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No business leader today can operate at full productivity without a sense of, as emotional intelligence's godfathers, Salovey and Mayer, put it, “the effective regulation of emotion in self and others.” Four key ways to use this powerful tool in the workplace are to hire effectively, address conflict, honor differences, and to reduce stress through judicious use of humor. 

1. Hiring for High EQ

Daniel Goleman’s 1995 work, “Emotional Intelligence,” outlined the five key strands of one’s emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ: 

  1. Motivation
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Self-awareness
  4. Social skills
  5. Empathy

When you hire with EQ in mind, as almost 20 percent of companies do, you provide an additional filter beyond the personal interview. You can hire with a clear goal of forming a cohesive team, with motivated, empathetic employees whose strengths balance one another.

Keep in mind your hiring decision shouldn't be based solely on a high EQ — having a CFO who is deliberate, skeptical or circumspect can be a good thing; while that dispassionate attitude is not a strength, say, for a PR director.

2. Addressing Tough Issues

A recent piece in Inc. shows the value of using emotional intelligence to overcome obstacles that reduce team effectiveness and corporate strength. Racial prejudice is a formidable barrier in the workplace. By applying emotional intelligence to the conversation with an employee who's using racially charged language, for example, you can:

  • Reduce tension
  • Help the employee to see a different perspective
  • Be viewed as fair to both sides of any issue
  • Admit to weaknesses without being held in lower esteem

You can ask open-ended questions, such as, “What’s the full story? What am I missing?” Because you are comfortable with your own emotional regulation, you control your voice tone, you speak respectfully, and you select your words carefully, even if the employee doesn't. 

3. Honoring Differences

The 20th century trope about America’s “melting pot,” though widely accepted, never made sense because people are not wax and we do not melt into an indistinguishable mass. We have life experiences, cultural differences, and values that make us unique. These are powerful assets, not flaws, in any organization. As Forbes points out, we need to embrace differences to make a big difference. 

Very few markets are monolithic anymore; solutions need to serve many clients. When your clients' diversity is reflected in the diversity of your employees, everyone benefits.

4. Using Humor as a Spice, Not a Main Course

Emotional intelligence teaches us that humor is a way to gather consensus, not divide people. When used sparingly, humor reduces workplace stress, unites teams, and lifts people up (rather than reducing their self-esteem). When used heavy-handedly, humor becomes simply another overdone SOP. 

An emotionally intelligent leader knows not to make jokes at the expense of employees, departments or particular projects. Having the emotional intelligence to apply workplace humor to break tension, by making self-deprecating jokes as the team leader, is a valuable skill. 

Emotional intelligence is valuable not only for you, but for its power to unite your workplace. 


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