Why Emotional Intelligence is the Secret to Success at Work

Leila Bulling Towne

Executive coach and Udemy for Business instructor

March 19, 2019

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the secret ingredient for the vast majority of top performers in the workplace. According to research presented in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves found that 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence or “EQ.” And on the other end of the spectrum, only 20% of bottom performers are high in EQ. As Bradberry says, “You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.”

People with high EQ excel in various ways: They make better work decisions for themselves, their peers, and their companies. They are well situated to take on exciting opportunities within and outside of their organizations. Executives with high EQ are more likely to succeed than those with high IQ. Salespeople with high EQ sell more. Managers with high EQ have higher performing teams with less turnover.

One of the most exciting aspects of EQ is that—unlike IQ, which remains relatively consistent throughout a person’s life—it can be increased. As an executive coach, I work with leaders every day to help them raise their emotional intelligence. Many of these leaders are proactively developing their ability to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions.

There are four key elements that are essential to developing EQ: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Let’s look at each area to better understand how your employees can develop their EQ. I cover each of these areas in my Udemy for Business course, Emotional Intelligence at Work: Learn from Your Emotions.

The 4 key elements of EQ

1. Self-awareness

The first key skill of EQ is self-awareness, which refers to your ability to understand your emotions in the moment. How are you feeling now—and why?

We’ve all experienced moments when a strong emotion takes over and we behave irrationally. Imagine for example how you feel when someone cuts you off on the road. Your heart beats quickly and you might find yourself shouting or gesturing angrily. Once the immediate danger is gone, you might return to your usual calm demeanor and wonder why you just behaved the way you did. This is because the amygdala or emotional center of the brain sends messages out when an emotion takes over. This temporarily overrides the prefrontal cortex or the “logical” part of the brain. You get emotionally hijacked, so to speak.

Everyone responds to emotions differently, yet some common physical reactions include suddenly feeling hot or cold, the heart beating faster, starting to sweat, getting clammy hands, feeling queasy, and breathing more slowly or quickly.

When people develop self-awareness, they learn to identify the moments when they have a strong emotional reaction and then pinpoint what is causing them to feel that way: their “buttons.” People’s emotional “buttons” can be other people, places, events, or times of day that create a certain reaction—positive or negative. The first step to EQ development is recognizing and becoming self-aware of these emotional buttons and reactions. Once we are self-aware of our emotions, we can then learn how to regulate them.

2. Self-management

The skill of “self-management” refers to a person’s ability to manage their emotions by making better choices and responding to challenges and opportunities productively. Once people identify and become self-aware of their buttons, they can begin to manage them.

Here are some examples of my buttons: people who arrive late to meetings and don’t acknowledge their tardiness, individuals who are in a super rush to talk me but don’t respond at all to my response to them, and folks who send calendar invitations without first asking me if that time or day works. Each of these three buttons bothers me for the same reason: they show a disregard for my time. These actions say to me, “I am important, and Leila, you are not. Your time is not valuable.”

Getting to the root of why something triggers an emotional response helps to create a connection between the limbic and logical parts of the brain. You want those sections of your brain to talk more often to each other. People who nurture this connection are less likely to have their emotions “hijack” their minds, behaviors, and actions.

3. Social awareness

The third part of the EQ model is social awareness: paying closer attention to those around you at work. Social awareness is a person’s ability to observe what others are saying with their words—and with their bodies—and to examine how it affects you.

Daniel Goleman, the internationally known psychologist who helped bring EQ in the mainstream and contributed to its widespread acceptance within the business world, writes that social awareness is comprised of three competencies: empathy (sensing others’ feelings or perspectives and taking an active interest in their concerns), organizational awareness (reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships), and service orientation (anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customers’ needs).

Strong social awareness involves watching and listening to others and learning more about one’s coworkers to better understand how to partner with them. In order to develop better social awareness, encourage your employees to pay attention to what’s happening at work, especially as it relates to why people are responding in certain ways. It helps to closely observe and listen to others in order to learn what they care about. Shifting to a mindset of curiosity and eliminating judgment are also critical for developing social awareness.

4. Relationship management

The final skill for developing EQ is relationship management. It involves building, strengthening, and deepening connections with people. People who have this skill
value teamwork and collaboration, and they are able to handle conflict in productive and thoughtful ways.

The concept of relationship management seems like the holy grail to a lot of us: it’s mysterious, it’s elusive, and we are searching for it. If we can just figure out what we need to do to make that difficult relationship easier, work would be amazing.

I routinely coach individuals and teams that struggle to build relationships. People are grouped together for projects, sometimes randomly, and we just assume that working at the same company will lead to collaboration.

But working next to each other or with each other doesn’t equal a relationship or work partnership.

Here are the elements of a good work relationship:

  • Clarity: each person understands their role

  • Communication: there are regular routines and methods to communicate

  • Collaboration: each person feels their expertise is valued and encouraged; it’s a partnership

As a first step toward building relationship management, I recommend selecting one person and considering how to increase the clarity, communication, and collaboration of the relationship. Having high relationship management EQ entails considering your point of view and that of the other individual or group. It’s a balancing act, and the scale you’re using to judge how you’re doing is whether each party is contributing to the larger, agreed-upon goal of the company.

As we move toward a digital-human workforce, human skills matter more than ever. When Udemy for Business surveyed HR and L&D leaders about their top priorities in 2019, management and leadership skills and soft skills training were both ranked in the top five. No matter how much technology transforms our work, the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with others and perceive their emotions will only increase in importance. This is why developing the EQ of your employees is critical. Learn more in my course Emotional Intelligence at Work: Learn from Your Emotions.

About the author:

Leila Bulling Towne is an executive coach and Udemy instructor who specializes in helping leaders decide what to say and how to say it. The Information named her one of the top coaches behind startup founders in 2018. She coaches executives to speak with authority and authenticity, whether they are communicating to employees, the board, or customers. In other words, she makes it easier to be the boss. Her clients range from well-funded Silicon Valley startups to Fortune 500 companies. Leila’s global facilitation and coaching experience include working in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, India, South Africa, and China. Her work has been featured in Forbes, BBC.com, The Wall Street Journal, FastCompany.com, Glassdoor.com, Women's Health, Marketplace Radio, HR Magazine,The Rotarian, and others.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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