Two employees having conversation

Developing the emotionally intelligent worker

Understanding feelings for better results

5 minute read
Two employees having conversation

Workplaces have long focused their success on productivity, with organisations and individuals both contributing to achieving results.

Emotions have played an important part in influencing employee effectiveness, with emotional management and empathy having a dramatic impact on workplace cooperation and effectiveness.

With emotional management vital to a shared responsibility for organisational success, emotional intelligence is key to understanding how feelings impact organisational relationships and productivity in the workplace.

What is emotional intelligence?

According to the Emotional Intelligence Society of Australia (EISA) Chair and The University of Notre Dame Australia School of Medicine Associate Professor Chris Skinner, emotional intelligence relates to understanding how people feel.

“The emotional intelligence model I work with is how we identify, use, understand and manage our emotions,” he said.

“There are people who are really good at understanding their own and others’ emotions, which is what we call emotional intelligence.”

AIM WA Introduction to Emotional Intelligence Course Facilitator Chris Williams said emotional intelligence had been in practice for around 30 years, popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

Mr Williams said Dr Goleman identified four main components of emotional intelligence.

“The first part is about having an understanding of yourself – some self-awareness and knowing a little bit about your emotional strengths and areas for improvement,” he said.

“The second part is self-regulation, which means knowing these elements of your emotional strengths and weaknesses, as well as how you utilise them.

“The third one is social awareness, with the biggest subcategory being empathy and having the ability to know what empathy is, applying some of those empathic concepts and being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

“The final category Dr Goleman identified is relationship management, which covers a whole range of skills that emotional intelligence is a significant part of.

“There are also skills around managing conflict – both your own and others – as well as knowing how you react when you’re put under conflict.”

How emotional intelligence benefits workplace relationships

In the workplace, Dr Skinner said emotional intelligence was important to create a balance between relationships, employee tasks and productivity.

“Emotional intelligence is really important in allowing that process to take place in a good way,” he said.

Dr Skinner said there was a growing need for skills in valuing, empathy and emotional regulation among individuals and teams in workplaces.

“In many workplaces, the emphasis is towards tasks and productivity and not enough on acknowledging the importance of emotional intelligence and the relationships that exist between people,” he said.

“The evidence is increasingly saying that both are really important together.

“You have to actually understand and manage the relationships in the workplace which, in itself, facilitates good work and good productivity.”

However, emotional intelligence skills vary, depending on the type of industry and workplace.

“The skill sets in very high-pressure workplace environments – such as a busy hospital, the police force or the military – are likely to be a different set of emotional intelligence and leadership skills that you see in teaching or at a marketing firm, for example,” Mr Williams said.

Good versus bad emotional intelligence

When employed in the workplace, good emotional intelligence allows employees and teams to perform well while creating job satisfaction.

“What good emotional intelligence does is actually allow people to be themselves,” Dr Skinner said.

“They are satisfied performing their job, which allows them to get on with teams and share good interpersonal relationships.

“Good emotional intelligence has a strong impact on allowing the workplace to be efficient, productive and enjoyable.”

Mr Williams believes when there is high emotional intelligence in a workplace, workers will feel psychologically safe.

“Psychological safety means members of that team at all levels feel comfortable about speaking their mind and can say things without ramifications or negative consequences,” he said.

“It also means the trust factor significantly increases as well – if there is a high level of trust with all members in the team, we’re able to have more robust conversations and it allows those more challenging conversations to be had without any fear or intimidation.

“In addition to this, it improves creativity in teams because people are challenging the process and more people feel comfortable.”

If poor emotional intelligence exists in a workplace, it can negatively impact individuals and teams.

“People are unlikely to speak up,” Mr Williams said. “They’re unlikely to challenge ideas and they’re not necessarily going to come forward if they see something needs changing or there is an issue in the workplace, as they fear being put down or not listened to.

“If people feel they’re not being appreciated or heard, or trust is missing in the team, they’re less likely to wake up every morning wanting to go to work; they’re less likely to put in that extra discretionary effort.”

Consider how to improve

To improve emotional intelligence in the workplace, individuals need to first determine the areas for improvement.

“You need to gather some data and do a self-assessment, as well as get insights from others,” Mr Williams said.

“A lot of companies will implement 180-degree surveys or get employees to have one-on-one discussions with a manager.

“This will likely be the most enriching information an individual can receive because they are observing or hearing things they may not even notice they do.

After determining changes, there are ways to educate yourself further to improve your emotional intelligence.

“People can access training workshops, find information by doing some reference reading or looking at the EISA website,” Dr Skinner said.

“They can consciously expand their emotional vocabulary – for instance, when you register what you’re feeling and then use emotional words to describe these feelings to others.

“You can discuss emotional intelligence through conversation and begin to understand the importance of reading the room, managing emotional expression and regulating your own emotions.

“These areas allow you to upskill – for example, how to read the room when you go into a meeting and what emotional aspects you need to be aware of in yourself and with others.”

Dr Skinner said training could also help you to discover how to regulate yourself in conflict situations, as well as to help create a model that allows you to know how to modify your actions and behaviour.

A top-down approach to emotional intelligence

Mr Williams said workplace leaders should be motivated to improve the emotional intelligence culture in the organisation.

“People who generally excel at emotional intelligence are not necessarily doing it because they have to, they’re doing it because they want to,” he said.

Dr Skinner agreed, saying top management leaders had to lead by example.

“They have to model it and be prepared to educate the staff who they relate to,” he said.

“They have to put in some training and development.

“You can’t say you believe in emotional intelligence, and then do things in a really counterproductive manner or with very little understanding of the impact that you have on others.”