How to grow emotionally intelligent leaders and employees
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How to grow emotionally intelligent leaders and employees

The concept of Emotional Intelligence isn’t exactly new. In fact, it’s been around for several decades now. But guess what? It isn’t going away, because the need for emotionally intelligent employees and leaders is greater than ever.

Why’s that?

Employees are arguably under more stress than ever due to the wrenching changes that have hit the workplace in recent years. Office life as we knew it disintegrated and people had to figure out how to replace it with Zoom calls and kitchen-table workspaces. As a result, both leaders and the rank-and-file are in greater need than ever of the “soft skills” that enable teams to remain productive while redefining the work/home-life balance.

Also, many employees have decided they aren’t going to tolerate insensitive bosses and corporate overlords. If they don’t like where they work, they’re gonna walk. And if they have skills, they’ll find a soft landing spot without too much trouble. Emotionally unintelligent managers might as well be holding up a sign saying, “We don’t want you here. Feel free to leave.”

The building blocks

So I don’t think I’ll get too many arguments when I say that emotional intelligence ought to be near the top of your list of employee learning topics.

What might effective training in emotional intelligence look like?

According to consultants at the Institute for Health and Human Potential, a training program ought to cover four principal aspects of emotional intelligence:

Self-awareness.

The key here is to make employees conscious of their unconscious fight, flight or freeze triggers, and how resulting emotional outbursts can affect their co-workers or subordinates. Consider exercises to help employees identify these triggers — things like delays or unmet expectations — and their physiological symptoms, ranging from galloping heartbeat to tension in the neck and shoulders.

Self-management.

This flows directly out of self-awareness. Once people understand their triggers, they can work on methods to defuse them. One simple method is known as STAR — when someone realizes that they’ve been triggered they can practice Smiling, Taking deep breaths, And Relaxing.

Social awareness.

Here we’re talking about the ability — or inability — to pick up on subtle but important social cues, like body posture and speech patterns. Some folks are naturally good at this, but the rest of us can improve through exercises that involve paraphrasing what the other person has said, or asking questions to confirm that we’re interpreting facial expressions or vocal tones correctly.

Relationship management.

This is about deploying skills built in the first three areas to keep co-worker relationships on an even keel. Guided role play is one way of practicing respectful yet impactful conversations with managers and colleagues.

Organizational support

Of course, training works best when there’s organizational support for its goals. Here are three actions organizations can take to reinforce the emotional intelligence training its employees are getting:

Cultivate leadership transparency.

Leaders who build trust and openness by sharing important decisions with their team are modeling emotional intelligence in a very meaningful way.

Encourage compassion.

When leaders are service-oriented and empathetic, it rubs off on those they lead.

Facilitate collaboration.

The more widely employees are allowed to collaborate — across teams, departments and functions — the greater their opportunity to practice and build emotional intelligence skills.


This blog entry is based on “Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Why It Matters and How to Build It,” an article at bigthink.com, Dec. 15, 2021.

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