Emotional Intelligence and its Relevance in Workplace

We tend to attach the term ‘intelligence’ to someone’s ability to acquire knowledge, understand and navigate the challenges that maybe mathematical, technical, commercial, literal. This is probably because our education systems and cultural dispositions are heavily skewed towards developing such abilities more than anything else. Yet, we often criticize those who can easily manage technical challenges but have less than stellar interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, an effect of their inability to manage their emotions. When we indulge in such criticism, we are effectively pointing out someone’s lack of emotional intelligence.

The ability to identify, understand and manage emotions within ourselves, and the emotions of those we interact with, to achieve productive interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, is called Emotional Intelligence.

When we criticize those for lacking emotional intelligence, we effectively behave as if it is meant to be an inborn talent that requires no education. However, like any ability, we acquire in our lifetime most people are badly in need of education for acquiring emotional intelligence.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are hopelessly illiterate. One can sense the subtle existence of Emotional Intelligence in those who possess an innate sensitivity towards others’ moods. To be able to recognize that someone’s irate behaviour is perhaps unexpressed hunger or a wry smile to a greeting is perhaps the hidden disappointment of a deep loss or someone’s emotional hypersensitivity is perhaps a symptom of undiagnosed clinical depression, is a sign of emotional intelligence. When it comes to our own selves, our ability to maintain composure to recognize that perhaps the person who bumped our car accidentally is already regretful, or our ability to exercise restraint when we recognize that we have been treated unfairly despite our best efforts, is also a sign of emotional intelligence.

Yet, even the most sensitive of us have less than perfect interpersonal relationships with our friends, family and colleagues. While sometimes we are impulsive in our reactions towards people, their words and situations, yet, other times we constantly despair on our state of being, brooding over our pasts, loathing our jobs and craving to tell someone how we feel about them, yet living in paralysis of inaction. It is imperative, that all children, most adolescent and adults of our generation need education on Emotional Intelligence.

In an ideal society, Emotional Intelligence should be taught as part of the school curriculum from a very early age right into our early adulthood. However, in the real world, emotional intelligence can only be imparted or acquired through culture. Parents teaching their children to be compassionate, managers teaching their employees to be vulnerable, or friends helping each other in crisis to see things differently, books of humbling journeys that speak of flawed heroes evolving through time, or movies that paint various characters in layers of grey instead of fully good or fully evil, all these, serve as carriers of knowledge leading to emotional intelligence.

Having said that, knowing about emotional intelligence and practising it, are very different things. It is like knowing how an aeroplane works and being able to fly an aeroplane, are very different things. It takes practice, and practising emotional intelligence is even harder. Unlike the passive observation of indicators and algorithmic reaction to feedback, emotional intelligence is a fine art in some sense, subjective to situations and individuals we interact with. However, with practice comes tacit knowledge. And with time, comes wisdom.

In our professional lives, while as a society we have made much progress
through data-driven, precision centric pursuit of knowledge, there is also a growing need to keep our work environment less mechanical and more conducive to human nature. This would require germinating a culture that focuses on the emotional well-being of its tenants.

As society becomes more isolating and loneliness-inducing day after day, and organizations become more competitive, and the workforce becomes more diverse in backgrounds and ages, workplaces are now potent crucibles of emotional upheavals such as stress, depression, outbursts, potentially leading to eroding morale and decaying vitality of its inhabitants.

Given the consequences it might have on productivity and employee engagement, immediate managers have become inexorably responsible for managing the emotions of their teams as well. A skill that requires a compassionate, empathetic, gentle approach and near-surgical social skills, rather than a one-size-fits-all authoritarian leadership. However, being all this requires managers to be enormously patient, and mindful of their own emotions, to the extent of requiring them to be Emotionally Intelligent.

I believe, this would not only help the managers keep their teams more productive, and less prone to attrition, but also help them emerge as relatable, approachable and likeable leaders.

[S Anwar is the Founder & CEO of SafeMeds.in, primarily involved in Product Management and General Management. He is currently pursuing Executive MBA from Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.]