Are You Emotionally Intelligent At Work? 3 Insights On Why You Should Step Up Your Game

So, you wanna be emotionally intelligent at work? Maybe, you think you already are, but research shows the majority of us are not. There’s a lot of room for improvement for all of us.

Learning about emotions and how to manage them is one of the best things you could do for yourself (it should be everyone’s new year resolution; it surely is for me). This is applicable not only to your personal life but also in the workplace.

If you’ve been following my posts, you know I’ve been and will continue to focus on emotional intelligence throughout 2018. I’ve done posts about relationships and emotional availability or clinginess, but this one will be about how we act at work. Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s super important, so hang in there.

One of the biggest myths of psychology is that people should only use it when they have depression, anxiety or some other severe mental illness, which are manifesting in personal relationships with family, parents, significant others, or friends. The truth is that very few people consider therapy due to workplace issues.

But guess where you spend most of your time? And where does most of your stress come from?

It’s your work!!! And then it spills over into your home.

We often view the workplace as a place where we have very little control. We are generally not in charge. The focus is on performance, on specific tasks, on results, and not on our feelings.

We are supposed to focus on getting our jobs done, not care whether we are valued, seen, appreciated, listened to—all that is just feel-good, touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo, and a waste of time. And for many generations, this has been the case.

Thank goodness for psychologists like John Mayer, Peter Salovey, and Daniel Goleman…and then, for companies like Google, Starbucks, Amazon, and Southwest Airlines….and then for the entire millennial generation and their participation awards that have slowly been changing the expectations in the workplace. They’ve introduced the concept of emotional intelligence and applied it to performance, stress management, and employee engagement. Smart companies and leaders pay attention to that. The not so smart ones are stuck in dinosaur ages.

Emotional intelligence is a big deal!

It involves big words like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

But in other words, it means:

  1. Know how your family history has shaped you into who you are today
  2. Develop self-soothing and self-motivation skills
  3. Understand basic emotional needs (yours and others)
  4. Develop empathy and reflective listening
  5. Work on assertive communication, conflict resolution, and offering support

Or even better, in more words, it means:

It’s a skill that comes in really handy when you get really pissed off because your boss recognizes the new employee’s opinions more than he’s ever done it for you in the last 10 years. Instead of turning into a passive-aggressive, bitter, uncreative, unmotivated, gossipy employee, a strategy that’s not going to help in the long run, you take some time to figure out why you are hurting. You process emotions such as envy, jealousy, disappointment, anxiety, bitterness, anger, and then you carefully consider your next move.

Meaning you run around the building a few times before you open your mouth!

You think about:

What exactly is it that you are feeling and why

The reasons why you are doing the job

The reasons why your boss may favor the new employee (maybe he is just trying to make him feel welcome)

It’s always nice to get recognized publicly, but if you don’t, is that going to change the way you need to perform? Or ruin your brand? Or your reputation?

Is this big enough of an issue that requires a conversation with the boss?

Does this ring a bell?

Keeping emotions in check is viewed as an essential piece to success in the workplace. At least historically. But that doesn’t mean ignoring your feelings and hoping they will go away. Stress which leads to a fight-or-flight response may look different in the workplace than at home. So, processing the emotions without building up to a heart attack or taking it out on the people at home it’s an important skill and sign of intelligence.

In this post, I would like to also touch on one particular group of people that could benefit from some additional help in the department. It’s the people that are generally avoidant and dismissive of emotions, which is not the same thing as not being affected by emotions.

Of course, being cool as a cucumber is well, pretty desirable. There are some general advantages to being emotionally avoidant such as the fact that these individuals are very task-oriented so they get a lot of stuff done. They avoid emotions, which means they stay away from drama, so they are very efficient. They generally have great product knowledge because they like facts, analytics, and things that don’t talk back to you. They obviously work best on individual tasks rather than team projects.

Conversely, they are a little bit of a party pooper. They are reserved in communication, have low empathy, are skeptical, have no patience, they are critical, abrupt, demanding of themselves and others, and even aggressive when things don’t go according to their agenda. These are usually found in jobs such as accountants, engineers, architects, product specialists, and project managers.

But at times some of these people because of their high level of performance and low empathy and putting their interests first, they end up at the top of the company as managers, CFOs, and CEOs. They generally expect people to listen to them and do what they say due to their title, not because of their skills as inspiring leaders. Like anything else in the world of psychology, all these traits are on a continuum from very low to very high.

At the very high end of the continuum, these people are highly efficient, but not fun nor inspiring to be around.

The ugly side of the emotionally challenged in the workplace involves a lot of anger, criticism, personal attacks and humiliation, comparison to other people, name-calling, and full-on attack mode. And using anger and fear to assert power!

These are the ones I’ve seen too many times and I have a very low tolerance for them. Although I know that many times, yelling at and humiliating other people are founded on a tough childhood that resulted in an inability to connect and motivate people in a healthy and empathic way, it does not make it any easier to stick around and become someone’s punching bag.

So, a moment of truth! Are you on the receiving end of someone’s unmanaged anger? Or are you the person who cannot manage the anger without throwing it at someone else like a hot potato? 

Either way, keep on reading!

Of course, good things can happen at work as well. A positive performance review, a raise, a thank you note, or public recognition- all make us feel happy, a sense of accomplishment, pride, and a kick-a** kinda feeling. We feel like we are on top of the world. We are generally ok with all of those.

But that’s not what gets us in trouble. Let’s think of some other things that happen at work that cause a strong emotional response: a negative performance review, being bullied or harassed by a colleague or a superior, others not doing their job, rude customers or colleagues, someone yelling at you, not having the appropriate resources or time to do the job, change in responsibilities and duties, efforts not being recognized, comparison to others, lots of pressure to meet goals…I can keep going, and unfortunately, this list is longer than the first one.

We’ve all been there! This is something that can happen on a daily basis!

 And it makes us feel: anger, frustration, annoyance, uncertainty, hopelessness, anxiety. And it generally feels like crap, and it eats at us; it erodes our self-esteem, our creativity, and our spirit.

When we are exposed to all of these circumstances, it’s human nature to go into a fight-or-flight mode. When the brain feels is under attack, it gets defensive and focused on self-preservation. That is a huge deal!!

It does not get creative, it does not focus on problem-solving or efficiencies, the focus is not on the team or the company, the focus is on itself.  And most may not even realize it.

Engagement suffers!

We are just there to get a paycheck not to advance the company's mission statement. We are there in body, but not in mind or spirit. I don’t care who you are or if you are willing to admit it, but I can guarantee that we’ve all felt like that at least once or twice in the workplace.

No matter what the job is, you are not doing 100% because your brain is distracted by flight or fight mode. And that’s not going to change until you pay attention to the root of the problem, and process it productively, so your brain can get closure and get back on track.

You can be justified in your emotion, how you choose to express it will make the difference between making this a growth opportunity or destructive behavior.

3 Insights On Why You Should Step Up Your Game In Emotional Intelligence

  1. It will help you sit with your emotions until you are able to think through an appropriate response. What everyone notices at work is the person who finds the solutions, not just the problems. That applies to your co-workers and your management team. That’s what puts you on a path for promotion and advancement. If you can’t problem-solve through your inner challenges, you are not going to problem-solve through much more complex group challenges (which is what you are faced with when you become a manager).
  2. Ignoring your emotions will not make them go away. They will just raise their ugly head in a different way. Managing emotions in a healthy way will lower your stress before it turns into heart disease or an ulcer or substance dependence. And before it erodes your creativity, or passion, or kills your spirit. Here is another post I wrote a while ago that is also very relevant to this conversation: 3 unproductive behaviors that stress you out daily
  3. Finally, when you understand your own motivations and emotional reactions, and then you are open to understanding your co-workers, managers, and leaders’ motivations and reactions, you are much more likely to mediate your way into a win-win situation, or at least a manageable compromise. That’s how you step up your game, differentiate yourself from others, and set yourself up for advancement, promotion, or a raise or respect from your peers.

So, all of this sounds really good, but where the heck do you start?

A good place is my Emotional Intelligence Course which is a beginner-level program that all ages can benefit from. Want to learn more about this course? Click here!

And if you are not ready for either, that’s ok too, but I hope you can take a few minutes and comment below on if any of this brings up any powerful stories or experiences from your own workplace.

ABOUT: Dr. Ruxandra LeMay is a private practice psychologist in Litchfield Park, Arizona with experience in family therapy, ADHD, stress and anxiety management, and executive coaching. She is the author of My Spouse Wants More Sex Than Me: The 2-Minute Solution For a Happier MarriageCheck out her free resources on effective communication, emotional unavailability, intimacy, and anxiety management, or join her at for monthly blog posts.