Developing Emotional Intelligence at Work

Developing Emotional Intelligence at Work

As the nature of work evolves, so do the skills that allow employees to be successful. Where emotions were once thought to have no place at work, many organizations now recognize the value of having an emotionally intelligent workforce. Defined as one’s willingness to perceive, understand, and regulate their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, emotional intelligence (EI) has been linked to several personal and professional benefits, including improved communication, leadership, teamwork, and reduced stress.[1] With so many advantages associated with EI it seems reasonable to ask, can we become more emotionally intelligent and if so, what can we do to start fostering emotional intelligence at work?

Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught?

The relatively newfound importance of emotional intelligence at work raises the question: can EI be taught? To answer this question, we can first look at how EI has been studied. Over the years researchers have debated if EI is a trait, something that you demonstrate a tendency towards, or an ability, a skill that can be developed over time. What has emerged is a consensus among most researchers that EI is both a trait and an ability.[2] This means that we can ask several different questions when it comes to understanding EI, such as:

  • Is a person skilled at EI? Do they have the ability to regulate their emotions or to accurately recognize how others are feeling? (ability-based EI)
  • Does a person tend to demonstrate EI? Do they display a willingness to regulate their emotions or to help a colleague who they recognize as being upset? (trait-based EI)

Thinking of EI as both a trait and an ability is important when we consider whether EI can be developed because both components have an impact on behavior. First, we need to know if we can improve someone’s ability to be more emotionally intelligent – can we teach them the skills they need? Then, once they have the skills, can we enhance the likelihood that they will use those skills, or can we increase their willingness to be more emotionally intelligent?

Studies have shown that EI can in fact be developed, both from an ability perspective and a trait perspective.[3] [4] [5] Using a variety of techniques, including classroom-style lectures, videos, case studies, group exercises, discussions, and role play, we can learn to become more emotionally intelligent. There is also evidence to suggest that training can have a lasting impact, with positive effects of such EI programs having been found up to one year after delivery.[6]

Critical Ways to Develop EI

So, what can we do to become more emotionally intelligent? There are three important stages to keep in mind when trying to enhance EI: education, self-awareness, and practice. Each can be considered a steppingstone to the next stage of development. Begin with education – learn about EI, what it looks like, and how it impacts behavior. Then, take some time to reflect and develop your self-awareness. How would you rate yourself in terms of EI? What areas do you excel in? Where might there be some opportunities for improvement? Finally, practice doing things differently. Identify one or two behaviors that you could try tomorrow to be more mindful

1. Education

Before we walk the walk, we must learn to talk the talk. A key first step in EI development is to learn about the importance of EI. Increasing your education on EI can include learning about the various dimensions of EI, key outcomes of high EI in the workplace (e.g., personal and professional benefits), how EI influences peer and supervisor relationships, ways to develop EI, and tangible steps for managing emotions at work. You may find that learning about techniques for managing emotions (i.e., name it to tame it) can help build your confidence as you move on to the next stage of EI development. Learning about EI can be done by reading material, watching educational videos, and listening to short lectures. In fact, formal EI training programs are likely to administer lectures about EI prior to engaging in the self-reflection and practice components of the program.

2. Self-awareness

Once you understand what EI is and why it is important, the next step is to reflect on your own tendencies when it comes to EI. A good way to start building self-awareness is to complete an assessment of EI. Assessments, such as SIGMA’s MEIA-W-R, can allow you to better understand your willingness to engage in various dimensions of EI. Then, consider discussing your results with others and self-reflect. Having discussions with others and asking those closest to you about their perceptions of your EI can help uncover discrepancies about how you see yourself versus how others see you. This can allow you to gain a new perspective that you may not have gotten otherwise. Finally, self-reflection questions are a great way to become introspective about your tendencies and behaviors. You can practice responding to self-reflection questions here.

3. Practice

Once you have had a chance to learn about EI and to reflect on your current behaviors, the next step is to begin trying new techniques to develop in those areas where you would like to make some changes. This could include practicing what you’ve learned with role playing exercises or identifying specific development opportunities at work. For example, you can role play with a trusted colleague or coach to become skilled at responding to various social scenarios. You may also ask these individuals to observe your behavior and offer suggestions in future social situations. Practicing appropriate responses for future social interactions will allow these responses to become automatic when you do find yourself in these situations.

Ready to Get Started?

At SIGMA, we offer a variety of tools for those looking to develop emotional intelligence at work. Our team of experts specialize in providing individual assessments, executive coaching, and consulting services to foster the development of EI in the workplace. Specifically, our executive coaches are trained to educate others about the importance of EI, aid in self-awareness, and offer a variety of techniques and practices to enhance EI. Whether you are an individual interested in increasing your own EI, or you would like to advance your team’s EI, we are here to help.

SIGMA Assessment Systems, Inc.
Call:     800-265-1285

[1] Van Rooy, D. L., & Viswesvaran, C. (2004). Emotional intelligence: A meta-analytic investigation of predictive validity and nomological net. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 65, 71–95.

[2] Davis, S. K., & Humphrey, N. (2014). Ability versus trait emotional intelligence: Dual influences on adolescent psychological adaptation. Journal of Individual Differences, 35, 54-62.

[3] Slaski, M., & Cartwright, S. (2003). Emotional intelligence training and its implications for stress, health and performance. Stress and Health, 19, 233-239. DOI: 10.1002/smi.979

[4] Pool, L. D., & Qualter, P. (2012). Improving emotional intelligence and emotional self-efficacy through a teaching intervention for university students. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(3), 306-312.

[5] Nelis, D., Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Hansenne, M. (2009). Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible? Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 36-41.

[6] Kotsou, I., Nelis, D., Gregoire, J., Mikolajczak, M. (2011). Emotional plasticity: Conditions and effects of improving emotional competence in adulthood. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 827–839.

About the Author

Helen Schroeder

Marketing Coordinator

Helen completed a dual degree with Ivey Business School’s HBA program and Western University’s Honours Specialization in Psychology. As a Marketing Coordinator and Consultant she creates and manages content for SIGMA’s webpages, blogs, and coaching resources. Helen also assists in new product development, go-to-market strategy, and client consultation.