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ATD Blog

Emotional Intelligence at Work Matters

Monday, August 2, 2021

It was not long ago that emotional intelligence (EQ) was a topic that many organizations considered a “nice to have.” While EQ and other soft skills were often considered a “value-add,” they have quickly become a “must have” in the workplace.

When psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote his book Emotional Intelligence, EQ became a more popular term within our workplace vernacular. Continuing the conversation, Patrick Malone in Emotional Intelligence in Talent Development explored how people tasked with developing others can improve their own EQ skill as well as better manage stress, time, conflict, and communication.

According to ATD’s Talent Development Body of Knowledge, the term emotional intelligence, also known as the emotional quotient (EQ), is the ability to understand, assess, and regulate your own emotions, correctly interpret the verbal and nonverbal behaviors of others, and adjust your behavior in relation to others. High emotional intelligence is critical in building rapport.

“Although many people have the misconception that EQ and IQ (intelligence quotient) are opposed, they are actually different,” the TDBoK clarifies. “Whereas IQ measures how people learn, understand, and apply information, EQ measures how individuals learn, understand, and apply emotional knowledge.” Some argue that EQ matters more than IQ, because it helps with making decisions and developing connections.

The stress of the pandemic on mental health has increased the importance of understanding and managing our emotions and the emotions of others. According to State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report, 57 percent of US and Canadian workers report feeling stressed on a daily basis, up by 8 percent from the year prior. This has taken a major toll on our mental health, physical health, and in some instances, our quality of life. Our ability to exercise empathy and social skills, as well as our ability to recognize burnout and stress, has been tested at a much higher rate than previously.

Here are three things to consider when trying to increase your emotional intelligence in the workplace.


Recognize that you are feeling something and try to label it.

According to Marc Brackett, founding director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence and professor at the Yale School of Management, the ability of an individual to accurately label his feelings and emotions is crucial to understanding what to do next. “You have to name it to tame it,” Brackett explains. “For example, you can’t use tactics for alleviating stress versus alleviating the feeling of being overwhelmed. These are two different emotions that have to be addressed differently.” You can find more information about Brackett’s approach in ATD’s resources.

Read the room and understand the coregulating emotions.

The American Psychological Association defines coregulation as “the process by which relationship partners form a dyadic emotional system involving an oscillating pattern of affective arousal and dampening that dynamically maintains an optimal emotional state.” In layman’s terms, this means that other people’s moods and emotions affect yours, and vice versa.

How many times have you walked into a meeting with someone who was in a bad mood? And, how many times has that situation affected the productivity of the meeting and the employees in the room? Emotional coregulation is something that happens in the everyday workplace, whether it is in-person or virtual. The ability of individuals to impact the moods of others is often understated, and therefore not addressed appropriately.


According to Andrea Hoban, co-founder of OjiLifeLab, the ability of individuals to recognize that they can affect other’s emotions is critical to building EQ in the workplace. “Once you have shifted to a more favorable emotional place, it's possible that others in the room will shift there too. When that happens, the conditions for creativity, collaboration, and connection are optimized for peak performance,” Hoban says.

The skill of "reading the room" includes the ability to pick up on body language, facial gestures, and verbal cues. It is a skill that can be developed over time.

Practice makes perfect.

Building EQ in the workplace takes time and practice. Brackett describes this practice as “life’s work” and is something that even he continues to improve. Implementing strategies and tactics for building emotional intelligence in the workplace leads to a more productive and safe culture that everyone can benefit from.

When it comes to developing strategies and tactics for building these skills, it is different for every individual. Correctly labeling the emotion is the most important aspect of this, followed by understanding which tactic works most effectively for each individual. Brackett suggests that you try different things and stick with the ones that works. Create a toolbox of levers that you can pull when certain emptions are triggered.

The first and most universal tactic to start with? “Take a breath,” Brackett says, “and give it a second to sink in.”

About the Author

Ryan Changcoco is the senior manager for ATD’s Management and Healthcare Communities of Practice. His primary responsibility is to partner with subject matter experts from all over the world to develop content in the areas of management development, leadership, and healthcare training and administration. Prior to working at ATD, Ryan served as a business consultant for several large healthcare organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield. His specialties include project management, healthcare administration, and management consulting. Ryan received a degree in public administration from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

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Great read. Thanks for sharing this Ryan.
Thank for the kind words, Kareem!
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Great article, Ryan. The extensive list of emotions Marc Brackett and his colleagues identified is helpful.
Certainly inspired by your work as well, Mike! Developing these "human skills" is extremely important in helping reduce stress and improving connection within the workplace.
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Given that so much work is done remotely now, how can we ensure our leaders consider the impact of EQ is still very relevant, if not more so in the virtual world? I have found requiring cameras for meetings and a bit of friendly social interaction at the beginning of a meeting helps to humanize our virtual interactions.
That's a great point, Kristi. Proximity to one's direct reports and colleagues is always helpful in gauging how someone's doing. As a manager (or leader) I think that it's important to acknowledge that being remote has an impact in one's ability to connect and gauge the emotional well-being of your colleagues. Once you acknowledge that, it's important to identify tools that you can use to ensure you maintain a pulse on how people are doing (more frequent 1:1s, informal check-ins, and etc,).
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I listened to an interview recently that talked about using break out rooms to break groups into pairs and make it easier to talk about difficult things.
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