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Emotional Intelligence at Work and Home

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Emotional intelligence (EI) can be defined as knowledge about one’s own emotions and sensitivity to the emotions of others. Although it seems evident that people should know their own emotions, often we have trouble identifying them either because the situation is new to us or the emotions are so tangled. Understanding the emotions of others may also seem simple (“if I ask for a raise, my boss will be angry”) but often we assume that other people will feel the way we do or that their emotions are deeper or not as deep as our own.

The inability to correctly identify and gauge our own emotions and those of others leads to confrontations that could have been avoided, missed opportunities to influence, misjudgments over the risk of and resistance to change, and so on. SMaRT techniques help you improve your EI and thus your success in both your professional and personal life. These techniques also increase your confidence (so no more constant guessing), increase your focus on what you’re really feeling, and decrease your likelihood for burnout.

How to Improve Your EI in General

As children grow, their knowledge of emotional words (anger, fear, happiness, joy) increases. A study of 36 children uncovered an interesting fact: children who are actively taught about emotions increase their understanding of emotions.

As we age, our understanding of emotions increases but so does the complexity. Moreover, not everyone has a chance to experience and name the full range of emotions. EI varies greatly—both our knowledge of our own emotions and our empathy for others—based on experience and education.

If you are not sure of your level of emotional intelligence, you may find guidance in this test.

What works for children will work for adults. If you find yourself floundering in comprehending the emotions of others or naming what you are feeling, then you will benefit from educating yourself and from seeking out education from a professional.

TIP: You can also learn the nonverbal clues to emotions: where a person looks, the set of their face, the position of the mouth, the use of hands, the posture of the body, all reveal emotions.


How to Improve Your EI at Work

The following five strategies will help you improve your EI at work and the EI of your team:

  • Pay attention to how you are feeling—before you speak or take action. Pausing beforehand allows you to catch up with the effect of your emotions. Are you so energized by a decision that you fail to consider its effects on others? Are you so riled by what someone else has said that you ignore any value in their argument? Trust, not fear, breeds an emotionally intelligent workplace, including trust that your own and other’s emotions and viewpoints will be treated respectfully.
  • Define what makes your work worthwhile—and pursue more of it. If you find yourself resenting work, a particular boss, or a project, measure the situation against your values and see if you can find some positive in it to focus on. When you understand what motivates you and makes you happy, you can more precisely define what annoys and frustrates you, and find better ways of dealing with it.
  • Watch. You will benefit from watching someone whose emotional intelligence you admire; noting how your peers and co-workers interact; and attempting to pick up nonverbal clues. The more you practice, the better you will get at observation, which will stimulate your EI by increasing your ability to put yourself into another’s place.
  • Focus on communication. EI flags when communication is poor because no one knows what is going on. Gossip proliferates without regard to accuracy and aggravates emotionally fraught situations. When you model clear, calm, concise, emotionally honest, and nonjudgmental communication, as well as active listening, you demonstrate its value to your team.
  • Ask, do not assume. Everyone has their own reactions to situations and their own time frame for reconciling themselves to change. Before you grow impatient, offer the wrong person the wrong incentives, or remove someone from the team for “not fitting in,” speak with them and actively listen. Their feedback to you may reveal much more than any feedback from you to them.

TIP: Active listening requires that you occasionally provide sounds that indicate you are listening (“yes,” “I see,” “uh-huh”) so that the person talking knows you are attending. Use open-end questions (“why do you think that happened?”) rather than closed questions (“can’t you see that you….?”).


How to Improve Your EI in Relationships

The strategies above for increasing your emotional intelligence in general and in the workplace also work in personal relationships. In addition:

  • Share your feelings. This may be the most difficult strategy in building stronger relationships, but EI depends on understanding your own and other’s emotions. People express their most honest emotions to people who are honest about their own emotions.
  • Increase your social awareness. You live in a community and in a world that is rapidly changing and those changes affect everyone in different ways. Social awareness alerts you to the religious, political, and other social triggers and pressures that can build or wreck relationships. During the pandemic social awareness and EI even became life-or-death matters, as people had to decide whether to wear masks and stand 6 feet apart to avoid transmitting the virus to loved ones and the wider community.
  • Express an interest in the feelings of others and a willingness to help if possible. Avoid generalizing from your feelings in the situation to what they “should” or “must be” feeling. Listen before you speak and do not offer help unless it is solicited. Sometimes listening is the greatest gift an emotionally intelligent person can give.
  • Consider your role in troubled relationships. Although you may be perfectly correct in believing that the trouble arises from the other person, you still have control of your own responses to that trouble. Emotional intelligence enables you to avoid repeating the same mistakes with the same sorts of people with whom you constantly have troubled relations. Because you cannot change others, the only way to change a bad relationship is to change your own part in it.

TIP: Practice apologizing without making excuses or taking on more responsibility than you have for problems in a relationship. Practice showing appreciation for and celebrating the good times, too.


Regulating Your Emotional Intelligence

Research indicates that a strong ability to read the emotions of their children increases burnout in parents—suggesting that empathy does have an endpoint of benefit. If you regularly find yourself deeply affected and depleted by the emotions of others, you may respond by withdrawing from relationships or from opportunities to work with or lead a team. Those strategies negatively affect both your personal and professional life.

To protect yourself in more constructive ways:

  • Recognize the limits to how much or how often you can get others to change.
  • Work on your own self-efficacy to ensure that you give yourself and your needs adequate attention; schedule time for yourself.
  • Pay attention to stress reduction techniques that emphasize self-care (sleep, nutrition, exercise) and restore your resilience.
  • Broaden your support team; be open to asking friends, family, and professionals for help.
  • Rethink especially problematic relationships; you may need to step away temporarily or permanently if you do not receive any respect, kindness, or understanding in return.

Key Takeaways

Emotional intelligence can be learned by understanding nonverbal clues; watching how people react to each other; practicing calm, clear communication and active listening; and identifying and respecting your own feelings and needs as well as those of others.

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