The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

“Describe a time when you had to complete multiple work assignments at once. How did you manage it?”

“What is something you said or did that had a positive impact on a teammate or customer?”

These are examples of questions you may be asked during a job interview. They are typically asked to allow you to demonstrate Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise and understand your own emotions and those of others, while also being able to manage your own feelings and supporting others with their own. When emotions are running high, decision-making and communication can be difficult. So, it can be useful to recognise when emotions have taken over and know how to manage them appropriately.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important in the workplace?

It will allow you to build a healthy relationship with your co-workers and your clients. It encourages you to understand yourself and another individual’s circumstance to ensure the work you are completing is right for your client/co-worker, and even yourself. Emotional Intelligence will also allow you to be more emotionally aware for all parties involved, whether this is regarding a sensitive situation or a personal matter that can affect your working day. So, how can that be applied in the insurance industry?

It is safe to say that a lot of dealings within financial services are through client-driven roles, i.e. customer service representatives, brokers, mortgage advisors etc. So how can you adapt Emotional Intelligence into your dealings with other people and why is it relevant? This article will focus on the key traits of this skill and how it can be used in your daily work life.

Daniel Goleman (1995) had a theory that there are five key traits of Emotional Intelligence: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills. These components seem self-explanatory – we often adopt these traits in our everyday lives, so, in theory, it should be naturally adopted into our work lives, right?

If you are anything like me, you may think that your ‘personality’ traits and dealings with difficult/sensitive topics will need to be different in work and outside of work. However, being personable at work is not a terrible thing, whether you are in a customer facing role or not, you will at some point of your working day have to speak to or help a fellow person. With that in mind, how do you ensure you are incorporating EQ within your workday? Let us look at the first component to Daniel Goleman’s theory, Self-Awareness.

Self-Awareness means being aware of your feelings and the impact your behaviour can have on others. Let’s put this into context – say you are having a difficult day at work, your case load is piling up, the system is crashing and to top it off, you’ve spilled your drink on your desk. This will naturally cause a negative reaction, like frustration. It is easy to get caught up in negative emotions, but ultimately not productive. It’s important to be aware of how your behaviour affects other people.

So, how do you ensure that your mood will not affect others around you? This is no magic answer to that, however, there are ways that may support you in avoiding a negative response. This is where Self-Regulation can come into play – to self-regulate involves knowing how to control and redirect your emotions and foresee the consequences of your actions.

How can you apply Self-Regulation? One factor to consider when you are self-regulating, is to have perspective on the situation, which in turn will allow you to problem-solve and create a plan to manage your time accordingly and manage your stress during the workday. It also will not hurt to communicate with your team members, whether you are an advisor or a leader; it will help others around you understand why you may be feeling negative. It may also be of a benefit as it will allow you talk out the problems of the day. It may be the case that if your workload has piled up, talking out a plan with someone can help you prioritise things – they may also be able to help you by taking some work from you if they have a little time.

There is also no harm in taking time for yourself, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed from the pressures of the day. Take a moment for yourself, whether that’s getting outside for five minutes to get some fresh air, or even just making a hot drink. Those couple of minutes away from your desk will be beneficial in the long run, allowing your mind to focus on something else and to re-focus on what needs to be done. Taking time out can also help you re-motivate yourself.

Motivation is defined as ‘utilising emotional factors to achieve goals, enjoy the learning process and persevere in the face of obstacles’. Practises for Motivation can include creating a reward system or challenging yourself by developing your professional skills, whether that’s learning a new skill that is relevant to your role or to a department you want to progress to. However, asking for motivation from a team member or team leader is not a bad thing either – it is easy to get wrapped up in negative emotions, so seeking external help may be needed. This can be a simple 5-minute conversation a work friend or a refocus meeting with your manager.

Working in a team can not only help you get through the day, but it will also allow you to work on your Empathy skills. Empathy means understanding another person’s emotions by putting yourself in their shoes and seeing it from their perspective.

There are three types of empathy that can be implemented in the workplace – emotional empathy is when you feel a certain emotion because someone else is feeling it. If you’re having a bad day and let your stress affect your team members, they could subconsciously start feeling stressed too because they are ‘feeding off your energy’. This can go the other way as well. Someone may come into work feeling demotivated and that energy can rub off on you.

The other two types of empathy are cognitive empathy (thinking more than feeling) and compassionate empathy, meaning to understand someone else’s emotions, and to respond effectively to empower them. These two skills can work together at times, and would be more beneficial to implement, especially for a team leader/manager. Being emotionally driven is not a bad thing; however, in the workplace, you must be aware of where the boundaries lie and not get too involved in a personal matter, whether it is your own or someone else’s. You need to support your team members in a professional manner, either by reassuring them that you understand how they feel but talk through their issues and coming up with resolutions and not allow their feelings affect their productivity and others. Or you may also want to introduce an incentive for your team to raise morale if it is a difficult day or offer positive feedback to those struggling.

This is where Social Skills come into play. By empathising and communicating with your team, you can manage the relationships you have with them and inspire them to overcome their ‘bad day’. Social Skills involves handling other people’s emotions effectively – this can be done by persuasion, conflict management, flexible management styles (understanding when to break the standard hierarchy and when to enforce it), while also promoting teamwork and building rapport within the team.

Emotional Intelligence is not about focusing on one or two of the skills mentioned above, it is about using them as a framework and implementing this throughout your workday, whether dealing with a customer, working within a group or leading a team. By practising Emotional Intelligence, you are allowing yourself to understand and manage your own emotions, while also helping others around you.

About the author

Alexandra joined the RWA team from 2021-2023. She has 10 years’ experience in customer-facing roles, having worked for large national companies including Lloyds Banking Group and British Gas.

She has experience in administration, responding to client queries and updating data records in line with Data Protection regulations. As Client Engagement Associate, Alexandra’s role involved building and maintaining excellent relationships with RWA’s e-Learning clients.

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