What's Your EQ? How to Foster an Emotionally Intelligent Culture

Is EQ as important as IQ in the workplace? These strategies can help boost emotional intelligence in your organization.
April 12, 2013

In 1990, The New York Times' science reporter Daniel Goleman hit upon the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ), or the ability to identify, assess and manage the emotions of one’s self, others and groups. Today, the business world’s general belief is that EQ rivals IQ in importance and relationship to success.

Although Goleman found the term in a small academic journal and therefore didn’t invent it, his bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, was responsible for EQ’s foray into pop culture. The components of EQ vary slightly depending on who you ask, but Goleman’s include the following six:

  • Emotional Awareness: You understand the emotions you’re feeling and how those emotions affect your behavior and performance.
  • Accurate Self-Assessment: You are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, you’re open to feedback and you learn from experience.
  • Political Awareness: You are aware of important formal and informal relationships, who's friends with whom, and how things actually get done.
  • Influence: You are skilled at gaining consensus and drumming up support for your projects. You challenge the status quo and enlist others to help.
  • Communication: You are able to read between the lines when conversing with others, speak in a straightforward manner and seek mutual understanding.
  • Conflict Management: You address problematic situations proactively, bringing them to light with tact. You encourage open discussion and help to orchestrate mutually beneficial solutions.

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There are more where these came from—so many more that it seems like there’s an awful lot involved in being emotionally intelligent. However, as you might gather from this short list, a lot of qualities go hand in hand. Professionals who have strong political awareness, for example, are often good at internal persuasion and conflict management.

Building High EQ Teams

While much has been written about how an individual can hone his or her own emotional intelligence, there's precious little on how leaders can inspire an emotionally intelligent culture. But as organizations grow, this only becomes more essential.

I recently read the recommendations by Martyn Newman, consulting psychologist and author of Emotional Capitalists–The New Leaders, on the Enviable Workplace Blog. Here are four of his recommendations to foster a higher EQ in your workplace culture.

1. Model compassion. Develop people so they are able to listen carefully to input and recognize the emotions that direct the behavior of others, getting more out of every workplace interaction and relationship.

2. Make “being yourself” safe. Show your team that it’s more important to be completely engaged and committed than to always be admired by others. Encourage colleagues to cultivate genuine self-awareness of mistakes and flaws and to be open to receiving constructive feedback.

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3. Leave time for play. Spontaneous, imaginative play is vital for social and cognitive health, decreasing stress and rendering us more emotionally “in tune.” Physical activity in particular has a positive effect on the brain and helps people expand their emotional horizons.

4. Create your own EQ bootcamp. In considering Newman’s suggestions, I was inspired to add some of my own. Leaders can also boost emotional intelligence on their teams by mentoring up-and-coming professionals on diplomacy and how to manage sticky situations. They can also engage in frank conversations with new hires on the political nuances in the organization so guesswork can be eliminated and employees can be more astute immediately. 

Team leaders can facilitate self-reviews of performance, asking employees continuously “how do you think you did?” to hone awareness of individual strengths and development areas. And finally, instead of handling crises on their own behind closed doors, leaders can allow team members the opportunity to watch skillful negotiation and persuasion in action and learn how influence is expressed in the organization.

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Photo: Cristiano Betta/flickr.com