5 Ways to Improve Emotional Intelligence for Better Work Interactions

In the workplace, a great deal of focus is placed on performance—hitting targets, completing projects, achieving goals in the form of paychecks, promotions and partnerships. But perhaps the most important element of any job is communication.

It might seem like we should communicate differently at work than we do at home. After all, when interacting with family and close friends, emotions are to be expected. But on the job, we’re supposed to be professional and purposeful, setting our emotions aside—right?

In reality, we carry emotions with us all throughout the day, on and off the clock. The key is not to suppress or ignore them, but to tap into your emotional intelligence to help make your workplace interactions more effective and productive.

What Is "Emotional Intelligence?"

According to life and business coach Jeff Agostinelli, emotional intelligence was first coined by two psychologists, John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, as an alternative to the intelligence quotient (IQ). The psychologists defined emotional intelligence as:

"... a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one's life."

Agostinelli believes that one of the most useful elements of emotional intelligence is being highly aware of how we feel and how others feel, which translates to more effective communications in all areas of life.

"When it comes to achieving more in life and business, emotion is not something that is a result of external circumstances, but a choice we make," says Agostinelli.

Lisa Bahar, a licensed professional clinical counselor, describes emotional intelligence as the ability to understand one’s own feelings and emotions as they relate to themselves and to their environment. "Someone with emotional intelligence has the ability to listen and communicate from inspiration versus emotion, see another perspective or point of view, and respond through understanding, relating and reflecting."

Putting Emotional Intelligence Into Practice

1. Practice active listening.

Listening actively means focusing more on the speaker and what he or she is saying, rather than letting your mind jump ahead to your emotion-driven reaction and response. "Notice the urge to interrupt or react to what the other person is saying, and practice resisting that urge and redirect yourself to listening," Bahar suggests.
A big part of active listening is body language: Dorsey Standish, the chief mindfulness officer at Mastermind Meditation, suggests trying techniques like fully facing the person, uncrossing your arms and legs, and maintaining appropriate eye contact to demonstrate interest and openness.

2. Practice validation skills.

Instead of immediately reacting with your own opinion or experience, Bahar suggests reflecting back what the other person says as a means of validating their input. For example, you might say, "I can see your perspective on this; I’m wondering if we can talk more about it when we get the facts and determine the best course of action that makes sense to you and the team." 

3. Recognize and respect your emotions.

Emotional intelligence isn’t about discounting or dismissing your emotions, but rather honoring them as feelings and not facts. Instead of letting emotions control the conversation, Bahar suggests journaling your feelings, which creates insight and awareness, or practicing a form of meditation to help quiet the mind.  

4. Lead with curiosity rather than judgment. 

A major part of mindful and emotionally intelligent communication is the practice of non-judgment: noticing when judgments arise, acknowledging them and reorienting toward curiosity and openness, says Standish. For example, instead of "I can’t believe he said that to her," you might think, "I wonder how he was feeling to cause him to say that to her?" instead.

5. Ask questions instead of giving advice.

When communicating, Agostinelli keeps this mantra in mind: "There’s no greater freedom than allowing people the freedom of their own experience."

"Instead of trying to give the person advice or change how they feel, simply start asking questions," he explains. "With a little practice, you’ll be able to sense when you are helping the person get in touch with the actual problem—not needing to change the situation, but seeing it as it is and gently bringing out the truth."

Emotions are a normal and healthy part of interacting both in and out of the workplace. By taking steps to improve your emotional intelligence, you can help to promote positive, productive communications with your co-workers and supervisors.