You’ve probably heard of the term ‘emotional intelligence' (EI) which was popularised by psychologist and science journalist Dr Daniel Goldman in the mid 1990s.
His book Emotional Intelligence was on The New York Times bestseller list for 18 months and later translated into 40 languages worldwide. Over five million copies of the book are now in print and a number of spin-off books by the author and others have followed.
So what does EI really mean and why is it such a big deal in the workplace?
Goldman’s groundbreaking ideas centred on the notion that people who have strong self-awareness, self-restraint/self-control, motivation, empathy and people skills, can and often do achieve more success in life than others who may have higher intelligence or IQ scores, but can’t demonstrate the same abilities interacting with people.
Twenty years and thousands of behavioural research papers on, emotional intelligence is now widely regarded as the special ‘X-factor’ that helps some people achieve more than their peers. People with high EI will progress to leadership roles and other sought-after positions within the workplace, often over people who are technically stronger or rated as ‘more intelligent.’
The good news is, unlike our IQ which is pretty much set for life from childhood, EI can be learned and improved over time by anyone, at any age. We now know the brain has far more ‘plasticity’ than previously thought. However, you will need patience, determination and a willingness to practise your EI skills at every opportunity. It’s like developing a new muscle – the more you use it, the stronger and more noticeable it becomes.
Here’s some practical ideas for building your EI at work:
1. Start with your self-awareness.
Take an EI quiz to determine your current capability levels in this area. Ask a trusted colleague or friend to help you identify your triggers, your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of your personal insights and how well you relate to other people. Decide what specific area/s you need to work on most and set yourself small achievable goals each week.
2. Listen to your own inner sound track.
Are you naturally an optimist or pessimist? What tune are you singing to yourself each day? Negative thoughts and patterns of behaviour can build up over years and be hard to change. If you catch yourself thinking the worst about yourself or somebody else, try to reframe those thoughts in a more positive way. Recognise the power of negative self talk on your emotional well being.
3. Be curious about other people and try to really empathise with what they might be feeling or experiencing.
Listen carefully to what they’re saying without making any judgements about them. Watch their body language for any non-verbal cues and try to give genuine positive feedback to others whenever you can.
4. Practise your self-restraint and self-control.
Next time someone says or does something that triggers negative emotions in you at work, take a deep breath and resist the urge to react. You may say something in the heat of the moment that you later regret. Even the act of showing restraint is empowering. If it’s important, make a note to discuss it with them later when you can compose yourself professionally. Don’t hold grudges – it takes up too much valuable energy! Learn from past mistakes (yours and others), then let them go.
5. Check your ‘gratitude attitude’.
Your job may not be perfect but do you have a great team, the opportunity to help others, a comfortable office or maybe even work in a really convenient location, close to home? This isn’t just Pollyanna stuff. Role model the language of gratitude. After a while it will become part of your thinking habit and won’t require as much conscious thought to remember all the positives. Researchers have also found that people who take the time to work on their gratitude attitude each day, report increased energy levels, more positive moods and a greater sense of physical well being.
6. Learn to embrace change, rather than fearing it.
Change is predictable but it still fills people with fear. Switch your lens. Change is also an important part of renewal and growth in nature and in business. Anticipate it, talk about it and normalise it through your language and your behaviours. Be disciplined and challenge yourself when you automatically start to associate change with negative thoughts. The ability to respond flexibly and adapt to change is another characteristic of people with high EI.
7. Practise good self care.
Regular exercising, getting enough sleep, limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake, making time for relaxation and eating sensibly can all help you regulate your emotions and be the best ‘you’ you can be – at home and at work.
For more great practical ideas about how we can help you or your team, please contact us.