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Emotional Intelligence at Work

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Have you ever been to The Railway Exchange Building at 224 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago? The Railway Exchange is a gem of a building and a personal favorite of all the Chicago structures. This beaux arts beauty was designed by Daniel Burnham’s firm and it has a very unique feature: the center of the building is a roofed lightwell that is a vertical, open space so that companies on one floor can see all the companies and their inhabitants on the other floors.

It’s a cool vibe - one that is serene, yet energized with productivity... most of the time.

A friend of mine works at an architectural firm on one of the top floors at 224 S. Michigan Avenue and he tells an interesting story about working there. Once upon a time there was another guy that worked at a different company, on one of the floors beneath my friend, and "that guy" would totally lose his composure a few times a month. He would yell and stomp, scream at co-workers, and have temper tantrums on the phone with no discretion or consideration for others. His meltdowns were legendary as they echoed throughout the building. My friend said that the disruption was always tempered by the fact that at least he didn't have to work with "that guy."

Many have heard the oft-cited statistic that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is twice as important as any other competency in determining outstanding leadership, or that emotional intelligence is the one critical factor that sets the best performers apart from the rest. According to Daniel Goleman's decades long research into emotional intelligence, he states, "When I compare star performers with average ones, nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributed to emotional intelligence factors rather than their cognitive abilities."

If EQ can be twice as important as IQ, what exactly is it?

According to Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, "Emotional Intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships." Emotional intelligence is often overlooked, yet critical in the workplace. Studies show that emotional intelligence, well-being and employee engagement are inextricably linked.

Consider the following business situations:

1. Low EQ situation: An executive has just watched his team botch a critical presentation to their Board of Directors. The team comes off as being unprepared and mis-aligned during their analysis. In the review that follows, the executive follows his strong emotions of frustration and anger by yelling and berating his team, making them feel worse than they already do and driving morale even lower.

2. High EQ situation: A different executive experiences the same bombed presentation scenario as situation 1. Even though this executive is as equally frustrated and angry, she does not let her emotions hook her into responding in a way that does not serve the group or the company. She resists the knee-jerk response of balling out her team and is able to access enough inner calm to assess what the most appropriate course of action might be. She is able to coolly reflect and collaborate with her team on what went wrong and how to make the next one is a smashing success.

If you feel like the executive in Situation 1 handled his team better, it may be time to re-evaluate your paradigm. In the modern day, it has been scientifically proven many times over that the carrot and stick approach is outdated and counter-productive in jobs that require innovation, flexibility and collaboration.

Emotional intelligence has the power to change the trajectory of outcomes and help cultivate a culture of purpose. All humans prefer resonant leaders and teammates who are supportive and trustworthy over dissonant ones who are prone to reactivity and sour moods. Organizations with high EQ are typically great places to work as they create environments of trust, support and fairness.

So how do you cultivate Emotional Intelligence?

For individuals, the answer lies in training the Limbic region of the brain. The Limbic region is where emotional intelligence is born. This region is your emotional brain and it predates your rational/analytical brain by about 150 million years. Developing a "self-regulation" practice moves neurological set-points so depleting emotions such as fear, frustration, impatience and anxiety don't hijack rational thought. Additionally, by raising your set point you create room to experience more renewing emotions such as joy, compassion and gratitude and all the mental and physical benefits they provide for you.

When you use self-regulation practices (such as resonant breathing, mindfulness and meditation) you are training the limbic brain to rest. When the limbic brain rests, it ceases its chronic search for danger and trouble, and thoughts of comparison, judgment and unworthiness are replaced with feelings of peace, ease and safety. It also increases the gap between stimulus and response allowing more time for discernment and making choices that better serve the environment.

A good self-regulation practice alters your biochemistry, physiology and psychology; it quiets the reactive brain, provides inner balance and creates cool physiological shifts that optimize.

Mistakenly, most of leadership training focuses on the frontal lobes (where technical learning is stored), but it is the limbic region that desperately needs attention in the modern age (D. Goleman, 2005). You increase the ability to perceive, respond and behave in a manner that serves the greater good which replaces unproductive, knee-jerk responses.

Most of us have known someone we've worked with whose attitude or emotional outbursts belied their age and organizational rank. We can even point the mirror at ourselves sometimes. The good news is it works both ways. The changing currents of mood and attitude in others, especially leaders, affects the organization as a whole and its bottom line results.

We live in a fast moving, always-on world where the distractions and stress load appears to accumulate. But the good news is resilience and emotional intelligence are muscles that we can all strengthen. In learning to build these muscles, you will go from good to great, from great to elite, and from elite to...the sky is the limit.

Everyone can change set points and increase EQ. When you increase awareness, you begin to have a choice. A choice on how you perceive, relate and behave towards yourself and others. Cultivating emotional intelligence is how you unlock your full potential and how you never become "that guy."

Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation & Empathy

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