Emotional Intelligence in the workplace: why it is important

In decades past, thriving businesses relied on a hierarchy with a strong emphasis on ‘command and control’.  They did well because they were led by people with a clear vision, who used power and influence to drive their teams towards a common goal. 

But business today is different. Globalisation, digitalisation and political unpredictability mean that companies need to collaborate with partners in all kinds of sectors. They must react and manage change fast and effectively, and harness innovation for competitive advantage. 

And that means very different skills have become important. Emotional intelligence, a term that was unheard of at the end of the last century, is arguably one of the most important characteristics that today’s ambitious employees need to master. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Psychology Today defines it as ‘the ability to manage your own emotions and those of others’.  In a book called "Emotional Intelligence - Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" an American psychologist called Daniel Goleman suggested that emotional intelligence comprises five elements:

1.   Self-awareness: understanding your emotional responses, strengths and weaknesses and not letting your feelings cloud your judgement.

2.   Self-regulation: being able to control emotions and impulses.

3.   Motivation: being strongly motivated to deliver long-term success.

4.   Empathy: recognising and identifying with the wants, needs and views of people around you.

5.   Social skills: having characteristics that make you easy to talk to and work with, and easy to like.

Successfully managing people and relationships is very important at work so, clearly, people who have these skills tend to do well in the workplace and build strong careers.

Why is emotional intelligence important at work today?

There are many reasons why emotional intelligence can be such an asset:

·  Working with colleagues on a global level. Today’s businesses work across many countries and cultures, and embracing diversity often requires sensitivity and self-awareness. Emotionally intelligent people are better able to sense the mood and feelings of others and act accordingly, which can prove invaluable in many situations.

·     Coping with and driving change. In today’s world, change is a constant. Emotionally intelligent people can not only cope better with changing situations, but they can assist their teams and colleagues in adapting too – by listening, acting calmly and addressing their concerns.

·     Calm decision making. Today, decisions often need to be made fast and under stressful circumstances. If you have emotional intelligence you’re more likely to react pragmatically in a demanding situation and make decisions without being hindered by fear, anger or worry.

·     Harnessing innovation. Today’s leaders recognise the need for continuous innovation – and those creative ideas can come from anywhere. An emotionally intelligent director or manager encourages their teams to come forward with ideas, listens objectively and helps to develop the best new solutions.

The best news is that emotional intelligence is not just something you’re born with: it can be learned. Start by taking a look at your own behaviour in stressful situations and whether you react emotionally. By gaining an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses in this area you can take steps to improve. 

Putting yourself in the place of another person is vital in developing your emotional intelligence. Take time to listen and you’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn.

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