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Why emotional intelligence in the workplace matters

Let’s set the all-too-familiar scene: you meet with an employee to discuss their performance and... there are some issues. This employee— let’s call him Mark— used to be one of your best employees, but over the past couple months he’s been missing deadlines and has had a few customers complain about him.

So, like a good leader, you decide to meet with him to give him the feedback. You organize a confidential meeting to talk about his work. You take the lead in the meeting and lay it all out on the table. The uncomfortable meeting lasts about 30 minutes and you feel better knowing that Mark understands where he can improve. Another job well done as a manager, right?

Well, not quite. Here’s the part of the story you don’t see: Mark leaves the meeting feeling stressed and undervalued. He didn’t get a chance to share his perspective, and didn’t feel like an active part of the conversation.

This is a great example of where practicing emotional intelligence in the workplace would have yielded better results.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQi, EI or EQ) is the ability to recognize, identify, and manage your own emotions to environmental stimuli, and the emotions of those around you. You know how your mom could always recognize when you had a tough day at school before you even told her about it? That’s one part mom-magic, and one part emotional intelligence!

How can you use emotional intelligence in the workplace?

Going back to our example, as Mark’s manager or leader, it’s important to let him speak. Rather than rushing through the performance meeting (even though it’s super uncomfortable) dedicate a portion of your time together to allow space for real conversation, person-to-person rather than manager-to-employee. You can practice empathetic leadership by putting yourself in his shoes.

This strategy works really well with all social interactions in the workplace. Have an upset customer on the phone? A co-worker arguing with you? Relax. Identify and label the emotions within yourself and within the other person. Respond calmly. For something called “emotional intelligence,” this process is surprisingly rooted in logic and reason.

Giving Mark a chance to speak also allows you the time to assess how he’s interpreting and reacting to the news. It doesn’t take a skilled detective to be able to recognize when someone is upset. What is his body language, tone, and words telling you? If he thanks you for the feedback but looks dishevelled, address it. A lot of leaders may want to avoid this even though they can see it happening; after all, you might uncover a deeper issue, and that will just make more work. But addressing it early can actually save you time overall.

You see, when employees feel appreciated and understood, they are more productive. Putting in a bit of time now results in fewer long-term performance issues. It’ll also increase retention and foster employee growth.

But don’t forget about yourself…

Though it’s vital to be able to recognize the emotions of others, it’s also imperative that you can recognize your own. Do you notice when you’re getting increasingly angry or upset? The same principle you applied to Mark can work for you too: spending a little time addressing your feelings now can help you avoid an outburst at, say, an unsuspecting intern.

Being a good leader means that you are in-tune with yourself and honest about how you’re feeling. You are in control and won’t let displaced anger affect your workplace relationships. It doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to get mad when things don’t go as planned. But when you do get mad, you address it with empathy and understanding.

How to improve our emotional intelligence in the workplace

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