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Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Definition & Meaning

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  • 0:03 Emotional Intelligence at Work
  • 1:16 Elements of Emotional…
  • 2:05 How EI Shapes the Workplace
  • 3:40 Improving EI Skills…
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Millraney

Lisa has 27 years of experience treating speech, language, memory and swallowing disorders. She has a master's degree in speech pathology from Vanderbilt University.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a vital element of a successful business. In this lesson, we will look at exactly what EI is, how it shapes a workplace, and how managers and employees can learn to improve their EI skills.

Emotional Intelligence at Work

Successful companies are multi-dimensional. There are many factors that make a company stand out above the competition and perform well. One element is having management with good emotional intelligence, or EI for short. It is sometimes called EQ, to contrast with IQ or intellectual skill.

EI is the ability to understand and facilitate emotion. Bosses with good EI skills know how to display the correct type of emotions to their employees. They treat their employees fairly and behave maturely and responsibly.

A manager with poor EI may be intelligent and have the technical skills for the job, but he or she often makes poor decisions because of difficulty regulating their emotions. Managers with emotional intelligence are compassionate, empathetic, and excellent motivators. They do not overreact to issues, and they are calm in the face of turmoil.

Management with good EI skills have an influence throughout their workplace. They attract employees who also have good emotional intelligence, who in turn interact well with each other, with customers, and with other businesses they have to deal with in the course of work.

Elements of Emotional Intelligence

What exactly is EI? Most thinkers on the subject note these factors:

  • Empathy, the ability to note and respond to other people's motivations and needs
  • Self-awareness, the recognition of one's own strengths and weaknesses
  • Self-regulation, the ability to manage emotion and express it appropriately and usefully
  • Motivation, being driven internally, rather than just working for a paycheck
  • People skills, the ability to win others' respect and build rapport

These elements fall into one of two groupings, interpersonal intelligence (turned outward, interacting with others) and intrapersonal intelligence (turned inward, understanding and managing oneself).

How EI Shapes the Workplace

So, how does EI affect what goes on in a business? To get a glimpse, let's follow Maria. Her family's candy shop hasn't been thriving, and she isn't quite sure why. She decides to visit her friend Laney's bakery, which has been wildly successful, and just watch.

What Maria sees gives her pause. Laney spends a little time every day talking with each of her employees, and seems to have a grasp on the other people's feelings and motivations. When a cashier makes a mistake, Laney takes her aside. Maria thinks she probably would have fired the woman, but Laney explains later that the cashier cares for her elderly father and was up all night with him. Her fatigue understandably explains her error.

At lunchtime, Laney brings her thermos of soup and joins her employees. They talk and laugh, and when a young clerk brings up an idea for rearranging the bakery cases, everyone brainstorms the pros and cons. Maria can't imagine taking a critique from an inferior, but Laney gets the whole place involved in the decision. When a couple of employees start to argue, Laney intervenes and lets them know both their ideas have merit.

Clearly, Laney is a manager with terrific EI skills! She is interested in her workers and understands them, so she is more able to motivate them and inspire them to do their best. Their morale is high because they sense her respect. In turn, her respect for them enables her to take advantage of a great pool of knowledge and ideas and create new opportunities others might never recognize.

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