Emotional intelligence: 9 strategies to improve EQ in the workplace

Zdjęcie współautora – Julia MartinsJulia Martins
21 lutego 2024
7 min czytania


Emotional intelligence is more important than ever. High IQ and professional expertise are important, but to grow and evolve in your field, you also need to be able to collaborate and communicate with coworkers—not to mention manage your reactions when faced with conflict.

In fact, emotional intelligence is four times more reliable than IQ in determining success in your field. In this article, we’ll cover what emotional intelligence is and how you can use it to improve your workplace relationships. 

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, regulate, and understand emotions—both in yourself and in others. High emotional intelligence helps you:

  • Connect with others

  • Build empathetic connections

  • Communicate effectively

  • Navigate conflict

  • Express your feelings

  • Improve your overall mental health

It often feels like emotional intelligence is a personality trait—it’s something you either have or don’t have. But just like your intelligence quotient (IQ), your emotional intelligence can be developed over time.

Read: The difference between hard skills and soft skills: Examples from 14 Asana team membersFree empathy map template

9 ways to foster your emotional intelligence in the workplace

There are several key competencies you can practice to develop emotional intelligence at work. Below, we’ll dive into each skill, as well as the practical workplace tools you can use to build them.

[inline illustration] 9 tips to boost your EQ (infographic)

1. Develop self-awareness

The first step toward improving your emotional intelligence at work is to know yourself. A big part of EQ is acknowledging and understanding your emotions, and the influence those emotions have on your surroundings. But before you can recognize the impact, you need to identify the source of your emotions and possible triggers. 

There are a variety of techniques to build self-awareness, including:

  • Journaling

  • Identifying your values and driving principles

  • Defining your motivation and purpose

  • Taking an emotional intelligence test or personality assessment

In the workplace, the best way to build self-awareness is to connect your daily work to larger team or company goals. Having this level of understanding helps you identify why you’re doing what you’re doing. When you have to make a decision, you will already have the awareness of why your work matters, and you can make the most informed decision as a result.

2. Practice mindfulness

Once you understand your emotions, work on mindfully regulating them. This is a big component of self-control. 

Journaling is a great way to practice mindfulness. It gives you a chance to slow down, take a breath, and get all your thoughts on paper to reflect. This practice can help you process your emotions, reduce stress, and learn to be more present. 

When something goes wrong at work, what’s the first emotion you feel? Is it anger? Frustration? Self-doubt? Being mindful of how you react to certain workplace triggers is the first step toward improving self-management. 

3. Hone your empathy

Empathy is your ability to understand the needs of others by being aware of their thoughts and feelings. This skill is a vital leadership competency—research shows that managers rated as empathetic by their subordinates are also rated as high performers by their bosses. 

Demonstrating empathy in the workplace can help improve your interactions with your coworkers and lead to more effective communication and collaboration. To build empathy, practice: 

  • Understanding others. Empathy is about connecting with other people’s emotions. To start, focus on developing your understanding of other people. If they make a decision you wouldn’t have, lean into how their underlying morals and values may be influencing their decision. 

  • Non-judgement. We all have a little voice in our head that makes immediate assumptions and judgments. Practicing non-judgment isn’t so much about not having those immediate assumptions, but rather about learning to ignore them in favor of longer-term thinking. 

  • Putting yourself in the other person’s position. Because empathy is about connection, a great way to create a connection is to imagine you’re in the other person’s shoes. Sometimes they’ll make a decision you dislike or disagree with, but before you react, try picturing the situation from their point of view.

Read: Empathy maps: How to understand your customer

Use active listening

Active listening is the practice of listening to understand. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next, focus all of your attention on what the other party is saying. Make a conscious effort to hear not only the words being spoken, but also the complete message behind them. When practicing active listening, you should:

  • Give your undivided attention to the speaker. 

  • Use body language and facial expressions, such as eye contact and an occasional nod, to show that you’re listening. 

  • Provide feedback, ask questions, and paraphrase what the speaker is saying to show you understand. 

  • Refrain from interrupting the speaker and allow them to finish each point before responding. 

  • Respond respectfully by being candid, open, and honest. 

Active listening is an essential part of your communication skill set. When you make an effort to show your conversation partner their words are being heard, you’re building empathy, connection, and trust between you and your colleagues. 

Read: Listening to understand: How to practice active listening (with examples)

5. Practice adaptability

Adaptability, or the ability to be flexible in different situations, is critical for emotional intelligence. Once you’re good at recognizing emotions in yourself and others, use adaptability to react appropriately. This is called self regulation. 

These skills don’t come easily for most people—as humans, we’re destined to resist change and situations that make us uncomfortable. But even if adaptability doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s still something you can develop. To become more adaptable, try to:

  • Improve your problem-solving skills by using a framework to make strategic decisions.

  • Embrace change by taking more risks and accepting the results.

  • Keep an open mind to recognize new opportunities.

  • Remove your ego to see other perspectives more clearly.

  • Implement mindfulness by focusing on the present.

A big part of practicing adaptability in the workplace is knowing what your priorities are. If you’ve connected your work to your larger goals, you should have a sense of how your day-to-day tasks are contributing to larger team or company initiatives. As a result, if something comes up and you need to be adaptable, you can more effectively pivot to focus on the most important tasks. 

6. Build your social skills

Think of social skills as your ability to apply your EQ at work. Once you’ve developed a firm grasp on your own emotions and those of others, use that level of social awareness to communicate and collaborate more effectively. 

Having good social awareness in the workplace means:

  • Understanding group dynamics. Group dynamics describe the interactions, attitudes, and behaviors between a set of people who are working together. With high emotional intelligence, you can accurately identify and navigate group dynamics.

  • Practicing good communication styles. Assertive communication helps you express your needs and advocate for your ideas. People with high emotional intelligence navigate conversations assertively without coming off as aggressive or passive aggressive.

  • Using the right management style(for managers). Democratic management emphasizes collaboration and communication. In order to develop a democratic management style, practice distributed decision-making and lean into collaboration. 

Collaboration tools can help. With an effective collaboration tool, you can manage tasks and work together more productively. Collaboration apps help your team easily communicate, share files, and coordinate work.

Free empathy map template

7. Welcome feedback

For a lot of us, the initial reaction to criticism—even constructive criticism—is immediately negative. But part of having high emotional intelligence is receiving feedback well, and even welcoming it. 

To do this, recognize the value of the feedback being provided. When someone is sharing feedback with you, they’re going out of their way to help you in some way. Embrace that and recognize the feedback for the gift that it is. 

To go even further with feedback: 

  • Start incorporating feedback into your work life and 1:1 meetings

  • Solicit feedback on a regular basis, and see what you can learn from it.

  • Consider keeping a list of feedback that’s been shared with you in your to-do list tool, so you can more easily access it and incorporate it into your day-to-day.

When done tactfully, the process of giving and receiving feedback can break bad habits, reinforce positive behavior, and create a stronger, more harmonious workplace. 

8. Learn about conflict resolution

Every workplace has conflict, but conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When coworkers with different perspectives and backgrounds come together to address conflict in a healthy manner, it may result in a new, innovative compromise the whole company can benefit from. 

Because so much of emotional intelligence is about recognizing and regulating emotions, it is particularly helpful during conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is the process of resolving workplace conflicts in order to foster an open, honest, and inclusive workplace. With high emotional intelligence, you can make each team member feel heard and supported during the conflict resolution process. 

Using the skills discussed above, you can settle conflict with EQ by:

  • Managing your emotions and being aware of your reactions

  • Being socially aware of what others are feeling

  • Communicating clearly with calm statements of facts

  • Asking questions to paint a clearer picture of the situation

  • Using active listening to show the other person they’re being heard

Conflict management is about teamwork, respect, adaptability, communication, and collaboration. A high EQ allows you to lead conversations toward team goals, values, and opportunities to craft a win-win solution.

[Przeczytaj] Najlepsza strategia rozwiązywania konfliktów, z której nie korzystasz

9. When in doubt, reflect

A big part of developing your emotional intelligence in the workplace is understanding emotions in the moment. But reflecting on past experiences helps you build emotional intelligence in the long term. By recognizing past habits, or looking at previous emotional situations with your new emotional know-how under your belt, you can better prepare for future situations.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

Research has shown that emotional intelligence is equally important, or sometimes even more important, than traditional intelligence. According to a 2016 study, having high emotional intelligence was a better predictor of effective teamwork than having a high IQ. Additional studies have shown that high emotional intelligence leads to better job performance and leadership.

[inline illustration] emotional intelligence helps you... (infographic)

Emotional intelligence is all about understanding your own emotions and the emotions of others. High emotional intelligence helps you:

Emotional intelligence models

There are two main models of emotional intelligence. The first, developed by Daniel Goleman, includes five key attributes of EQ. The second, created by John Mayer and Peter Salovey, describes four main characteristics of emotional intelligence. 

Daniel Goleman’s 5 attributes of emotional intelligence

Goleman identified five key skills within EI, or emotional intelligence: 

  1. Self-awareness: The ability to understand your own emotions. Being self-aware means understanding your personal strengths, weaknesses, values, goals, and impact on others. 

  2. Self-regulation: The ability to regulate your emotions. Instead of acting impulsively, leaders with high self-regulation are able to pause and assess their emotions before reacting. 

  3. Motivation: The reasons behind why you want to succeed. Recognizing your motivation helps you tailor your empathic understanding.

  4. Empathy: The ability to connect with the way other people are feeling. Empathy is often considered the cornerstone of emotional intelligence since it’s an important foundation for other emotional states. 

  5. Social skill: The ability to communicate and collaborate with others. Goleman compares social skills to your ability to guide others toward what you want them to do.

John Mayer and Peter Salovey’s 4 characteristics of emotional intelligence

Mayer and Salovey also identified four characteristics of emotional intelligence during their research. They concluded emotionally intelligent people were adept at: 

  1. Perceiving emotions: The ability to identify the emotions other people are feeling. Self-awareness, the ability to recognize your own emotions, also falls within this characteristic. 

  2. Using emotions: The ability to harness the emotions you perceive—either in yourself or in others—to support other cognitive processes like problem solving or decision making. 

  3. Understanding emotions: The ability to understand how emotions are related to one another, and how those emotions impact your actions, as well as the actions of others.

  4. Managing emotions: The ability to regulate emotions in yourself and others. Managing your own emotions means reducing or drawing out relevant emotions to help you with the task at hand. But this characteristic also includes managing the emotions of those around you in order to hit your goals. 

Improve relationships with emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the foundation of good interpersonal relationships in the workplace. But a key part of this is also understanding how to collaborate effectively with your team members.

Free empathy map template

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