by Rachel Vilsack
Interpersonal communication and conflict resolution are skills that employers often mention as being desirable for their current and future employees. I often think of this as emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand emotions – in yourself and others – and to use this information to manage your behavior and relationships. Most of what makes us successful at work and in our relationships is emotional intelligence, not our IQ. On the job, emotional intelligence becomes a powerful tool when working in teams and managing interpersonal issues.
It Starts with You
Building emotional intelligence starts with knowing yourself. What are your emotional triggers? Maybe you get angry when someone cuts you off in traffic or frustrated at a co-worker who interrupts your workday with non-work related conversations. Our emotional brain can take over our thinking brain when threatened. And emotional habits become engrained neurological pathways. While allowing our emotional brain to lead us into action when we are in a life and death situation is likely to result in a better outcome, it has the potential to harm relationships if we aren’t aware that we are triggered.
Understanding emotional triggers is important because we have 10 to 15 seconds to identify them before they can have a lasting impact on our mood and thoughts. It can take up to six hours to recover after being triggered. More importantly, triggers impact how much our brains can process. We can use eight to 12 pieces of information when not triggered, but only one when we are triggered. This can really impact our performance.
Moving from Self to Relationships
Emotional intelligence doesn’t just end with the self. It can also help us manage relationships. This might include being aware of others by reading their signals and choosing to “turn in” to where they are. Think about stepping into someone else’s shoes, like your co-worker who wants to chat. Maybe the person is going through a difficult time and strikes up conversation as a way to connect with others. Or try acknowledging someone else’s feelings. Maybe the driver that cut you off was late for an important meeting. (We’ve all been there, right?)
That doesn’t mean that everyone gets a free pass; rather, you are working to change your reactive habit patterns. You can build trust with your co-worker by being honest about where you’re at emotionally. You might actually be under a deadline and can’t take time out to talk to your co-worker right now. Set aside some time to talk later, if you are able. And you could suspend judgment on the driver that cut you off. The person may actually be very nice, and not a jerk! Focusing on your emotional intelligence can be a powerful tool in any personal or professional situation.
Stay tuned this month for special articles on emotional intelligence in the workplace.