“How does that make me feel?”
“What might Kevin think?”
“Why is Rachael reacting like that?”
If you’ve ever pondered questions like this, you’re tapping into your emotional intelligence (EI) – the ability to understand, express and manage your own and other people’s feelings.
As a leader, developing emotional intelligence has many benefits – it allows you to better communicate with and relate to your team, as well as improve motivation and your management skills.
- The phrase “emotional intelligence” became popular following Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ, which was originally published in 1995.
- How well you can interpret and deal with emotions varies from person to person, so some people are naturally good at it while others are not as lucky.
- But emotional intelligence can be taught, and those who develop it through training benefit just as much as those who are naturally gifted.
What are the five stages of improving emotional intelligence?
There are five key parts to emotional intelligence:
- Self-awareness: understanding your thoughts and feelings
- Self-regulation: considering and controlling your emotions and behaviour
- Motivation: why people think, feel or do certain things
- Empathy: understanding the thoughts and feelings of others
- Social skills: interacting with others and relating to their emotions
If you are aware of how you feel and why you think a certain way, you will be more confident in your ability to make decisions and express yourself.
As a leader, it’s important to be self-aware as understanding your feelings, how others perceive you and what you want to achieve builds trust and confidence. It can also teach you to value the opinions of others, which is essential when it comes to teamwork and problem solving.
Alim and Riley each manage a marketing team. Riley has a low level of emotional intelligence, so when their workplace implements new software Riley doesn’t recognise that they’re frustrated and simply need training. Instead they decide the software is overly complicated and begin to feel inadequate, which affects their own – and their team’s – motivation and efficiency.
On the other hand, Alim regularly practises self-awareness. This allows him to recognise that he’s uncomfortable using the new software, so he requests training for himself and his team to improve their understanding.
While being aware of what you think and how you feel is a great start, you next need to consider how thoughts and emotions influence your behaviour, and control your impulsive reactions.
Being able to self-regulate can help you have a clear head when workplace pressures start mounting up, or when something doesn’t go as planned. It also helps minimise misunderstandings and your team will feel more comfortable coming to you for help and advice as they know you’ll be rational and understanding.
Going back to our example leaders, Alim has set up a brainstorming session using the company’s new software, which allows all members of his team to put forward ideas for a business pitch. Alim is able to acknowledge and then put aside his immediate reactions to some of the suggestions and calmly discuss the pros and cons of each. This allows his team to methodically narrow down their options before deciding on a course of action together.
Conversely, Riley impulsively disagrees with a pitching idea that team member, Manon, has written out. The discussion is becoming increasingly emotional – Riley is so frustrated that they’re unable to clearly articulate why Manon’s idea is impractical, leading to tension within the team and a reluctant agreement to use Riley’s hastily thought-up plan.
Motivation is what drives you to say or do something. There’s intrinsic motivation – doing something because you are curious and/or enjoy it – and extrinsic motivation, which means doing something because of a reward or pressure.
Figuring out what motivates your team can inspire them to be more communicative, improve morale and make for a more effective team.
Take Alim and Riley. Both teams are working on their respective pitches. Riley’s team are already at a disadvantage due to the lingering tension, lack of clarity around their pitching plan and little encouragement from their leader. This leads to a lack of care and motivation.
Alim’s team have also agreed on an idea. As he openly listened to and valued his teammates’ opinions, everyone is keen to work hard on this pitch as they feel personally invested in it and responsible for the team’s success. Alim has also managed to negotiate a budget for a team meal after the pitch, to further motivate his colleagues with an incentive.
Empathy is being able to recognise, relate to and respond to the feelings of others. This empathy allows you to feel comfortable in social situations, recognise power dynamics and develop good relationships.
For example, Alim’s notices his team member, Chloe, seems nervous about their upcoming business pitch and mentions it in their one-to-one meeting. Chloe confirms that herself and a few other team members don’t feel confident enough to present. As Alim was tuned in to Chloe’s emotions, they’re able to discuss what training is available and set up some extra practice sessions to ensure their pitch runs smoothly on the day.
On the other hand, rival team leader Riley does not recognise (or perhaps is intentionally ignoring) the tension within the group. This discomfort has led to a breakdown in communication which results in a disorganised presentation and Alim’s team ultimately win the pitch.
5. Social skills
Social skills are crucial for good leadership, as it means you better understand how your colleagues feel which can be useful when considering how to inspire your team, manage conflict and deal with critical feedback.
💡Social skills Example💡
In our example scenario, Alim’s team has a post-pitch meeting to discuss what went well, what didn’t, and what can be improved upon. This gives the team a chance to provide feedback in a constructive environment and strengthen their social skills through open communication.
Riley has the same idea, except he doesn’t possess the social skills necessary to hold himself accountable for some of the problems that led to the pitch failing. This leads to further resentment and a lack of trust in their leader.
Recognising the discord, Alim uses his social skills to encourage Riley into opening up about the problems within his team. After discussing the matter, he suggests an emotional intelligence course to help Riley and his team reconnect and better understand each other.
While you may often see articles and guidance referring to four stages of emotional intelligence, Goleman lists empathy and social awareness separately in his theory, but they can be regarded as two sides of the same coin.
Now we’ve discussed the five stages of developing your emotional intelligence – and the differences between high and low emotional intelligence – it’s time to take a look at how you can improve on these skills to become a stronger leader.
How can you develop your emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence can be developed through training . But before you start, it’s a good idea to first assess your (and your team’s) level of competence for each of the five stages. This will help each of you focus on which aspects of emotional intelligence you need to improve.
To assess your skill level for each of the five stages, gather insights from recent relevant experiences – for example, a presentation you gave, a project you worked on or even a team-building day. A few useful questions to ask yourself include:
- Self-awareness: How did you feel? Were you aware of these feelings at the time?
- Self-regulation: How did your emotions influence how you behaved? Did you pause to consider your thoughts and feelings, or react impulsively?
- Motivation: Do you know what motivates you and each member of your team? Were you motivated in that situation?
- Empathy: Do you consider, relate or respond to others’ feelings? Do you feel comfortable understanding one’s problems or negative feelings?
- Social awareness: How do you think your team felt? How did they react and did it change the team dynamic?
Now that you have assessed which areas of emotional intelligence you and your team need to work on, it’s time to take a look at the types of training available.
What type of emotional intelligence training can help?
At TSW, we offer our very own expert-led emotional intelligence training course, which includes modules on:
- Identifying your personal values and preferences for communication and decision-making.
- Developing coping strategies for regulating your own behaviour.
- Finding your own ‘why’, your real motivators to use whenever you want to motivate others.
- Developing your ability to be empathic through empathic listening
- Exploring the strengths and limitations of your own preferences for communication.
Our emotional intelligence training course also has a few extras to supplement the main course, including:
- Supplementary Reading Materials: Dive deeper into the world of emotional intelligence with our curated collection of eBooks, articles, and case studies, designed to enrich your understanding and provide you with additional insights and strategies to apply in your personal and professional life.
- Emotional Intelligence Toolkit: Receive a comprehensive toolkit packed with practical tools, templates, and exercises to help you apply your emotional intelligence skills in real-life situations. This invaluable resource will serve as a constant reminder and guide on your journey towards personal and professional success.
- Lifetime Course Material Access: Enjoy unlimited access to the course materials, so you can revisit and refresh your understanding whenever you need a boost in your emotional intelligence journey.
What exercises can be undertaken to improve your emotional intelligence?
Alongside a training course, you might like to incorporate a few exercises and activities into your routine or team meetings to help build on your emotional intelligence.
💡Emotional intelligence and personality tests:💡
- TSW’s emotional intelligence test
- Icebreakerideas’ emotional intelligence quiz
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test
- The 7 learning styles and what they mean for your team
- Using Belbin’s team roles to help improve performance
💡Guidance and activities to improve your emotional intelligence:💡
- Johari Window model to improve communication at work
- Improve self-confidence for you and your team
- Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the workplace
- Vroom’s expectancy theory: work out what motivates your team
- Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing – Tuckman’s stages of team development
- Robert Plutchik’s emotion wheel
- Florida State University’s emotional intelligence workbook
- Nottingham University’s emotional intelligence in the workplace workbook
- 27 activities to improve self-awareness
- 5 questions to double your emotional intelligence
- NHS STOPP worksheet for improving self-regulation
- Better your self-regulation using radical acceptance workbook
What else can you do to improve your emotional intelligence?
As well as training and activities, there are more casual ways you can improve your emotional intelligence throughout your day, such as by incorporating mindfulness, trying expression therapy, watching TED talks, listening to podcasts and reading books on the subject.
#1. Everyday actions
Improving your emotional intelligence doesn’t have to start and end in the workplace. There are ways you can work on it no matter where you are, and whether you’re undergoing this journey alone or with friends, family or your co-workers. If your team can see that you’re more confident, empathetic and motivated, this can inspire them to improve their own emotional intelligence.
You can begin by simply being mindful – this means taking notice of what you see, hear, smell, touch and taste. For example, you could incorporate a short daily walk into your routine, or regularly take a few minutes to look out the window at work and focus on what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness is just one form of meditation, and there are plenty of other ways you can meditate. These include clearing your mind of all thoughts, focussing on a particular object and allowing your mind to naturally wander or thinking about each body part in turn and considering how it feels. Even something simple like going for a walk or journaling can be a form of meditation. All that matters is finding what works for you and each individual in your team.
💡A fun way to improve your emotional intelligence💡
A fun team exercise to improve your emotional intelligence could be a tech-free workshop or event. This is where you put away phones, laptops, powerpoints and all other kinds of distractions and focus on an activity which can strengthen relationships and improve understanding.
A few examples include playing board games, trying an escape room, or organising an outing away from the office, such as to a nearby park or public work space. You might be surprised at how much you learn about your team by just changing the environment!
#2. Expression therapy
Expression therapy means participating in a creative activity – like painting, dancing, writing or making music – to analyse your thoughts, feelings and actions.
You could join a music, dance or amateur dramatics club. This could help you gain insights into how you and others feel by, for example, interpreting the music you are drawn to on that particular day, or creating a dance routine based on a particular action or emotion. You could even role play various ways a person could react in different situations. If you’re planning this as a team activity, check everyone is willing as some may feel uncomfortable performing in this way.
💡Get creative and express yourself💡
As a less intimidating alternative, you could organise a drawing or painting exercise for your team, perhaps to help troubleshoot a problem, express ideas or to illustrate how the week has gone and how everyone is feeling.
A group writing task could be creating a folded story – each group member picks a topic for their story and writes a few sentences. They then fold the paper over so only the last sentence is visible and pass it on to the next person to add a few sentences of their own. Repeat this until everyone has contributed to the story. When complete, take it in turns unfolding each paper and reading the story out loud. You should encourage creative discussion, for example “what do you think about the character behaving like this?” and “how do you feel about this action?”.
This could also be applied to making art – each person picks a topic or theme and everyone takes turns contributing to the drawing or painting.
Expression therapy can be a great way to approach problem solving, address tension, discuss emotions and encourage your team to better understand each other.
#3. Agile Retrospectives
Another way to build yours and your team’s emotional intelligence could be through an Agile Retrospective. Some people find talking about their thoughts and feelings daunting, so a work-focussed activity like a Retrospective can help your team open up and communicate more effectively.
A Retrospective – sometimes called a ‘retro’ – is a meeting in which your team can reflect on a specific period of time – every two weeks is recommended.
💡Reflect and communicate more often💡
Make sure everyone has paper or post-it notes and coloured markers or pencils. Then ask your team:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What can be improved?
Allow five minutes per question for everyone to write or draw their answers and then spend 10 minutes discussing the responses for each one.
This gives everyone an equal opportunity to talk and practise active listening. It can improve your team’s social awareness by providing insights into each other’s behaviour and feelings in a structured way, without getting too personal.
Podcasts and TED Talks on emotional intelligence
Here are five of our favourite podcasts discussing emotional intelligence:
- Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence 101
- Understanding Emotions podcast
- Emotions Mentor podcast
- Mindset Monday podcast
- This Spotify playlist of emotional intelligence podcasts
And here are our five favourite TED Talks on emotional intelligence:
- You Aren’t at the Mercy of Your Emotions – Your Brain Creates Them
- Why aren’t we more compassionate?
- 6 Steps to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
- The light and dark of emotional intelligence
- How to practise emotional hygiene
Books about emotional intelligence
Still not had enough? Here’s our top five list of books about emotional intelligence:
- Quick Emotional Intelligence Activities for Busy Managers: a handy book with 50 exercises to improve your team’s emotional intelligence.
- Emotional Intelligence For Dummies: an anecdotal and lighthearted explanation of emotional intelligence, how to spot it and ways to improve it.
- Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence: a collection of Daniel Goleman’s articles on leadership and emotional intelligence.
- The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: a helping hand to understand and develop your emotional skills to become a better leader, with actionable methods to use in your workplace.
- 105 Tips for Creating an Emotionally Intelligent Organization: practical ways to encourage employees to empathise with each other, improve collaboration and motivation.
- The Top 10 Books & Other Resources About Emotional Intelligence – recommended reading by Matthew Channel, TSW Training