5 steps to fine-tune your EQ and improve workplace performance

Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Effective management of your positive and negative emotions can improve your work and client relationships, but it takes practice. Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, studies emotions and how they affect behavior. He believes emotions not only play a huge role in how we interact with others but also directly affect productivity and effectiveness.

In fact, a growing body of science has identified direct links between emotions and performance. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of American workers are either unengaged or actively disengaged in their jobs,1 which could be costing the U.S. up to $550 billion in lost productivity each year.2 Brackett says these feelings can affect everything from decision-making to mental health and can also impact on-the-job performance.

It doesn't have to be that way. People can learn to manage their emotions. "The distinguishing variable is the skill of emotional intelligence," Brackett says. "People who have the ability to regulate their emotions are the ones that achieve the greatest products."

Emotional intelligence starts with you. Master these five skills to enhance emotional intelligence first with yourself and later with your team members:

  1. Recognizing: Accurately identifying your emotions and those of others. "Are you reading people's emotions accurately in their face, in their body, in their voice?" Brackett asks. Not all emotions are easily recognized; people oftentimes see different emotions in the same expression. Misreading emotions can lead to miscommunication. Instead of assuming, be sure to ask the individual how he's feeling to clarify the emotions being presented.
  2. Understanding: Knowing the causes and the consequences of emotions, including how they affect your thinking, judgments, and behavior. Disappointment, for instance, has to do with unmet expectations, but it is often confused with anger, which is more about unjustness or unfairness. Striving for understanding of the true underlying emotion will help you deal with it most appropriately. All emotions are valid, but the emotions need to be understood to be dealt with appropriately.
  3. Labeling: Using words to describe what you're feeling. "You have to name it to tame it," Brackett says. "If you don't have the vocabulary, if you don't know what you're actually feeling, it's hard to know how to regulate it." There are many emotions whose names are often used interchangeably, such as jealousy and envy, but mean very different things. If you don't have the vocabulary correct and don't know what you're actually feeling, it's really difficult to regulate that emotion.
  4. Expressing: Knowing how and when to express emotions with different people across different contexts and demonstrating sensitivity to their backgrounds and culture. Individual differences, social norms (including family and business norms), and cultural norms all impact how emotions are expressed. Expressing emotions is especially important in the business world, since the more you suppress your emotions, the less you are able to process new information, because you can become fixated on the emotion that you're feeling.
  5. Regulating: Matching your emotional expression to the situation and using thought and action strategies to prevent, reduce, initiate, maintain, and/or enhance emotions. Employing cognitive strategies such as self-talk (talking to yourself, either positively or negatively) or reappraisal (reinterpreting the meaning of an emotion) will help you down-regulate emotions. Regulating your full range of emotions can better equip you to deal with the everyday stresses in life.

Adopting an emotional-intelligence strategy requires patience and practice. Financial professionals who hone their emotion-management skills can create positive outcomes that could improve personal and team performance and productivity and generate a heathier work environment—ultimately enhancing firm performance.

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