Benefits of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Think about the business world and your workplace for a moment. Is it hierarchical? Flat? Structured? Family oriented? Entrepreneurial? Self-driven? Or something else? Now let’s bring in the concept of emotional intelligence by thinking about two things: What is your workplace like during a crisis? And what is it like in terms of opportunities?

In many companies, difficult situations and crises bring out the worst in leaders and associates. Without emotional intelligence, the politics come out to play, and it can be a dog-eat-dog or blame-game situation. Constructive criticism is taken the wrong way, emotional responses can get heated, overall performance suffers and conflict management is ineffectual.

The modern workplace

I see so many companies constantly operating in crisis mode where stress management, conflict management and effective communication between team members are almost nonexistent. Where workplace politics tend to be the rule rather than the exception. And these companies always tend to produce lower level/ insecure leaders as well as limited business performance and less than average customer service.

Then there are companies that thrive and shine. Associates can’t wait to get there in the morning and be a part of whatever is happening. Job satisfaction and overall performance are high. Workplace conflict is at a minimum. And we wonder what makes these companies so special.

Importance of emotional intelligence

One enormous answer to that question is emotional intelligence where leadership positions are filled with people who have cultivated emotional intelligence skills—soft skills like sincere listening and projecting a genuine interest in co-workers;, people who can relate on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level; who can pick up on nonverbal cues, body language, and emotions of others; who can relate in a positive way and provide constructive feedback while supporting strong relationships between co-workers.

This kind of high emotional intelligence takes care of the unnecessary politics and puts the sparkle in the company. People actually care about the work they are doing. They care about each other. Even more astounding—they genuinely care about the company they work for.

A powerful investment

Companies increasingly realize that professional success means attracting intelligent people and retaining top talent. Savvy leaders also realize the importance of investing in training employees in soft skills and talent development. They know this is a crucial first step to improving the company’s bottom line, because they understand that technical skills only go so far. They know an important secret: That appreciation, inspiration, and validation are as important to people as a paycheck. They know that when people know they matter at an emotional level, you unlock their discretionary energy—their passion. And passionate employees make good companies great.

People need to know they matter and the younger generations absolutely demand it. Companies with good emotional intelligence tend to have good professional development plans in place. They know that goals and achievements are important to intelligent people and necessary to keep their emotional state high while igniting great performance. A certain amount of autonomy is also required, and powerful business leaders encourage people to play their own game within the company’s game. In other words, they address “what’s in it” for their associates.  

Emotional intelligence in the workplace has a number of benefits. People learn how to grow their interpersonal skills and:

  • They learn how to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Conversations and positive emotions are encouraged. Gossip is discouraged,
  • Instead of being risk averse, staff members and team members are taught to embrace risk
  • People respect rank, but don’t pull rank
  • Everybody feels seen heard and valued
  • Discussions and contributions are welcomed
  • A healthy sense of accomplishment is prevalent

Now, let’s look at some of the benefits I just listed in more detail:

Learn how to give and receive constructive feedback

Many companies pride themselves on being “open.” They feel that people giving feedback, sometimes spontaneously in the moment rather than waiting for the “right time,” is appropriate. Unfortunately, woefully few in leadership positions and in human resources know how to do this properly. All too often these become impromptu “dump sessions” with hurt feelings exposed in a raw manner. People are blamed and accused rather than conversed with, or they are minimized rather than encouraged.

There are two types of feedback, constructive and destructive. Obviously. coming across with an attitude and words that convey the sense of “Hey, stupid! You screwed up. You should have done it THIS way,” is not constructive and only causes shutdown, defensiveness and resentment. (You’d be shocked by how often I see this. All unknowingly, CEOs, team leaders and people in management positions end up playing out unhealthy family patterns in the workplace. Without training in the importance of emotional intelligence, they fail to see what would seem to be obvious, but is not: That negative feedback and harsh criticism are how they were taught. This is the kind of feedback they received. And they’re simply passing on the negative pattern.

On the other hand, “feed forward” is a method of relaying constructive feedback in a way that equips the receiver with insights and a potential new skill. From the outset, the intention is to elevate the recipient, validating their potential and encouraging change. Feed forward establishes belonging, while harsh feedback can isolate and exclude. Feed forward takes the recipient into account in a healthy with no shaming or blaming.

Gossip is discouraged, mindful conversations are encouraged

In companies with low emotional intelligence, stressful situations are epidemic and so is gossip. In companies where good relationships haven’t been built and stress management is unheard of, gossip gives people a sense of weight, importance, and credibility. Of course, it also creates discord and a deep sense of mistrust between team members, staff members and upper management and on and on.

For example, I recently worked with a client whose line manager actively encouraged all members of the team to come to him with any complaints or concerns, rather than addressing them directly with the person(s) involved. This created a nest of nastiness, as people quickly learned to literally tattle-tale on each other in order to gain weight in the eyes of their leader. 

By contrast, I have worked with leaders in professional settings who actively encourage crucial conversations within their teams. They invite team members to explore new ideas and resolve issues without it becoming personal. I show them how to use invitational language and curiosity to invite participation and create a safe, solution-focused climate.

Issues are discussed, not people. If there are problems with business performance or issues between associates, intentions and assumptions are identified as well as wants and desires. Resolution tends to come pretty quickly. Such teams learn to know each other well and have each other’s backs. Work becomes a safe space.

Everybody feels seen, heard, and valued

One of the best ways to develop positive outlook and ensure high engagement scores and buy-in from team members and associates is to let them know they are seen, heard, and valued. A great way to achieve this is to close loops. Closing loops also grows emotional intelligence.

So, what do I mean by that? Systems like to know who belongs where and people like to know that they belong. When an associate brings an idea to the table, a very quick way to validate them is to let them know that they have been heard and then eventually circle back and tell them the outcome that results from their input. That way they know they have been heard and this encourages them to give the best of themselves.

Good leaders in the modern workplace don’t just takes notes and move on, leaving the associate wondering if their suggestion landed, was heard, or will be implemented or ignored. They make sure that the input is acknowledged—which makes the team member feel seen as valuable. But then they also follow through and relate how that input might change a given situation. And then they follow that up with a report on the actual outcome.

Failure to close loops can look dismissive or send a message that management is not interested. In companies where ideas and input do not get follow-up, associates become disengaged, negative emotions are generated and a great chance to create validation and buy-in is often missed this way. Additionally, this can create a sense of frustration with management. You will often hear statements in the workplace like, “Management doesn’t care,” or “I don’t know why we attend these meetings because nothing ever happens,” or “Nobody cares anyway. You tell them what is going on and they just ignore it.” What stressful situations that kind of lack of social awareness creates! What a terrible work environment to be caught in.

Quick affirmations

A quick and easy way to let people know they are seen and heard is to respond to the idea by quickly examining the possibilities and potential applications. Even if it is just a couple of well thought out sentences, the associate knows that they have been heard and that their ideas matter.   You can also specify a certain amount of time—establish a timeframe—within which you will definitely circle back to the idea and examine it more closely. And then follow up on that and let your associate know what the final outcome/result is.

Pro Tip: If you are sending a response to a suggestion via email, (not the best approach but unavoidable sometimes) smiley emojis often signal positive intent and recognition. People will read your email and whatever emotional state they’re in—maybe they just received some bad news— if you add that smiley face, there is less of a chance that your message will be misinterpreted and more of a chance that it will land well

People respect rank but don’t pull rank

I work with leaders all the time who get things done in a way that commands respect and admiration. They come across with a combination of charisma and inspiration that makes people admire them. They effectively get things done—but they do it in such an emotionally intelligent way that they bring people together and get them invested in their work. They don’t pull rank or make others feel small. Instead, they empower. They have a great sense of the emotions of others, and have the vital skills necessary to be able to read body language and pick up on nonverbal cues.

They have a deep awareness of others, and are present with everyone they encounter. It doesn’t matter whether they’re dealing with another CEO or a junior sales representative. They listen to even the least senior voice and find value.  Yet, at the same time, they have absolute respect for structure and order and get that feeling across. Systemically, you would say that they know their place, respect it, and respect the place of others. They also have a good sense of the balance of giving and receiving and they create belonging. Not surprisingly, you often hear people say about them, “I want to be like that when I’m head of a company one day!”

Discussions and contributions are welcomed

Experiencing a sense of belonging is one of the most sought-after emotional experiences of any human being. When we have the sense that we are where we belong and safe where we belong, we quickly develop the desire to contribute to our environment and to shine in the eyes of those around us.

It’s fun to be recognized and achieve. It’s a bit like a big game. Good leaders understand this and open up the floor for contributions and robust discussions, encouraging a closer look at new ideas. They are not afraid to not know things, and they are willing to let others shine by stepping up and educating them on some aspect of business performance. Talk about building good relationships and a positive work environment!

Some of the best leaders I know have the emotional intelligence to know that learning never stops and that great ideas can come from any and all sources. If they’re really savvy in their interpersonal skills, they can teach others around them to be open-minded and receptive like this as well. And don’t you know that is the kind of work environment where career success and the bottom line can positively explode!

Pro tip: Over and over again I have watched business associates light up when a leader responds positively to an idea and acknowledgment is given. In fact. I teach clients to take notes of what is said during a meeting and by whom. When it comes time to close out the meeting, they take a moment to directly address each person who has contributed regarding their idea. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference.

Unfortunately, on the flip side I have also seen the opposite where slide decks are prepared, presentations are made, constructive feedback and knowledge are shared … and then the not-so-emotionally intelligent leader takes all the information and runs with it as though it were theirs. They do not acknowledge their contributors. Sometimes they don’t even allow them to present their own work.

Such behavior steps all over the emotions of others, shuts down discussion and destroys intrinsic motivation and inspiration. Often you will see those leaders say they don’t have the time to acknowledge and include others. “Time is money!” they say as they rush out the door. Just as bad for building positive outcomes, they will pull rank and posture when they feel threatened.

Obviously, in business situations such as these, there is not a sense of belonging. Instead, people feel used and abused and devalued. As well, there is no sense of a balance of give and receive. Politics gain momentum and even the most capable associates do not feel safe. The leaders make themselves big, taking the new ideas and constructive feedback of others, making their associates feel small, resulting in withdrawal and resentment and other negative emotions, which quickly lead to difficult situations, high turnover rates, poor customer service and a drastic reduction in a business’s overall performance.

The bottom line

With emotional intelligence in the workplace comes a sense of wellbeing and excitement. Associates don’t feel like they have to fight for recognition or guard their ideas. Everyone receives liberal helpings of acknowledgement and that creates a sense of collaboration. 

If you are part of a winning company, a healthy sense of accomplishment is prevalent. You walk into the office every day with an advantage – a good sense of accomplishment already created. And don’t you know that opens the door for even more accomplishment!

As part of a positive winning culture and modern workplace, you will likely find yourself doing more and being more because this is expected and appreciated. And what an amazing gift that is!

When a company understands its goal and purpose and fulfills it consistently with high levels of emotional intelligence, this positive organizational DNA seeps into the bones of its associates. They in turn know what their purpose is and desire to fulfill it positively and well.

The power of purpose

Clear purpose inherently creates appetite for life and career, and with that comes the realization that we need to grow our understanding of ourselves and others. We recognize that emotional intelligence is as important, if not more important, than straight smarts.

In this kind of positive environment, relationships move from transactional to deeply relational and our personal connections and our network truly becomes our net worth. We belong, we give others the space to belong, We pay attention to the balance of give and receive and we take our full place while acknowledging the place of others.

To bring it all into perspective, emotional intelligence in the workplace is the foundational difference between having a job and enjoying a fulfilling career.

To find out more about how to grow your emotional intelligence, attend one of our events this year! For more information about my 2024 events click here.