Success — a Friesen Bestseller packed with 45 science-based exercises to help you build your EI. Order your copy today!