Emotional intelligence is about understanding our emotions (and the emotions of those around us) and learning to manage the way we handle them says Lucy Brazier

I first heard the term emotional intelligence linked to work at a management training day on Leadership. The tutor recommended that we read Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’. Quite honestly, I thought it sounded just like so many other ‘self help’ type books – none of which ever seem to really ‘help’ much. Emotional intelligence in the workplace? It seemed like an oxymoron – especially considering the workplaces I had seen! What exactly did this academic-sounding phrase emotional intelligence have to do with the very real world of work?

But as I began reading, I realised so much of what Goleman was talking about was just common sense – something we need much more of at work. Basically, emotional intelligence is about understanding our emotions (and the emotions of those around us) and learning to manage the way we handle them – in the workplace as well as in the world outside.

So why does emotional intelligence at work matter?

When it comes to that oh-so-elusive concept of workplace happiness, we too easily (and too often) get in our own way. And 9 times out of 10, my guess is it’s probably something related to emotional intelligence.

Feelings are great and in no way am I suggesting we try to stifle them or push them deep down where they can fester, but how you manage your emotions at work – feelings like anger, jealousy, feeling slighted, feeling misunderstood, feeling under-appreciated, resentment, hopelessness, insecurity, fear, anxiety, feeling isolated, feeling powerless, etc. – can make all the difference to your career and daily worklife.

Emotional literacy

Now we all feel at least some of these feelings (emotions) at one time or another; but the trick is…how do you handle your own reactions in the workplace? What can you do to consciously and intentionally manage those feelings so the real you can shine through? And how can any of us achieve true emotional literacy in our worklife when so many things we feel are triggered by old hurts and experiences?

Putting emotional intelligence to work for you

Well…those questions are easier asked than answered. And I’m certainly not going to be able to cover ALL that in just a few paragraphs. Nor do I have all the answers. But since sometimes just a few new ideas can spark remarkable change, here are a few tips you might want to consider:

1. First and foremost…don’t give up your power!

Each and every one of us feels powerless at some time or another – and all too often such feelings arise in the workplace. It’s really important for you to know you are not alone in this. But you also have choices – even if your choice is to stay and do what’s being asked of you for whatever reason. Even if it means being nice to a boss you who drives you crazy. Or being pleasant to a co-worker you think is an idiot. Or staying in a job you don’t love.

Sometimes there are good reasons to do so. And sometimes not. But it’s no small thing for you to recognise you’re making the choice – consciously and intentionally. You gain nothing from feeling as if you’re a victim of your circumstances. This may seem like a small point, but if we realise we are choosing to do something – even staying in a job we don’t love – we release some of the powerlessness of feeling trapped.

When you feel trapped, your power shrinks – as does your ability to see solutions that are sometimes really obvious. So even if you’re staying in a job because your family depends on you to bring home that paycheck, give yourself credit for making that choice – and for the strength it takes to do just that. Rather than feeling like a victim, you can start to think about ways to use your power to get yourself into a better situation, either with your current company or elsewhere. But you won’t get anywhere if you feel powerless to affect your own fate!

2. Build strong relationships at work

One of the most important things you can do – something that can shape your entire work experience and career – is to start to build a strong support network from the first day you begin a job. Slowly, over time, these alliances will be there to help you move ahead, and also when you need support accomplishing every day assignments.

A good tip is to see everyone as someone you can build a work relationship with. Now some people will resist your attempts based on their own agendas or views of the world. Don’t let that bother you. Focus on those relationships you can build by being helpful and supportive (and creative and capable of course) as you get chances to work together. Most importantly, base the relationships on positive actions and not office gossip or complaints. Over time the reputation and relationships you build help you. And you never know which of those people might get you jobs in the future. Plus, it just makes your work environment a lot more enjoyable!

3. Your attitude at work

You can add or detract so much to your own work experience. If you come in with a sour attitude or always see THEM as wrong and you as right, you are the one who loses out. I remember a woman I worked with, who was extremely bright and talented. But she spent each day feeling slighted and telling people off. And then she was angry when people didn’t want to work with her or she got passed over for a promotion.

Attitude is a matter of perspective and perspective matters. If you heard the story from that member of staff, you would get a woeful tale of all kinds of hurts and slights. But a good tool is to try telling the story from someone else’s point of view – a powerful way to re-frame what’s happening so you can start to see ways you might change your game plan.

Hint: It’s not always THEM, and even if it is, the power to change is still mostly in your hands.

4. When emotions hold you prisoner

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you find yourself getting caught up in a rush of anger or frustration. In one of my first jobs, I found out a co-worker I trusted was working to undermine me. I was so cross that instead of working smart, I just sat around complaining and feeling upset with everyone. Meanwhile, there were other people I could have built alliances with and there were things I could have done to improve my own standing. But I let my anger cloud my vision. I don’t recommend it as a career plan.

At times like these, remember your power to choose and help change things for yourself. And also remember that letting your emotions control you takes the control out of your hands.

5. Beware the blame game

The blame game is when you point your finger at everyone and everything except yourself, blaming the world for your misfortunes. As I’ve mentioned before, when you get caught up in emotions or useless behaviours, you lose precious time and perspective that could be helping you create a more enjoyable experience for yourself in this job and in future jobs.

Now it’s important to vent at times and to both acknowledge and discuss your feelings (preferably to a friend or partner), but if your days are filled with blame and venting at the workplace, you’re only setting yourself up for more dissatisfaction. People react to who they see and not who you really might be or what you could offer them. What they see is the impression of what they will get.

6. Being right just doesn’t matter

“Of course it does!” I hear one or two of you shouting. Oh…sure it feels great. But if you spend your day being caught up in being right – and making sure everyone knows you are – you’re focusing on the wrong things and you’ll only end up diverting yourself from getting ahead.

In the workplace actions speak louder than words. Prove your worth not by being right all the time but by being someone who helps things get done and problems solved. Down the road, people will see you know what you’re doing. You don’t have to be right in every case to be extremely effective and appreciated.

7. Seeing possibility

When we get our heads out of seeing the anger and hurt and all that is missing in our work lives, we open up to seeing what might turn into real opportunity. Possibility is all around us if we just learn how to look for it.

The secret of emotional intelligence is to stop focusing on all you don’t have and all you aren’t getting. Look instead for what you can achieve and how you can do this with grace and compassion. You carry emotional intelligence within you at all times. See if you can find some ways to draw on its power.

Lucy Brazier, OBE is one of the world’s leading authorities on the administrative profession. Author of ‘The Modern-Day Assistant: Build Your Influence and Boost Your Potential’, she is the CEO of Marcham Publishing, a global force synonymous with world- ... (Read More)

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