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Applying Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capacity to be aware of how emotions drive behavior and impact those around us. It is the opposite of “checking your emotions at the door.” EI is about understanding and using emotions to benefit people and the organization. People with the skill are better able to handle interpersonal relationships. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reported that 80% of competencies that differentiate top performers from others are in the domain of emotional intelligence.

The four domains of emotional intelligence — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management — have a huge impact on how people behave in the workplace. EI can support better outcomes and experiences when giving and receiving feedback, working under a deadline, not having enough resources, and navigating change. Let’s take a closer look at how strengthening each one could benefit workplace relationships and performance. 


Self-awareness is all about knowing yourself — what motivates you, what frustrates you. With this knowledge, emotions become less of a driver of reaction. For example, if you know you are the type of person who dislikes being late, you may find that you become frustrated with others who take their time getting ready for a meeting. Instead of venting that frustration, a self-aware individual can accept that lateness is not their doing and relax before snapping at dawdling colleagues. Through self-awareness, you can learn to adapt with alternative solutions. For instance, if you “pad” meeting start times, which helps to ensure that people get to the meeting at the appropriate time, you can help avoid the anxiety of being late. 


Self-management is the ability to control your reactions and impulses. This is closely tied to self-awareness, as you first have to understand your impulses before you can control them. People with strong self-management tend to be more adaptable and able to go with the flow when problems arise. When an IT system goes down during a critical deadline crunch, for instance, self-management is critical to not giving in to the very real fear that deadlines will be missed. By channeling that anxiety into action, you can discover creative alternatives to keep projects on track.  

Social Awareness

Empathy is the key trait in social awareness. Being able to understand and appreciate the feelings of others through non-verbal cues can shape productive discussion even during conflict. In a workplace, this means introducing change in a way that immediately addresses people’s concerns. Imagine two groups are combining their functions into a new service center within an organization. In communicating this to the employees of those groups, the first message should be about the security of their jobs and what will not change. In communicating this to the larger organization served by the new group, the lead message should be how this will make their lives easier — how they will be served more efficiently. 

Relationship Management

The empathy gained in building social awareness feeds individual relationships in the workplace. Relationship in this context is not necessarily synonymous with friendship or even agreement. To have high Emotional Intelligence you do not need to be friends with everyone you work with. Conflict is OK, but with good relationship management, conflict happens quickly and is resolved.

“Hard conversations” are not avoided; they happen in the moment to resolve issues, making “scary” conversations normal dialogue. Strong relationship management means understanding how best to interact with someone. That might mean taking a mentoring role or it may mean stepping back and letting them take the lead.

The good news about emotional intelligence is that everyone can improve their EI with some attention and work. Growth can happen in each of these four pillars through a combination of activities like introspection, journaling, feedback loops, and active listening. This growth will improve not only your experience at work, but that of everyone you work with. 

As the founder of GovEvents and GovWhitePapers, Kerry is on a mission to help businesses interact with, evolve, and serve the government. With 25+ years of experience in the information technology and government industries, Kerry drives the overall strategy and oversees operations for both companies. She has also served in executive marketing roles at a number of government IT providers. 

Photo by Kampus Production on pexels.com

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