When you think of upskilling — learning new skills — at work, what comes to mind? Perhaps learning new software or working toward a certification or degree. There’s no question that many in-demand skills are technical in nature, but there’s also a critical need for what are sometimes described as “soft” skills, particularly strong emotional intelligence (EI).
EI allows us to build and maintain relationships and influence others — important skills no matter your position and area of work — and research has found people with greater EI tend to be more innovative and have higher job satisfaction than those with lower EI. Using emotional intelligence in the workplace can improve decision-making and social interactions, and enhance your ability to cope with change and stress.
The good news is that, like technical skills, soft skills such as EI can also be learned and improved.
Emotional Intelligence: What It Is
To strengthen your emotional intelligence, it’s important to know what it entails. Most definitions of EI include the following components:
- Perception and expression of emotion — Noticing your own emotions and picking up on the emotions of others as well as the ability to distinguish between discrete emotions.
- Using emotion to facilitate thought — How you incorporate emotions into your thinking processes and understand when and how emotions can be helpful for reasoning processes.
- Understanding and analyzing emotions —The capacity to decode emotions, make sense of their meaning, and understand how they relate to each other and change over time.
- Reflective regulation of emotion —An openness to all emotions and the ability to regulate your own emotions and the emotions of others to facilitate growth and insight.
Measuring Your Emotional Intelligence Skills
Do you find you relate to either of these statements?
“I want to improve my EI skills but don’t know where to start.”
“I already have strong emotional intelligence skills. This isn’t an area I need to work on.”
As is the case with any skill, we all have varying levels of aptitude when it comes to EI and may feel overwhelmed about where to begin.
One interesting study found that 95% of participants gave themselves high marks in self-awareness. However, using more empirical measures of self-awareness, the study found that only 10-15% of the cohort was truly self-aware. Consider the following characteristics typical of people with higher and lower EI skillsets as one way to better gauge your skillset:
Potential indicators of higher EI:
- Understanding the links between your emotions and how you behave
- Remaining calm and composed during stressful situations
- Ability to influence others toward a common goal
- Handling difficult people with tact and diplomacy
Potential indicators of lower EI:
- Often feeling misunderstood
- Getting upset easily
- Becoming overwhelmed by emotions
- Having problems being assertive
It’s important to note that these potential indicators can also stem from other causes and vary significantly depending on the day and situation.
Learning and Developing Emotional Intelligence
Research indicates that as little as ten hours of EI training (i.e., lectures, role-play, group discussions, readings) significantly improved people’s ability to identify and manage their emotions, and these benefits were sustained six months later.
No matter your current EI skillset, it may be helpful to try the following exercises:
- Notice how you respond to people — Are you judgmental or biased in your assessments of others?
- Practice humility — Being humble about your achievements means you can acknowledge your successes without needing to shout about them.
- Be honest with yourself about your strengths and vulnerabilities and consider development opportunities. Even though it might make you cringe, it’s helpful to get others’ viewpoints on your emotional intelligence. Ask people how they think you handle tricky situations and respond to the emotions of others.
- Think about how you deal with stressful events — Do you seek to blame others? Can you keep your emotions in check?
- Take responsibility for your actions and apologize when you need to.
- Consider how your choices can affect others — Try to imagine how they might feel before you do something that could affect them.
Interested in further increasing your EI skills? Check out the resources below to get you started.
elevateU Featured Topic: Emotional Intelligence | Short videos, self-paced online courses and more
Essential Skills for Navigating Challenging Times | Free, instructor-led offering from MSU Health4U | Eight-session series begins July 12
Everything DiSC: Behavior Styles at Work | Instructor-led offering from HR Organization and Professional Development | July 20 or October 20
Creating and Sustaining a Positive Workplace | Instructor-led offering from HR Organization and Professional Development | August 25
Identify and Maximize Your Strengths | Instructor-led offering from HR Organization and Professional Development | September 21