Emotional intelligence is a phrase dominating the workplace. But, what does it mean, why does it matter, and why is emotional intelligence for people managers so crucial?

  1. What is emotional intelligence?
  2. Benefits of emotional intelligence for leaders
  3. How to build your emotional intelligence as a leader

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is your ability to understand and manage your emotions effectively while understanding the needs and emotions of those around you.

People who are emotionally intelligent know what they’re feeling, why they’re feeling it and how it might impact the situation they’re in.

Emotional intelligence gained popularity when American psychologist Daniel Goleman applied this concept to the workplace, highlighting how emotional intelligence is key to successful leadership.

This led him to define it as “the array of skills & characteristics that drive leadership performance”.

Benefits of emotional intelligence for people managers and leaders

Whether you’re a people manager, run a department or are responsible for employee wellbeing, improving your emotional intelligence is key to success – for you and those around you.

Why? Because by understanding and positively managing your emotions, it strengthens your ability to cope with difficult or stressful situations. This will help you to make more informed decisions about the actions you take, in line with the things that matter to you most.

It also helps to strengthen your relationship with others, through improved communication and the ability to empathise – which is particularly valuable for anyone responsible for the people within their organisation, like HR leaders or Wellbeing Leads.

Emotional intelligence also helps you to build trust with others, aids with problem-solving and helps to improve team work.

And in the long-term, it can help you to succeed in the workplace and achieve your personal goals. For some, emotional intelligence is considered the bedrock of success as a leader or manager.

How to build your emotional intelligence as a leader

So how can you become more emotionally intelligent? Daniel Goleman identified four areas that he believes, when improved, lead to higher levels of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-management
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship management

Let’s explore each area.

1. Self-management

Self-management refers to your ability to control your feelings and express them in a manner appropriate to the time, setting and context of a given situation.

We have all seen toddler-tantrums in full flow and these tantrums are completely normal events for young children with very low levels of emotional self-management.

The same might happen – to a lesser extent – in a stressful situation as an adult. If we start to feel overwhelmed and out of control, we might want to act on impulse, make a scene or say something we might regret afterwards.

This is where our self-management kicks in. By taking a step back, it can help you to recognise what you’re feeling and why you feel this way.

Below, you’ll find two practical solutions to building your self-management skills.

Hold yourself accountable

If you tend to blame others when something goes wrong, make a commitment to admit your mistakes and face the consequences – whatever they are. You’ll feel more in control when you take ownership of a mistake and you’re less likely to direct your emotions towards others.

Practice mindfulness

The next time you’re in a challenging situation, pay close attention to how you act. Practice deep breathing exercises (like the one below) to calm yourself down and manage your emotions.

2. Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to truly know yourself, to be able to connect to your emotions, and understand what makes you tick.

It means being able to pay attention to your emotions, and recognising the effect they have on your body and behaviour.

For example, do your emotions cause physical sensations, such as an increased heart rate or sweaty palms, or do they impact the decisions you make?

Whilst self-awareness tends to improve with age and experience, we can become more self-aware through being mindful.

Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment, helping you to tune into how your body is feeling and the different emotions or thoughts you might be having.

So, along with calming and focusing your mind, being mindful can also help you become more self-aware. To improve your self-awareness, try the following:

Write a journal

Journals help you to improve your self-awareness by forcing you to process your thoughts. Spending just a few minutes each day journaling can help you to improve your self-awareness.

Choose your reactions

When you experience strong emotions, slow down to examine why. No matter the situation you’re in at work (or at home), you can always choose how you react – and you don’t have to react immediately.

3. Social awareness

The third aspect is about improving your social awareness. In essence, this is referring to empathy; your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of those around you.

This is important because it helps you form meaningful connections with others, being able to place yourself in their shoes and understand what’s going on for them.

Having this social awareness also equips you with the skills to actively listen to others and respond in a manner that’s appropriate for the situation. Build social awareness in the following ways:

Practice conflict resolution

Leaders must be able to resolve conflicts – whether that’s with a team member, customer or even your boss. Learning these skills is vital if you want to succeed. For more information on conflict resolution, take a look at this guide.

Learn how to praise

As a leader, praising others is an incredibly important (and compassionate) tool. Check out this great article from Harvard Business Review for an in-depth look at how to effectively praise others.

4. Relationship management

Relationship management covers all aspects of your life – not just your relationships with family and friends, but those in the workplace and wider community too.

Empathy is the foundation for building strong, trustworthy and fulfilling relationships, and so is also key to relationship management.

Without this, we would struggle to make or sustain the friendships we forge, and find it harder to manage conflict that might arise. Try the following to improve your relationship management skills:

Understand your body language

One often forgotten way to strengthen relationships is to think about your non-verbal communication just as much as what you’re actually saying.

You communicate a lot through your body language, often without realising it, and so being aware of the messages you send to others non-verbally can really help build trust and rapport.

Emotional intelligence for leaders: Takeaways

While emotional intelligence has become a buzz term, don’t let that put you off from its importance. The way we understand, use and manage our emotions are vital to our success and will help us become a better leader and people manager.