Emotional Intelligence 101

I recently sat down with Jean Kanokogi, PhD, Director of Mental Health & Peer Support, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) to learn more about the basics of Emotional Intelligence and why it matters in the workplace.

a word cloud showing various terms related to emotional intelligence
Robyn: Hi Jean, thanks for talking about Emotional Intelligence with us. Let’s start at the very beginning: what IS Emotional Intelligence (EI)?

Jean: Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you. Managing your own emotions and labeling them appropriately is paramount so that you can also understand other people’s emotions and develop a connection and deep sense of empathy.  Having empathy can certainly bridge the gap of connection versus disconnection when people are interacting.

Historically, psychologists were curious on how someone could have high cognitive intellect (book smarts) yet have very low emotional awareness (street smarts).   Cognitive intelligence focuses on the ability to act purposefully, think rationally, and deal effectively with your environment. To measure cognitive intelligence, psychologists administer IQ tests, which rate your intelligence quotient (IQ).

Psychologists define Emotional intelligence (EI) to focus on your ability to be aware of, understand, and manage both your own as well as other people’s emotions to adapt to life’s demands and pressures.

Furthermore, you use your skills to tune in to the world, to read situations, and to connect with others while taking charge of your own life.

Robyn: So, there are multiple components to EI. Are they all equally important, or is there one piece that’s more important than the others?

Jean: Each component in EI is important because there is a lot of overlap.  As you cannot leave your emotional brain home when you go to work, it’s quite challenging to try to segregate the EI skills and only carry some with you, however, by having the ability to discriminate between different emotions, and to label them appropriately is very helpful to getting on your path to be an emotionally intelligent person.

There are five key elements to EI: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Say it to Slay it! That’s a term I like because to recognize what you are feeling, you really must articulate it.  It is really a good habit to get into so that you can be concise and concrete in making what emotion you are feeling.  Even though these two intelligences are separate, they work together. Someone without a strong level of emotional intelligence might let their feelings affect their reasoning, preventing them from being rational.  During the presentation of a well-reasoned argument, their words might not be well-received if they’re not managing emotions properly.

People with high EI can identify how they are feeling, what those feelings mean, and how those emotions impact their behavior and in turn, other people. It’s a little harder to “manage” the emotions of other people – you can’t control how someone else feels or behaves. But if you can identify the emotions behind their behavior, you’ll have a better understanding of where they are coming from and how to best interact with them.

High EI overlaps with strong interpersonal skills, especially in the areas of conflict management and communication – crucial skills in the workplace. Employees who can self-regulate their emotions are often able to avoid making impulsive decisions – they think objectively before they act. Operating with empathy and understanding is a critical part of teamwork; being able to attribute someone’s behavior to an underlying emotion will help you manage relationships and make others feel heard. On an individual level, being aware of your feelings is the first step in not letting those feelings control you. Recognizing how you feel and why will help you to sit with those feelings and then move forward in a productive way.

Effective leaders are often very emotionally intelligent. In the workplace, it’s important for leaders to be self-aware and able to view things objectively. This translates into understanding your strengths and weaknesses and acting with humility. This must be balanced with empathy.

Robyn: A lot of these are what I think of as “soft” skills – things it’s harder to learn from a book or class, like empathy. How would someone go about improving their skills in these areas?

Jean: Active listening and mindfulness.  Be in the present when someone is expressing what they feel.  Focus on what they are saying and not what you want to say next.  Keep yourself in the present; if your mind wanders off onto what you will have for lunch, then you are not there. When you hear what someone is telling you, you can then formulate an empathic response.  Sympathy typically includes an “I” statement, such as, I am so sorry that happened, but empathy will incorporate a “you” statement, such as, you must be so disappointed.

Empathy is so important, in part, because it can effectively and efficiently connect you with other people. It’s also pretty versatile. On the one hand, empathy enables you to bond with your partner, children, close friends, and any other people you care about. On the other hand, empathy can help you out when you’re in a tight spot with a difficult person.

When you empathize with someone, you’re enhancing the relationship and making it closer. You strengthen the ties or bonds of the relationship and feel you know that person better. Empathy is often the beginning of an interaction. It implies that you not only know what the other person is experiencing, but you’re concerned about their ongoing plight. It also shows that you’re not self-centered.

Empathy, in many ways, is a form of selflessness. You step out of your own world — your problems, worries, joys, and responsibilities — to totally immerse yourself in another person’s world.

Robyn: Is there a way to measure or quantify someone’s level of EI?

Jean: Psychologists measure emotional intelligence by using any of several EQ tests, which measure your emotional quotient (EQ). The two most accepted tests are the EQ-i and the MSCEIT.

The first published and most widely used self-test of emotional intelligence in the world is the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) by Dr. Reuven Bar-On. The EQ-i was developed looking at the general idea of an emotional and social intelligence quotient, or EQ.

The EQ-i has been normed, as mentioned above, with thousands of people in various parts of the world, ensuring that your results are meaningful for your location and culture. Also, there has been a great deal of validity and reliability carried out on this instrument, which is the very first test of emotional intelligence created.

Dr. Bar-On identified and defined factors, grouped into five areas of emotional and social intelligence. The areas and their factors are as follows:

(1) Intra-personal: This area concerns your ability to know and manage yourself. It embraces the following:

  • Self-Awareness: The ability to recognize how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way, as well as the impact your behavior has on others.
  • Assertiveness: The ability to clearly express your thoughts and feelings, stand your ground, and defend a position.
  • Independence: The ability to be self-directed and self-controlled, to stand on your own two feet.
  • Self-Regard: The ability to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and feel good about yourself despite your weaknesses.
  • Self-Actualization: The ability to realize your potential and feel comfortable with what you achieve at work and in your personal life.

(2) Inter-personal: This area concerns your “people skills” — your ability to interact and get along with others. It is composed of three scales:

  • Empathy: The ability to understand what others might be feeling and thinking. It is the ability to view the world through another person’s eyes.
  • Social Responsibility: The ability to be a cooperative and contributing member of your social group.
  • Interpersonal Relationships: The ability to forge and maintain relationships that are mutually beneficial and marked by give and take and a sense of emotional closeness.

(3) Adaptability: This area involves your ability to be flexible and realistic, and to solve a range of problems as they arise. Its three scales are as follows:

  • Reality Testing: The ability to see things as they actually are, rather than the way you wish or fear they might be.
  • Flexibility: The ability to adjust your feelings, thoughts, and actions to changing conditions.
  • Problem-Solving: The ability to define problems and then move to generate and implement effective, appropriate solutions.

(4) Stress Management: This area concerns your ability to tolerate stress and control impulses. It has two scales:

  • Stress Tolerance: The ability to remain calm and focused, to constructively withstand adverse events and conflicting emotions without caving in.
  • Impulse Control: The ability to resist or delay a temptation to act.

(5) General Mood: This area also concerns your ability to be positive and in a good mood. It has two scales:

  • Optimism: The ability to maintain a realistically positive attitude, particularly in the face of adversity.
  • Happiness: The ability to feel satisfied with life, to enjoy yourself and others, and to experience zest and enthusiasm in a range of activities.

The MSCEIT (Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test) is the most widely used ability (or performance) test of emotional intelligence. As an ability test, it works more like a traditional IQ test — but for emotions.

The types of items in the MSCEIT are different from the items in other tests. MSCEIT includes asking you to recognize the emotion in pictures of people’s faces and in designs, knowing which emotions can help you get through specific tasks or challenges, understanding how some emotions can blend with other emotions, and knowing how to use your emotions in specific challenging social situations.

The MSCEIT model includes four specific areas or branches:

Perceiving Emotions. Perceiving, or identifying, emotions involves your ability to successfully read other people’s emotions. It also includes your ability to express emotions accurately to others to be an effective communicator. Getting the emotions right in the first place helps you better use your emotions.

Facilitating Thought. Facilitating thought, or using emotions, involves using your emotions to get you in the mood. The way we feel has a big influence on how we think. Also, emotions can help us focus our attention and guide us as we solve problems. To best use our emotions, however, we should really understand how they work.

Understanding Emotions. Understanding emotions helps us use our emotions to predict our future. Knowing our emotions helps us navigate through life. It helps to understand why we feel sad, angry, or giddy. For example, feeling angry because of bad traffic in the morning, and then taking that anger out on your co-workers, is not going to help you at work. Understanding where your anger comes from makes it easier to deal with it. By understanding our emotions, we’re in a better position to manage our emotions.

Managing Emotions. Managing emotions is where you can really put your emotions to your advantage. By managing the way you feel, you can get along better with others, solve problems better, make better judgments, and manage your behavior better.

Robyn: Why is EI important in the workplace?

Jean: Emotions have a tremendous impact in the workplace. Emotional intelligence can increase productivity, improve teamwork, and make you feel better about your work and your workplace along the way.  Increasing your emotional intelligence at work has many benefits, including the ability to better manage stress at work, improve your relationships with co-workers, deal more effectively with your supervisor, be more productive, be a better manager or better manage your work priorities, and be a better team player.

Don’t think that emotionally intelligent people don’t get upset or angry in the workplace — they do. Emotional intelligence empowers you to get a hold of your emotions, instead of letting them get a hold of you

When you get upset at work, stop and think — step out of the emotional abyss that you may be experiencing — whether you have to deal with an unreasonable boss, a gossipy co-worker, a rude customer, annoying e-mails, a missed promotion, or any other aggravation at work.

For some, the obstacle they face at work isn’t a workplace situation; it’s their own fears. You might have experienced this obstacle: You’re asked to do something that makes you anxious or frightened, and those emotions start to take over. Soon, your work suffers because you can think about only your worries. However, identifying and investigating your emotions can help you take control of the situation and enable you to move forward.

Robyn: So EI is certainly important for leaders and managers then. We’re out of time for today, but Dr. Jean Kanokogi is going to come back in a couple of months for part two of this conversation, where we’ll discuss how EI can be applied in the federal workplace and share a few real-world examples.
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