(Melinda Garcia is a registered psychologist who played an integral role within the R&D team that developed Emotify, an emotional intelligence assessment.)
Emotions play an incredibly important role in workplace behavior. As human beings, we experience a variety of complex emotions throughout our working day. Our emotions impact how we communicate, manage stress, respond appropriately to clients and customers, and also our ability to display leadership behaviors such as prioritizing, managing others, providing feedback, and making complex decisions.
When it comes to hiring, it’s increasingly important to look for employees who are emotionally intelligent. This is even more true when hiring for leadership or customer-facing roles.
So, what does emotional intelligence (EI) look like in action? And what kinds of behaviors can we expect to see if we hire emotionally intelligent people?
1. They recognize how others are (really) feeling
While estimates vary, it’s generally agreed that the actual words spoken during an interaction account for around 10% of the information that’s exchanged. The rest comes from non-verbal cues such as our tone of voice, our body language, and our facial expressions.
People with strong EI tend to read both body language and facial expressions more accurately. They can spot the difference between genuine and non-genuine body language, such as a fake versus a real smile. They’re also attuned to differences between words and body language, such as when a comment like “Sure, I’m fine” is not actually the case.
2. They express emotions effectively
Emotionally intelligent people can be very good at identifying how they’re feeling and, as a result, express their emotions more accurately.
Some examples of this skill would include being able to set the right tone when they have to deliver difficult news to someone, or being able to send the right signals to others to get the help they themselves need.
3. They match their mood to the task
Have you ever paused for a moment before switching tasks to make sure you’re in the right frame of mind for what’s coming next?
Emotionally intelligent people can deliberately change their mood to match their task. For example, brainstorming and thinking outside the box can be easier when we’re in a positive mood.
On the flip side, if the situation calls for more careful and critical thinking, a negative or serious mood is often more conducive to results. This awareness of the right mood or frame of mind for specific tasks is also a great way to boost productivity.
4. They can empathize
Empathy is an incredibly important skill in most situations, and particularly for roles that require interaction and/or collaboration with other people. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and see and feel things from the other person’s perspective.
In particular, people working in customer-facing roles should have a high degree of empathy. They need to be able to understand what the customer is feeling, to see the situation from their perspective, and then to respond in the most appropriate way.
5. They can predict how someone is likely to react
Emotionally intelligent people understand how emotions change and progress over time and within a situation or circumstance. This means they can predict how someone is likely to respond to a situation or to particular news.
For example, they know that if someone is feeling frustrated and the situation is not resolved soon, things are likely to escalate. This knowledge means they can approach situations more appropriately because they can foresee the other person’s likely reaction.
6. They understand the cause of emotions
The ability to understand the cause of particular emotions is incredibly powerful information. It helps us to determine why someone is feeling a certain way. And if we understand the cause of emotions, we can get more insight into what’s actually happening for someone at a particular time.
For example, if a team member is sad, an emotionally intelligent manager might know that they are feeling a sense of loss over something important to them. Conversely, if a teammate is angry, an emotionally intelligent colleague might understand that they feel a sense of injustice.
7. They think before they react
We’ve all worked with someone who is unpredictable in how they react to things – it depends on their mood, the day, their stress levels – and they can have their colleagues walking on eggshells.
Emotionally intelligent people tend to respond appropriately to emotional situations, and don’t tend to have outbursts or lash out at others. They tend to be more even-tempered, to think clearly under pressure, and to take the time to feel their way through a problem rather than reacting in the moment.
8. Their decisions include thinking and feeling
Emotions contain data and information about people and situations. If we ignore emotions because they’re negative or uncomfortable, we can miss important information about an interaction or situation.
Emotionally intelligent people are open to all emotions and use them in their thinking and decision making, and they know that emotions can help inform them on the best way forward.
I believe our priorities as employers are changing: while it used to be acceptable to hire or promote based on intelligence, experience, or skills, businesses are increasingly understanding the importance of emotions at work. We’re realizing how important emotional intelligence is across all aspects of work, and especially within roles that require interacting and collaborating with others.
As well as that, we’re also recognizing that EI has cascading repercussions for our most critical metrics, such as productivity and engagement. But perhaps that’s a blog for another day.