How To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence At Work

April 8, 2021

By Taryn Hefner

Taryn runs Marketing at Join It and is a lover of all things data! You can frequently find her experimenting in the kitchen, absorbed in a book, or brushing up on her Python coding skills.

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Whatever your job may be, it likely entails various skills, from technical knowledge to interpersonal skills. Emotional intelligence isn’t frequently listed on job listings as a requirement, but it’s essential to functioning well within a team! Improving emotional intelligence isn’t as easy as taking a class on Excel functions since it requires serious introspection, collaboration, and time. 

But just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s not worth it! Improved emotional intelligence at work can lead to better relationships with your coworkers, improved morale on your team, and lower turnover rates for employees or members if you’re a supervisor. 

We spoke with some experts on the subject to bring you the best ways to improve your emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationships at work! 

Improve Self-Regulation 

Self-regulation is the process of managing your own emotions, especially in difficult or high-tension situations. Improving your self-regulation doesn’t mean that you can’t ever show emotion in the workplace, but try and refrain from making knee-jerk decisions based on anger, fear, or frustration at work.

Dave Grammer, a Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles, had this to say about self-regulation: “Self-regulation becomes very person-specific, but the idea is to engage in self-care regularly.  When we don't express and process our feelings, we end up exploding.  

“Self-care can be exercise, artistic endeavors, or other hobbies, but these activities need to be done outside of work for self-regulation techniques that are usable in the office to be effective.  

“Deep breathing exercises are great for calming the body and mind from mild to moderately intense emotions.  Intense situations may require an individual to step away to calm down for 15 minutes or so.” 

Taking a walk in the middle of the day can be a great way to get some exercise and improve your self-regulation at the same time. Even just taking a beat or two to think about your response in a tense situation can help give you enough time to cool your jets! 

Use Your Words 

Choosing your words carefully can be a great step to improving your relationships with others in your office. You don’t need to walk on eggshells, but reframing can help both you and your coworkers. 

“When you talk to your team members, use language that speaks to your intent,” says Erika Beckles Camez of Live Well Family Counseling Services. “Too often I hear managers make statements to their team members with something like I don't mean to sound like a jerk but...we have to produce more. This type of language leaves the listener feeling the sting from the aggression in their language.” 

A simple reframe of the announcement to your team can leave everyone feeling more supported, understood, and less likely to feel isolated or burned out. 

“Instead, the manager could say something like, Everyone’s productivity goals have been raised for the next quarter. I am asking for everyone to work a little harder.... please know that if I schedule a performance meeting with you, my intention is to provide you with the support and tools to be successful,” Erika said. 

“The words we use frame conversations, and they either act as an insulate to support and continue to build trust, or they cause cracks.” 

Start With Leadership 

If you’ve found that your organization lacks empathy and connection between employees, start from the top. 

Doug Noll, a lawyer, professional mediator, and teacher, said, “Start with the leadership. Have them model self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy for at least six months. Train the leaders how to coach down into the organization and make training and modeling emotional intelligence part of the job description. Make sure that emotional competency is part of every performance review.”

Your workforce’s culture is only as good as your leaders want it to be. Working with this “top-down” approach will help infuse your workforce in emotional awareness and reinforce the practices that keep those skills sharp.

Keep Expectations Realistic 

As Doug said, “You cannot bring in outside trainers and do a one-off workshop in emotional intelligence and expect any change in an organization. Raising the emotional intelligence of a workforce is a long, hard, challenging task.” 

It’s worth it, but it’s hard work, and it’s important to keep expectations realistic. Any sort of inner work takes time and practice. Be open to the process and avoid putting things on strict timelines! 

Wrapping Up 

Although they’re not always on the job description, skills like self-regulation and empathy are essential to practice, especially in the office. Giving yourself time and space to practice these skills will make you a better manager, employee, and will likely improve your relationships outside of the workplace! 

Direct quotes may have been edited for clarity or brevity. Thank you to all the experts who participated!