People Management
7 min.

Emotional Intelligence at work: Top Managers’ Secret Weapon

Andrée-Anne Blais-Auclair
Last updated on 6 Dec. 2023
Published on 8 Dec. 2020
Gestionnaire avec une intelligence émotionnelle développée lui permettant de mieux gérer son équipe de travail
Gestionnaire avec une intelligence émotionnelle développée lui permettant de mieux gérer son équipe de travail

It is said that two thirds of a business’s success is due to the emotional intelligence of those who manage it.

Table of contents

A lack of emotional intelligence at work can undermine a whole organization. It can manifest itself through a number of adverse impacts, including resistance to change, the mismanagement of conflicts, and a decline in team morale and motivation.

Emotional intelligence is what allows us to put our emotions to good use, and to manage our thoughts and behaviors appropriately, in order to achieve our goals.

Through developing great emotional intelligence, managers come to master the art of motivating and positively influencing their teams. Their relations with their staff become more harmonious and authentic, and communication is improved. What more could you ask for?

This post will :

  • explain what emotional intelligence is and why it is important
  • present 9 habits to develop emotional intelligence at work

Managers, Please Leave Your Ego at the Door!

To maintain good relations with people, managing our own baggage is imperative. To do so, you have to be aware of your own feelings. This is what we call self-awareness.

Should Bosses Get Along With Everyone?

Have you ever had an employee challenge your management methods during a meeting? Naturally, this could undermine your credibility. It is therefore difficult not to take it personally. You want to look good, after all.

That being said, as a manager, you should keep something in mind: you can’t have everybody like or approve of you. By realizing this, you’ll acknowledge that such behavior does not put into question your personal or professional value.

Confidence: A Weapon of Mass Persuasion

A manager friend of mine once told me about a brilliant—but highly opinionated—employee of his. During team meetings, that employee often told him that his planning wouldn’t work. He would even go so far as to say that his ideas made no sense whatsoever.

Rather than taking it hard and putting his employee back in his place, the manager didn’t let it get to him.

He played a bit of a game instead: “Alright Stephen, I see you would like to give your input on the question, and I’m interested in hearing you out. What would you like to bring to the table?”

This impressed the manager’s soundness, poise, and openness to criticism upon the rest of the team.

A very clever approach, perhaps, but a difficult one! This attitude shows great work on oneself, which would be impossible without this all-important self-awareness trait.

💡 Both the workplace and management positions are strewn with moments of doubt and fluctuating emotions. Accept your feelings, and try to find out where they come from to better defuse them. Learn to bolster your confidence and to be sensitive to what might rattle it.

Impulsiveness: A Good Manager’s Nemesis

Self-control (or self-management) is the ability to keep one’s emotions and impulses in check. In other words, it’s about acting in a responsible and thought-out way.

An ex boss of mine was smart, charismatic, and loved by everyone… except when the pressure got to him. He once addressed the whole team with a hostile tone, using aggressive words. He then convened a meeting several hours later. The agenda? To change EVERYTHING! 😛  He changed his mind shortly after, when he had calmed down.

Of course, this is the kind of situation that undermines a boss’s credibility, as well as their team’s trust in them. If you can’t control yourself, you simply cannot hope to make your team feel secure.

One who cannot manage oneself cannot manage others.

Conversely, a considerate leader would tell his team that he’s particularly busy, causing him to experience more stress. He could explain that this might make him less emotionally and professionally available for the next few days. This would give him the requisite hindsight to eventually make himself available again. It would also keep him from being bombarded with further requests and cracking under the pressure.

💡 People who can self-regulate—manage their feelings by themselves—are able to wait for their emotions to simmer down before taking action. Make it a habit to take a step back before speaking or making decisions, especially when you’re having a hard time. Take the distance you need to let reason prevail.

Empathy: The Manager’s Core Ability

Empathy is the capacity to consider others with awareness and understanding. It is of use in any and all interactions with your team, and is essential to conflict resolution.

Studies show that 99% of millennial employees see feedback as necessary, and are disappointed by a lack of transparent conversations with their employers. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

I once worked in a store of which the manager used weekly meetings to blatantly vent about what bothered him. He never told us about who he was complaining, but we could always tell. Needless to say, this behavior made for quite the toxic work environment. A prudent manager could’ve instead met individually with the interested parties, showing consideration to them while sparing everyone else the unease.

Embracing Difference

One of the biggest mistakes a manager can make is believing that everyone else thinks and is like them.

Maybe you wouldn’t mind a last-minute schedule change. But that doesn’t mean your employee wouldn’t. Ask them about it to better understand their reality.

Every person is different. We all have unique needs that are worth considering, as well as boundaries that are worth respecting.

💡 Empathy will let you interact with your staff and make them feel welcomed, heard, and considered. Should you find in yourself a tendency to make everything about you, get in the habit of reminding yourself that your employees are all different from each other—and that they’re neither better nor worse than each other for it. Show interest in your team, and ask them about themselves to gain a real sense of their reality.

The Ideal Manager Is, Above All, a Great Team Player

Behavioral adequacy includes sociability and the ability to work in a team, as well as to manage conflicts through collaboration. People with solid social skills tend to be well liked. After all, who doesn’t like to talk and work with someone who’s approachable, accessible, empathetic, and caring?

In yet another one of my previous work experiences, two of my coworkers had come into conflict. One wanted to let the dust settle before talking to the other again, but then received an email from the manager before she had the chance. The manager had shown a clear lack of distance. Not only did he explicitly take a side in the conflict, but he did so in writing, copying both employees in his email. Needless to say, his conduct demonstrated major deficiencies in his conflict resolution skills.

As a manager, your behavioral adequacy is everything. Your credibility depends on it. Learn to see conflicts as learning opportunities. Even though you may want to resolve conflicts as quickly as possible, foster collaboration by listening and sharing rather than driving a wedge between the parties by taking sides. In conclusion, be a team player. Be positive and bring people together.

9 Habits to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence at work

1. Find Yourself a Workplace Ally

Say you’re upset at a colleague. You tell others about it. They voice their support with the safe and classic “I-hear-ya” or “It’s-ridiculous-you’re-right.”

Plastic interactions like these do little to resolve anything; on the contrary, they might just further irritate you. What’s more, they prevent you from looking at the situation from a different point of view and dull the mood.

The goal here is to defuse your emotions so as to act rationally.

So, have someone become your emotional management ally; someone who can always lend an ear and that won’t hesitate to challenge your perception if need be. You will confide in this person—and no one else—when you feel the need to vent.

2. Prepare Your Conversations Ahead of Time

Emotional intelligence requires control over one’s feelings and the ability to display empathy. To prepare ahead of time for important or difficult conversations can help you cover those bases.

Say you have to let an employee know you’re unsatisfied with their performance, a prospect that makes you uncomfortable. Take the time to jot down the facts: what exactly is it about this employee’s performance that’s unsatisfying? Do they tend to come in late? Do they deal poorly with customers?

If you don’t know how to broach the subject, ask your fellow managers. Further, try to predict what questions the employee might have so you’re not caught off-guard.

Getting prepared like this will help you keep your emotional distance during the conversation, and will leave you free to focus on the employee and empathize with their point of view.

3. Become an Active Listener

Listening is the cornerstone of every conversation.

And so, to develop your emotional intelligence, merely “hearing” just doesn’t cut it: you must become good at listening.

Active listening makes you empathetic towards and available to those you engage with. It lets you better understand what it is that they’re trying to tell you while displaying both interest and sensitivity.

Proper active listening requires you to:

💡 Be available. Don’t play with your phone. In fact, just put it away, under lock and key. No distractions.

💡 Be empathetic. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Don’t think about how you would feel in the same situation; instead, try to truly get what they’re going through.

💡 Reformulate. Let the other person know that you understand by rephrasing what they’re telling you. Keep your interpretations to yourself.

4. Take a Step Back

An employee just told you that they’re not coming in… minutes before the start of their shift. You are rightly irritated, and you can tell it’ll be difficult not to let it show in front of the team. You get angrier still.

Instead of lashing out, isolate yourself immediately just for a while. Emphasis on immediately. Breathe (or whatever generally helps you calm down), and meet your team when you’re relaxed.

To keep your emotions from taking over, don’t hesitate to take a step back as necessary. It’s one of your best tools for autoregulation, an essential component of emotional intelligence.

5. Set Clear Boundaries

Failing to respect the boundaries you set for yourself can lead to frustration. Learning to better respect them gets easier with practice.

💡 If your inner voice says “no,” don’t resist. Just say no yourself.

💡 If you have trouble setting boundaries, start with baby steps. Say for example that a colleague invites you to go out for a walk but you don’t feel like it. Just give it to them straight instead of feigning that you’re unavailable.

💡 People instinctively see being turned down as rejection. Whenever you set a boundary, try and provide a simple reason. People will have an easier time accepting it if they understand.

6. Spot Your Weak Spots

Be it stress, fatigue, or criticism, we all have weaknesses. Discuss what irritates you with your colleagues and employees, and encourage them to do the same. That way, for example, if you barely had any sleep one night and that lack of sleep is your weak spot, your colleagues will understand why you might be keeping superfluous conversations to a minimum the following day.

Part of emotional intelligence is knowing oneself well enough to capitalize on one’s strengths—and minimize one’s weaknesses.

7. Practice Reframing

An old boss of mine made training “optional” for new hires. Ironically, the slew of questions he received as a consequence would irritate him, and he’d complain ad nauseam about the hirees’ lack of autonomy. After all, this was how he had himself started out, learning on the job. So he didn’t really question his approach.

To reframe a thought or an emotion is to explore it from different angles in order to reorient it.

In this particular situation, my boss could have started by asking himself why he felt so irritated by all these questions, and what kind of training he would’ve liked to get when he first started out. If he were in his employees’ shoes, would he ask any less questions?

8. Assert Yourself

Work on your self-esteem, because low self-esteem is commonly something that’ll keep people from asserting themselves. And without the ability to be assertive, one cannot be authentic in their interactions and truly live out their emotions without shame and embarrassment.

Stop being nice, start being real. Emotional intelligence isn’t dancing around uncomfortable situations and other peoples’ negative emotions.

Emotional intelligence is what allows us to put our emotions to good use, and to manage our thoughts and behaviors appropriately, in order to achieve our goals.” To present ourselves just as we are is absolutely necessary, even if others might not like it.

9. Overcome your Prejudices

Overcoming one’s prejudices is anything but easy. First, we should remind ourselves that every single person has prejudices. A prejudice is an impression, and everyone forms impressions.

That being so, you can learn to simply ignore your prejudices. Practice putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes. In any given situation, maybe you’d have made the same choices as them if you were in their shoes.

Emotional Intelligence at work, as a Way to Stand Out

Emotional intelligence is not innate. It is a developed skill that takes practice. What’s more, people with high emotional intelligence stand out. Their authenticity is refreshing, and their ease with emotions is impressive. They know how to make others comfortable and defuse conflicts handily. All the more reason for you to get started.

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