Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a set of capabilities, that allows you to perceive and identify the emotions of other people, while becoming more self-aware, and in control of your own emotions. Stéphane Côté, Professor of Organizational Behavior says, that like all skill sets, emotional intelligence likely has some portion that is innate, but also that it can be developed to some extent with deliberate practice and development in others. In a simple framework, emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to recognize your own emotions, and the ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviors and relationships.
While the research suggests that strong emotional intelligence can underpin much of our own success, many people still struggle, especially when it comes to regulating their own emotions. Côté attributes this to the fact that emotional intelligence, as a skill set, is rarely formally taught in school, nor do people have the space to formally develop their emotional intelligence capabilities and receive corrective feedback in the workplace.
There are many different things you can do to build a stronger sense of emotional self-regulation, especially at work!
1. Be mindful of the environments that trigger you.
If you know a certain situation will cause you stress and an emotional reaction, try to avoid it if you can, and be selective whenever possible. Côté explains that your emotions will have a strong power over your thinking, so set yourself up for success by creating environments that support you.
2. Optimize and calibrate your emotional state for the task at hand, so that your emotions are the appropriate ones.
When people are more positive, they are also more creativity. So when you have to do creative work, if you can regulate and make your emotions more positive, you’ll be able to find more success. Côté explains that sometimes you’ll have to optimize your emotional state downwards too. For example, if you need to follow guidelines, then you can’t be too positive, because too much excitement and creativity could make you deviate. Sometimes, you’ll have to focus on emotional neutrality in the face of difficult challenges.
3. Avoid bottling your emotions when possible.
When people suppress their emotions, it can lead to long term burnout, which could negatively impact your career in the long run! This does not mean you should be spilling your guts out at the water cooler every day, rather, talk to someone you trust. Turn to trusted friends, coworkers, or even HR, and find ways not to keep it all inside, says Côté.
4. Use re-appraisals to find a more positive meaning from events going on.
A re-appraisal is a way to reframe an event in such a way that allows you to change your emotional response. For example, if you have to work with someone you consider to be difficult, rather than getting upset, try and see what you can gain from the situation. You might ask yourself questions like“ What difficult position might my boss be in?” or “How might I see the situation from their point of view?” You could also benefit from telling yourself “It’s ok to feel anxious or overwhelmed – that it’s a normal response.” This can be hard to do, but consider how you can reframe problems as challenges that can be overcome.
5. Respond, don’t react!
When you feel emotionally triggered, the reactive and emotional part of your brain can override the part of your brain that allows for deliberate thinking, and controlled decision making. To become self-aware of when this is happening, notice the physiological signs when you start “seeing red”. If you’re feeling your heart rate speed up, you’re feeling hot-headed, and you feel that sense of fight or flight, consider not responding to your colleague’s email or request until you’ve cooled down and can respond in a way that you would not regret the next day! Rather than give in to your “knee-jerk” reaction, slow down, and give your calm brain a chance to catch up to your emotional brain. A few deep breaths and a walk around the block can go a long way.
Emotional Intelligence is no longer a “touchy-feely” skill to be ignored. In fact, strong EQ can be just as important (if not more!) than IQ in some jobs, and can be an important part of what moves certain people up the ladder, when their IQ and technical skills are roughly in line with their peers!
If you’re hoping to build a successful and sustainable career, don’t overlook the power of your own emotions.