How to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace

Leaders fail for a variety of reasons. It might be due to an inability to adapt to change or think strategically. Perhaps they struggle to develop good working relationships with key stakeholders or build and maintain a team. What we have come to know is that emotional intelligence, or EI, is the No. 1 predictor of professional and personal excellence and it accounts for 58 percent of performance in all job types. Additionally, 90 percent of top performers in organizations have higher levels of EI, making it a critical factor for leadership success.

Integration of this critical leadership competency is quickly becoming a requirement for leaders. A briskly changing business environment necessitates skills in self-awareness, trust building, conflict management, listening and empathy. These abilities support leaders to effectively manage the demands of a transforming work environment. Progressive organizations need leaders with high EI to move their teams into the future.

All of this is easier said than done. Developing our EI takes time and deep introspection. It requires us to look inward at the emotions we are projecting and those that are stifling in the workplace, as well as work to understand the emotions of others. Here are the four quadrants of EI and how to develop them.

Become more self-aware.

The ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen influences how you respond to specific situations and certain people. Strong self-awareness ensures we have a realistic picture of who we are and, more important, how we “show up” with others. Recognizing our emotional triggers and practicing mindfulness can aid in this process.

An important aspect of self-awareness is recognizing our personal values. We filter our experiences through the lens of our values. This results in a perception of the world that is painted more by our own story than by actual reality. The more we can change our own story about various things that happen to us, the more we reclaim our personal power. This allows us to have more freedom in our relationships with ourselves and others because we are not triggered by circumstances in the same way we might have been.

Manage your own emotions, stress and anxiety.

Self-management refers to managing one’s internal state, impulses and resources. It involves emotional self-control and your ability to use awareness of your emotions to direct your behavior. Self-regulation reflects how well you control and manage your emotional reactions to all situations and people, while keeping disruptive emotions in check.

Consequential thinking can help in this process: imagining the upsides and downsides of our actions and then determining which action will best support our desired outcome. Take time to pause during presentations and casual conversations to use this thinking strategy while allowing those you are conversing with time to process the information, as well.

Recognize the emotions of others and develop empathy.

Empathy is what allows us to pick up on the emotional climate in social situations and to be able to understand what others are thinking and feeling. We can develop this skill through active listening. The ability to focus completely on what is being said both verbally and nonverbally allows us to create connections with others.

We all want to be heard. The stronger our active listening skills, the easier it is to feel empathy for others and connect with them based on the emotions they are sharing with us. Another way to sharpen this skill is by asking powerful questions. This creates space for empathy by encouraging deeper conversations at work and in our personal lives.

Develop better social skills, including trust and rapport with others.

Building trust and rapport with others over time helps when a conflict does arise. Once we establish trust with the people around us, we start to see different outcomes in our interactions. Our conversations change, and our intent shifts.

To build trust with your team, be respectful, listen by trying to understand their perspective and admit when you’ve made a mistake. These are all simple but incredibly important building blocks of trust.

With leadership comes unavoidable conflicts, as our daily work brings together diverse perspectives, power struggles, competitive spirits, performance discrepancies and so on. Much of this turmoil provides a canvas for greatness; yet, navigating conflict is challenging for most. As a leader, the key to solving conflicts is to embrace them.

We hone our leadership abilities by recognizing conflicts when they arise, understanding the nature of the conflict, and bringing about a swift and just resolution. This reaction builds trust and rapport with your team and can be the difference between mediocre and top-tier performance.

Since we know EI is the foundation of success and performance, building these skills is a game-changer in leadership and life. Developing these four EI skills can help leaders unlock the potential for swift conflict management, connectivity and trust among teams and overall understanding in the workplace.