The term emotional intelligence can be confusing – everyone knows it’s a good thing to have, but they may not know exactly what it means. Emotional intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient), is the ability to identify, assess, and learn from our emotions, and positively influence the emotions of others. I recently had a great conversation with Kerry Goyette, an EQ expert and E3 Senior Trainer. She says, “EQ is really about the intelligent use of emotions, which influences your decision-making, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to be flexible and agile in shifting environments.” 

Why is EQ So Important Today?

We already know the critical role high-quality relationships play in job performance, and emotional intelligence is a crucial skill for leaders who want to foster those relationships on a daily basis.

Challenges posed by the current labor shortage (e.g., creating conditions where employees actually look forward to coming to work) also contribute to the importance of EQ in the workplace. Additionally, because of the presence of different perspectives on “work” among the four generations in the workforce, it’s vital for leaders to demonstrate emotional intelligence regularly. Others agree – it’s even named as one of the top new skills required in the workplace by the World Economic Forum. Today’s leaders can mitigate these challenges – and lead a thriving workforce – when they have the EQ to manage individuals who each have their own preference for how they work and what engages them, Goyette says.

Here are the top three most important EQ skills that leaders should strive to learn and strengthen, according to Goyette: 

Build & Deepen Relationships

When you possess EQ, your employees will be more invested in your organization’s success – and in supporting you as their leader every step of the way. Take the time to get to know your staff members and invest in their well-being and their careers. You’ll have more engaged direct reports who produce higher-quality work and are much more likely to work for you long term.

To build positive working relationships with your employees:

  • Make them feel heard. Listen to your employees and ask them for feedback about their jobs, the organization, and how you’re performing as a manager. When staff members feel heard, it demonstrates that you are invested in helping them grow their careers. Here are a few conversation starters to help you build relationships with employees and ensure they feel heard:

What makes you proud of the work you do for our organization?

How do you envision your career in the future?

What are some of your favorite activities to do outside of work?

  • Provide them with validation, recognition, and feedback.

Here are a few things to remember:

Validation is the simple process of letting someone know they are seen and valued.

Good morning, Laurie! I saw the Pirates won last night! Did you get to watch?

How was your beach trip this weekend, Becca?

Ed, good to see you today. I heard you were under the weather. Are you feeling any better?

Recognition is different than validation in that it highlights what someone has accomplished.

Russ, I appreciate what you’ve done here. I know it wasn’t easy.

Carol, thanks for staying late yesterday to complete that project. It means a lot to me and the team.

Josh, well done pulling together that new budget report! I’m grateful for these new insights we have to work with. Outstanding job!

Feedback should be a supportive, one-on-one, confidential conversation that occurs every month (not once a year).

I know you gave this assignment a lot of effort. We fell short of our goal, so let’s talk about ways we can alter our approach next time.

I am a little worried about our team dynamics. Can we talk about possible actions that can bring the team into better alignment?

Prevent Potential Derailers

There are certain areas where every one of us can be triggered in a way that causes us to act in an unproductive or unhealthy manner. For example, if you’re naturally a conflict avoider, you know that when issues occur, you’re going to want to run the other way. People with a strong EQ have developed a script for their triggers, so they don’t have to think about it at the moment they come into conflict or stress. This strategy helps them make a better decision and move the issue forward rather than avoiding it or blaming others.

To build a healthy trigger-response, think about the specific emotions (e.g., anger, disrespect, defiance) that cause you to act unproductively and how you typically act when triggered. Determine what you can do instead to handle these situations in a much more calm and positive manner. Here are a few simple ideas: find a quiet place to get away for a few minutes by yourself. Go for a quick walk. Take some deep breaths. Listen to some good music. Talk to a trusted mentor or friend to gain perspective.

Embrace Agility

Agile leaders have “the ability to better read and assess the environment to determine the best strategy rather than acting from their unconscious biases,” explains Goyette. Managers who possess agility are able to respond to a variety of situations in a more effective and productive manner. 

For example, if an employee walks into their manager’s office to talk about a problem, the manager who does not possess agility may simply try to help the employee solve the issue in a very cognitive and tactical manner. They would avoid taking into consideration any emotion related to the situation and just try to solve the problem right away. On the other hand, a more attuned manager would listen thoughtfully to the employee and look at the problem from all sides. They would try to address the broader issue – what’s behind the problem, why is it challenging the employee, why is the employee afraid or concerned?

Despite the importance of EQ, this vital skill has been on the decline. While the rise in technology has helped us to get in touch with others, we’re not having the same emotional experience as if we were talking with someone face to face in the same room. This shift in the way we communicate has caused us to feel more isolated and less emotionally mature than we ever have before. At the same time, EQ can definitely play a role in improving the quality of digital communication, which is why leaders of remote teams, for example, need to hone these skills.

Building healthy relationships with employees, preventing potential derailers, and embracing agility will help you to create a more positive work environment where each employee can thrive.

Key Takeaways:

  • Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, assess, and control your emotions, as well as positively influence the emotions of others.
  • Build strong relationships with your employees, prevent potential derailers, and embrace agility to help you become a more emotionally intelligent leader.
  • With the rise in technology, there has been a decrease in emotional intelligence. In order to combat this deficiency, managers need to focus on building healthy relationships with their employees and listening to them to gain the feedback they need to become better leaders.

Referenced resources:

Emotional Intelligence With Special Guest Kerry Goyette, Thrive By Design the Podcast, E3 Solutions.

Small Talk is an Overrated Way to Build Relationships with Your Employees, Kim Scott, Harvard Business Review.

The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence, Kerry Goyette, Ideapress Publishing.

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