10 Ways Leaders Can Maintain and Improve Emotional Intelligence While Working From Home

As we continue to work from home in order to stay safe and healthy, executives and employers are likely considering some type of remote work to be a practice that will remain long past the end of the pandemic. We’ll likely see more positions go fully remote or hybrid now that we have structures in place to support such work. 

After all that 2020 has thrown at us, one thing is clear: It’s crucial (now more than ever before) to cultivate leadership teams that have a solid understanding of how their emotions and actions will affect that of their team members. Managers and supervisors will need to hone their own emotional intelligence and promote this essential skill within their workplaces to work towards collective healing and recovery brought on by the pandemic. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of emotional intelligence – sometimes referred to as emotional quotient or EQ – was first coined in the 1990s and has become a key component in the contemporary workplace. EQ includes several soft skills that help individuals identify and manage their own emotions, as well as those of other people. 

An emotionally intelligent person is highly conscious of their own state of emotions. When challenging emotions like frustration, disappointment, anger, sadness, etc. come up, an emotionally intelligent individual is able to name the feeling and cope with it effectively. In turn, these individuals are quicker to notice complex emotions in others as well and can help them manage these feelings, either outright or through subtle communication tactics. While some people come by this naturally, others do not – which means it’s important to note that EQ is a skill like any other. With practice and hard work, almost anyone can develop and strengthen their EQ. 

To begin assessing your current level of emotional intelligence, consider the following principles of EQ. Where do you have strengths, and where might you find room for improvement?

  • Self-awareness – the ability to recognize triggers and limitations in one’s own emotional landscape
  • Self-regulation – the ability to manage emotions without outward and/or inappropriate displays of emotion that could have a negative effect on one’s self or others
  • Motivation – the inner drive that comes from the sense of joy one experiences after an accomplishment
  • Empathy – the ability to recognize, understand and experience the emotions of another person
  • Social skills – the ability to negotiate and/or socialize with another person in a way that meets the needs of all involved

EQ vs. IQ

There are many key differences between Emotional Quotient (EQ) Intelligence Quotient (IQ). IQ allegedly refers to how “smart” an individual is, but it may be considered somewhat outdated in today’s fast-paced and dynamic world, as there are many ways to assess someone’s intelligence. 

Some of us are more gifted with emotional and interpersonal intelligence, while others may have a deficit in this area but soar in realms like logic and mathematical intelligence. Keep in mind that no one type of intelligence is better than the other. Any form of intelligence can be learned and/or practiced, and EQ is no different. 

The Risks of Not Using Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

As our workplace environments continue to adapt rapidly, mostly thanks to the pandemic, now is the perfect time to work on your emotional intelligence skills in regard to how they fit in with your professional life. If you lead your team without placing a heavy emphasis on using your EQ, you risk falling behind your peers. 

Surveys have shown that hiring managers are prioritizing EQ in recruitment and interviewing processes now more than ever. This is because teams full of individuals with high EQ are more likely to support a positive and healthy company culture. 

In order to attract talent with high EQ, companies are learning the importance of making sure they lead by example by being open and transparent with employees and new recruits. Overall, teams made up of individuals with high EQ work better together and are able to adjust to change and remain flexible in hard times. As the workplace continues to adapt to the pandemic into 2021, this will be crucial. 

Here are some top reasons why organizations need to improve their EQ or risk being left behind:

  • Human needs: Humans crave belonging and acceptance. The world is rapidly advancing, and the workforce is adapting. The need to belong is coming more into focus as technology makes it easier and easier to feel isolated.
  • Work-life balance: These days, people tend to bring work home. However, they also bring more personal issues into work more than they did a few decades ago when there was a clear demarcation between work and home/family time. Technology makes it easier to blend the two.
  • Improved employer-employee relations: Work is less transactional, as the “punch in, punch out” lifestyle is nearly a thing of the past. Employers who see their employees as people who just show up to provide labor risk high turnover.
  • Younger workers demand change: As Generation Z enters the workforce, they are demanding that they bring their talents to empathetic work spaces. With the rise of the gig economy, they are more willing to hold out on sharing their skills.

How Emotional Intelligence Improves Remote Work

In the context of remote work, there are a few special considerations to keep in mind while exploring EQ. All of the traumas and losses that have come along with the pandemic can affect the way we work, and many people are struggling to juggle every area of their lives this year, even after all these months have passed. 

Leading remote workers with EQ is crucial, because their productivity or creativity has likely taken hits this year, and in order to re-stoke that flame in your employees, you must empathize with them. According to a recent Slack survey, about half of newly remote workers this year have felt that their sense of belonging has decreased, and isolation can cut employee motivation. 

Here are a few tips to work with unique employee needs brought on by unexpected remote work conditions:

  • Personalize and prioritize communication.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings via video chat.
  • Use group video meetings or conference calls more frequently than you used to so that employees can share experiences and feelings.
  • Find common ground with employees and team members.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate all successes, big and small.
  • Show empathy in the face of both first-hand or second-hand trauma. Remember, not all trauma looks the same. Trauma occurs when we aren’t ready for the emotions that come up with an event, so many of us are suffering all kinds of unique trauma responses, and this affects workplace productivity.

To learn about some leaders who have recently and successfully applied emotional intelligence in their businesses, consider these real-world remote work policy examples.

10 Exercises Leaders Can Do to Improve Emotional Intelligence

If you read this article and find that you have room for improvement when it comes to your EQ, then congratulations! You’re off to a really strong start by recognizing a need for growth. Here are some ways you can improve and practice emotional intelligence:

1. Collaborate and delegate.

Practice sharing the workload with your colleagues. There’s no need to try and do everything yourself. In fact, the more you open up to collaborating with different people on your teams, the more you will learn from them and vice versa. This promotes a culture of sharing skills and growing knowledge, leading to self-improvement.

2. Do regular emotional intelligence assessments.

These can be found online and are good to use individually and with teams. Regular assessments can help people identify areas where they have improved and areas that they would like to work more on. This helps to cultivate a growth mindset.

3. Accept criticism.

This can be a hard one, but practice accepting criticism without being defensive or deflecting with judgment. A good way to do this is to borrow the improv rule of “yes, and” by responding to criticism with a “yes,” and then opening yourself up to expanding on ways you can and will improve or take the criticism into consideration.

4. Practice acceptance.

Accepting your own emotions can be hard when they feel very negative, but acceptance is an important part of being able to manage emotions appropriately when they come up – and they will come up!

5. Play games.

Structured game time at work once a week can help employees bond and share how they are feeling. Practicing naming emotions and how to appropriately work through them in a positive group setting goes a long way, and people will eventually learn how to do this work by themselves.

6. Journal.

Tegular time set aside to write down feelings and reflect on them helps people identify where their complicated emotions originate and can help with brainstorming on how to work through them in a healthy way.

7. Schedule time for learning.

Give your employees regular professional development time that can be used at their own discretion. Many employees will seek out Ted Talks, find workshops to join, etc. 

8. Use real-life examples.

When working through complex problems with your teams, using real-life examples to model how similar problems were overcome can help employees envision solutions instead of remaining caught up in their emotions.

9. Practice emotional intelligence at work and in your private life.

These skills are easily transferable, and the more you practice them in different settings, the more they will come naturally when you need to rely on them.

10. Explore your “why.”

At times, it can be hard to feel a sense of motivation and/or purpose. Routinely schedule times to revisit your “why” behind whatever you are doing. What drives you? What have you already accomplished? What do you envision yourself accomplishing, and how will that feel?

A Whole New Level of Leadership

Emotional intelligence may be a complex subject, but like any other skill, it just takes practice and time to develop and use effectively. As workplaces continue to change rapidly with the expansion of technology and global disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to first remain flexible. From there, we can collaborate with our colleagues using compassion and patience. Working together with others will naturally boost EQ, and working on some of the exercises in this article can help boost you to a whole new level of leadership acumen. 

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