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Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Raphael Amato

Have you ever left a meeting and replayed an unsatisfactory conversation in your head?

Left a difficult exchange with someone and wished that you had not reacted?

Or perhaps wanted to say something and held back?

Have you ever found yourself really struggling to hold back your reaction faced with someone you disagree with?

You are not alone.  These are common struggles we all face in our daily lives that can easily drain us of our vitality and energy. 

Is there a way to:                               

  • deal more effectively with “difficult people”?
  • respond to conflict with positive energy?
  • face uneasy situations in a calm manner with reduced anxiety?

Outside In vs Inside Out

In difficult situations, we often experience the world from “outside in”.  Someone does something that causes a reaction, “if only they had not gotten angry at me” or “if they acted responsibly, they would have ...”, “if only my boss had common sense”.  All of these are statements where our reactions are linked to an external event.

In reality, we live the world from “inside out” - our internal reactions emanate from within.  David Rock (2010) in his new book, “Your Brain at Work”, presents compelling research that points to the ‘internal work’ we need to do to respond more effectively and in a manner that fosters collaboration, particularly in difficult exchanges and situations.  Rock states that we have a period of about three seconds when we can “catch” ourselves reacting and choose a more effective and collaborative response.  These difficult situations cause us to get “hooked”  - getting unhooked compels us to look inward.

This is the realm of Emotional Intelligence.

Daniel Goleman: A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.  (Salovey and Mayer, 1990)

Angry reflection-300x199Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is not about letting your feelings hang out; rather it is the ability to understand and acknowledge the impact of emotions and to acknowledge them in yourself and others, in order to foster collaboration and high performance.  

“Relationships are the very heart and soul of an organization’s ability to get any job done”. (Ron Short, 1998)

High EQ starts with Personal Mastery

Somehow we have come to call the ability to work with others “soft skills” when in fact they are the hardest skills to learn.  With emotional intelligence you move from managing others to managing yourself with others

EQ postulates that there are two fundamental competencies:

  • personal competencies
  • social competencies

The fundamental building block of EQ is personal mastery.  At the heart of personal mastery is the ability to be self-aware and self-reflective.  Are you aware of the potential impact of your behavior?  Are you aware of the part you play in a difficult situation? Or in conflict?

Did you know that when you are listening to someone, you are usually listening to two people; the speaker and all of your internal responses and reactions?  Learning how to choose our response - and to not simply react automatically - is the result of our ability to be self-aware. 

We must actively cultivate the ability to observe ourselves in action.

Why?  Because, the greater the emotional intensity in a situation, the more you need the capacity to observe yourself.  

While our IQ changes little over our life-span, research indicates that we can increase our EQ.

In closing, here is a wonderful quote that captures the importance of becoming self-aware:

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their impact”.
(John Wallen quoted by Ron Short, 1998)



EI is a topic that has interested me for some time. I agree being fully with the vital importance that personal mastery plays (for more on this I highly recommend reading Peter Senge’s acclaimed book The Fifth Discipline). You also make an important observation that each of us is capable of improving our EI (EQ).

By Jim Taggart on 2010/10/08

Thanks for your comments.  Personal mastery is like the pacesetter, the fundamental pieces on which all the other competencies are built on.  As you suggest, Peter Senge addresses it quite eloquently in the Fifth Discipline.  Recent research into how the brain functions is reinforcing this view.  David Rock addresses this in his latest book, “Your Brain at Work”.

By Raphael Amato on 2010/10/12

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Posted by Raphael Amato
Posted on October 8, 2010

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Categories: culture, hr & talent management, learning, organizational development