Tips on Developing Emotional Intelligence for Every HR Professional

professional skills

Emotional intelligence is an HR buzzword that has received a lot of attention over the past few years, especially because many believe that it can be improved. Read on to learn how to develop emotional intelligence in your workplace.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) is how we understand and control our emotions, as well as handle relationships. People with high EQ generally understand how to work with others and are perceived as having better social skills. Many psychologists believe that, unlike IQ, EQ can be improved over time. Read on to learn both short-term and long-term ways to improve EQ and promote emotional intelligence at work.

Improving EQ

Improving EQ starts with the first word - emotional. We must be aware and know our own emotions to be able to deal with them and ultimately change them. This is also known as intrapersonal intelligence, as it takes place within yourself. Many times, we are used to brushing aside our emotions and moving on during the day instead of spending time thinking about how we feel. Additionally, we may try to avoid certain emotions - frustration, anger, fear. These emotions must be felt and identified before they can be altered, so long-term EQ improvement requires increased intrapersonal skills.

Short Term & Long Term

Even if you're still working on improving your EQ, you can start to manage some of the symptoms of low EQ right away. This will improve how you are perceived in the workplace in the short term. Many of these short-term solutions deal with improving interpersonal skills, or interactions that take place between multiple people; interpersonal skills are easiest to improve. Practicing these short-term solutions can slowly change the way you think and react, help you make a habit out of being more emotionally intelligent in interpersonal situations, and ultimately lead to long-term change.

People with high EQ are generally seen as better team members. Let's start by thinking about the ideal co-worker, employee or teammate. What traits do they possess?


Generally, people don't enjoy working with those who have extreme emotional reactions such as crying or yelling. Similarly, if you react to certain emails or phone calls with a snippy or sarcastic response, people might start leaving you out of the loop, or dreading communicating with you. So how can you work on appearing more even-tempered in the workplace?


Short Term

First of all, take a breath. Usually these reactions are just that - reactions. Before you open your mouth or hit send on an email, ask yourself if you are going to say something constructive or helpful. If not, it might be best to wait to say something. Remember that not everything requires your response.

Long Term

To improve these reactions in the long term, think about your emotions. If you receive an email that makes you want to write a snarky response, think about why. Was it the sender? The time of day that the email was received? The subject of the email? Once you know the reason why, identify the emotion itself that you were feeling when you wanted to respond. Why was that your emotional response? When you are more aware of your emotions and their triggers, you can better process them instead of lashing out.

Thinks about Others

It can be easy to only respond to what people say and do, rather than think through the cause behind their words and actions. However, most people have teams and co-workers to consider every day, and no one wants to work with someone who is only looking out for themselves or never listens to other people's ideas. Developing empathy can take time, but what can you do to put yourself in someone else's shoes right now?

Short Term

Listening is one of the best ways to develop empathy. However, many people forget that that there is a difference between hearing and listening. I might hear your suggestion, but listening is more active and conscious. If I hear a suggestion that I think is ridiculous, I might dismiss it outright. However, if I am listening to the suggestion, I might want to respond and ask why that is the suggestion while noting tones and gestures. This doesn't mean that you must agree with everything that is said or done, but you can appreciate why it was said or done.


Long Term

If you have been hesitant to accept suggestions from others, there might be a reason why. Rather than looking for the best solution to a problem, you might just want everyone to accept your solution. This is not a team approach. Remember that your co-workers and team members all have something to bring to the table given their unique set of skills and experiences. Show an interest in your co-workers and build relationships, and empathy will follow.

Receptive to Feedback

Being able to accept feedback can be very challenging, particularly for managers who have been groomed to exude a certain level of confidence. It can be difficult to reconcile this confidence with the admission that you can improve yourself in some way. However, being able to accept feedback shows others that you know you can improve and, most importantly, that you want to do so. It also demonstrates humility, a trait especially important in managers. How can you be more receptive to feedback?

Short Term

Don't be defensive. Know that you are receiving feedback not as a criticism, but because someone wants to help you improve. Instead of trying to justify each less-than-positive action you have taken, think about the feedback before you respond. Even if you think you have a good reason for the way you acted, it may be the action itself that can be improved. In short, accept responsibility for your actions as you are solely in control of them.

Long Term

People who are more self-aware, or know their own weaknesses and strengths, generally have a higher EQ. Understanding where you can improve in certain areas will increase your self-awareness, as you may have been acting somewhat unconsciously. Also, don't just think about the feedback itself, but think about why it might be challenging for you to accept feedback. Is it the admission of weakness in certain areas? Again, what emotions are being elicited when you receive feedback? What is triggering those emotions?


Improving EQ in Others

While many people believe that EQ can be improved, there are still going to be some people who are able to improve more than others. Some people will practice tennis for hours everyday but will never be Serena Williams, and some people will work on improving their EQ but not make as much progress as their peers who are taking the same steps. Additionally, people must want to change and improve their EQ - like all self-improvement, the individual must be self-motivated.

If your workplace is new to the concept of EQ, consider hosting a training on emotional intelligence in the workplace. It may be a new concept to many, and just bringing awareness to the idea may impact the workplace dynamic. You can then follow up with a training specifically on emotional intelligence for supervisors.


Some employees will need more personal attention to develop their EQ. The Harvard Business Review suggests that you must first establish a baseline for your employee through coaching tools such as personality tests and feedback instruments. You must talk with them to find out their goals, and then establish an EQ learning plan. It is not an overnight process, but it is one that can lead to a stronger employee and, ultimately, a stronger workplace.

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
March 2018
professional skills hr professional development

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