When you turn on your laptop or open your office door, what do you bring with you?
I’m not talking about your lunch. We all carry emotional baggage with us everywhere we go — including to work. Having emotions isn’t a bad thing — it’s what makes us human — but we’re all better served when we tune in to what we’re feeling and how those feelings affect our behavior.
On the #WorkTrends podcast, certified emotional intelligence trainer Valerie M. Sargent shared more about why EQ matters at work and how we can all become more emotionally intelligent. You can listen to the episode below, or keep reading for a recap.
What Do Emotions Have to Do With Work?
Emotional intelligence is sometimes called EI or EQ. EQ is an acronym for “emotional quotient,” as opposed to your “intelligence quotient.” And growing your EQ isn’t just about improving performance at work. Becoming self-aware and understanding your emotions can help improve relationships in all parts of your life.
Sargent says she first heard about emotional intelligence at a conference featuring Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who has written extensively about EQ. She’d never heard anyone talk about emotions at work; those two realms feel pretty separate most of the time. She realized that no one in her industry, multifamily real estate, was working with their teams on emotional intelligence — and that everyone needed to talk about it more.
“I started paying attention to situations where I saw people showing emotions in the field. When you’re managing apartment communities, you encounter so many personalities and emotional situations. Every company benefits from emotional intelligence.”
As she learned more about EQ and got certified in EQ coaching, Sargent realized that almost no one has any formal training about how to manage their emotions at work. “Everybody brings a history of how they were raised to deal with conflict or with difficult situations,” she says, but most schools and workplaces don’t provide proactive training.
One day, Sargent was on site at an apartment community, working with a talented leasing consultant. “She was so good at her job, but when something was going on with her personally, everyone could feel it. The whole office sensed something was wrong.”
When Sargent suggested gently that she take a personal day to sort out her emotions, the consultant started crying and said, “No one ever taught me how to leave emotions at the door. I don’t know what to do.”
That was a lightbulb moment for Sargent, who realized that we need to train people about how to understand and manage their emotions. If we don’t, people pick up bad habits, and toxic environments quickly start brewing.
How Can Leaders Set the Emotional Tone?
An organization’s emotional culture starts at the top. “Unfortunately, a lot of leaders don’t know what kind of emotional culture they’re creating,” she says. “For example, if you have a leader who’s a hothead and raises his or her voice when things aren’t going as planned, they make employees feel unsafe. How does that trickle down to the rest of the company? You’re building a culture of fear. That causes employee morale to drop, people leave and performance suffers in the organization.”
But if a leader is a good communicator who cares about his or her employees and makes sure every employee understands their roles and expectations, employees feel valued and buy into a shared purpose.
To build a healthy culture, leaders have to start with understanding their own emotions, she says. “It’s hard for leaders to manage their emotions when they don’t know what’s going on in their brains, or what their body language is saying.” Targeted EQ coaching can help leaders appraise what emotions they’re dealing with, and how they behave as a result. “Emotional intelligence starts with wanting to improve yourself, and realizing you aren’t perfect. We all have room for growth.”
How Can We All Manage Our Emotions?
Valerie teaches teams to pause. When you’re feeling frustrated, angry or upset, take a pause. Breathe. Look at other people’s perspectives and try to reframe the situation. Register what’s going on with your body. Reflect. And breathe some more. When we’re upset, our breathing can be very shallow, or we may hold our breath, she says. Just focusing on breathing can bring clarity and calm to a stressful situation.
She also recommends keeping a journal to keep track of emotional situations. “When you’re tracking that information, you can start to recognize patterns. Our brains are used to going down certain pathways of reaction. When we learn to identify those pathways, we can choose a different path — and that’s very, very powerful.”
If you’re looking for a tool to help you understand and manage your emotions, Sargent recommends smartphone apps that help with meditation and focus, like Calm, Living in Love and Holosync. She uses Living in Love to take 10-minute “napitations” when she’s feeling stressed.
Another app, MindPT, helps manage negative self-talk by reinforcing daily positive messages and images. And neuroscientist Daniel Amen’s BrainFitLife is a diagnostic tool to help you understand the type of brain you have, plus what supplements or nutrition might be helpful for you.
Finally, Sargent says we all need to manage our bodies to manage our emotions. If we’re not treating our bodies and brains well, it’s much more difficult to deal with stressful situations. So, she underlines the importance of getting enough sleep, eating well (including a good breakfast) and paying attention to how your body reacts when you’re stressed.