Being successful at work is more than having the right technical skills or book smarts. Sure – those skills are important. Without them, it’d be very hard to get your work done! But work is more about getting “stuff” done. It’s also about interacting with people in a healthy and positive way – in an ‘emotionally intelligent’ way.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined in the dictionary as “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Put in “regular speak”, it’s about learning how to understand and manage our emotions and feelings, as well as be aware of the emotions of others around us.

Why It’s Important

Raise your hand if you’ve ever worked with a difficult person. Oooh, I’m sorry, I can’t see over all of those arms waving in the air!

I don’t know about you, but I thought having to deal with all those “mean kids on the playground” would go away when I grew up and became an adult. Sadly, those bullies can still exist, only now they show up in roles like “screaming boss” and “volatile co-worker.”

Working with difficult people is unfortunately one part of the package deal that comes with having a job, and the more tools you have in your toolbox, the easier it will be to manage these kinds of interactions. Bullies are bad business – unhealthy for your own blood pressure, and the company’s bottom line!

How You Can Get Better At It

T. Bradberry and J. Graves write in their book, “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” about two strategies that can help you in your quest for emotional intelligence. First there is “Self Awareness and Self Management” and then there is “Social Awareness” and “Relationship Management”.

Self-Awareness and Self-Management

Self-awareness is about understanding your own tendencies and being aware of what may ‘trigger’ you in an emotional situation. It’s not necessarily about digging deep in your childhood to heal past traumas, or spending hours at a therapist. It is simply about reflecting and observing how you interact with the world around you and gaining an understanding about why you do the things you do.

Taking a step back to build this awareness automatically helps with “self-management.” As you begin to observe your reactions, you will automatically begin to see ways in which you can control your “face to the world”, especially when dealing with others in what may be volatile situations.

Social Awareness and Relationship Management

This is less about you, and more about listening and observing others around you. Does your boss always seem to scream at the Monday morning staff meeting? Maybe she’s deeply unhappy in her role and simply doesn’t want to be at work on Mondays.

Being aware of the perspectives of others and how they may be different from our own is also key to having emotional intelligence. This awareness helps us as we interact with others, as it can allow us to communicate more effectively and diffuse conflict – all important traits of successful business relationships.

Emotional intelligence isn’t something that can be learned overnight. In fact, some researchers think that this is an innate trait that people either have or don’t have. Others researchers take a different view and believe that with practice, these skills can be deepened.

It’s my opinion that with focused reflection and an increase in our own self-awareness, we can begin to manage our own emotions more effectively and have a greater understanding for the reactions and behavior of others. And no doubt this understanding can lead to healthy, open communication and more positive workplace interactions.

Updated: 04/04/2017
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Erika is a career development professional with over 15 years of experience in both corporate and higher education settings. Her current role is Assistant Director of Career Education at a private university in Chicago, Illinois. She also works with individuals on strengths discovery, interviewing skills and networking. She can be reached at careerplayground (at) gmail.com

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