Learning & Development, Q&A

How to Use Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

We live in an ever-changing world and the workplace is no different. From record-high burnout levels to mass layoffs, and fears of a recession, HR leaders have tried on a myriad of hats in an effort to retain talent and keep them engaged, productive, and happy.

Still, the workplace remains rampant with buzzwords like The Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, Career Cushioning, and Bare Minimum Mondays – and the term emotional intelligence (E.I.) is no different.

E.I. is the ability to understand and manage emotions. Practicing E.I. at work has not only become a hot topic, but also a necessary skill. There are many benefits to an emotionally intelligent workforce including conflict resolution (this’ll come in handy with a multigenerational workforce), the ability to communicate and connect, and leaders and employees recognizing their own and other people’s emotions.

In this Q&A, we’ve tapped Saniya Sharma, creator of Peoplenovate – a platform that discusses people-centric issues in the workplace and challenges conventional narratives – to discuss the value of E.I. in today’s workplace. Before founding Peoplenovate, Sharma’s career as a lawyer made her realize the importance of placing people first in the workplace. Her goal is to create emotionally intelligent workspaces that allow all employees to thrive and become the best version of themselves.

Here’s what she had to say.

Why is it important to understand and accept your employee’s emotions, triggers, and


SS: I think everything we do, including work, is driven by our emotions. There is a reason why so many employees sign up for counseling sessions when encountered with career setbacks or negative workplace atmosphere. What we experience at work creates a big impact on how we view ourselves and our overall mental and emotional wellbeing. The short point is whether we like it or not, we do tend to tie our self-worth and self-esteem to our work.

An environment that promotes understanding and acceptance of emotions leads to psychological safety. When we make an effort to understand the emotions of our colleagues, we are able to find ways to support them, ultimately helping them cope with workplace challenges better. Similarly, understanding triggers means we avoid behaviors that cause emotional harm and hurt to our colleagues. For instance, if an employee is undergoing divorce, they are likely to be sensitive to criticisms. If the colleagues of such an employee are mindful and refrain from using harsh words in their interactions and proactively show kindness, it could make such a positive difference in such employee’s life. This creates a respectful environment.

It is well documented that humans are more likely to set goals and work towards achieving them when they are in a positive emotional state. Negative emotional state causes people to withdraw and question themselves, which is not entirely conducive to success. And while it is true that at the end of the day, the state in which we show up at work is our responsibility, it certainly helps when our workplace is designed to help us maintain our positive emotional state. This cannot be achieved unless we make an effort to understand each other’s emotions.

Similarly, I think it is important to train our minds to accept that not everyone is going to think, talk and behave like we do – which is a great thing as it gives us space to debate, discuss and refine our way of doing things, which may not always be right. Every personality carries with them their own unique strengths and it will be foolish to not capitalize on those by keeping our focus on aspects of someone’s personality that we don’t like. Seeing and respecting people for who they are creates a culture of acceptance which allows people to express themselves authentically.

How can HR leaders can promote well-being, dignity, self-worth, and self-esteem among their employees?

SS: What has helped me is first understanding the link between employment and the above metrics. Unless we accept that as a principle, achieving long lasting behavioral changes will be difficult. My experiences have taught me that when it comes to promoting well-being, dignity, self-worth and self- esteem in employees, the following is key:

  • Autonomy
  • Providing support to employees (including managers) that enables them to perform their

duties to the best of their abilities

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Providing employees real opportunities to progress and showcase their strengths
  • Recognizing the achievements and contributions of employees on a regular basis
  • Releasing the expectation of perfection
  • Seeing our colleagues first as humans
  • Showing compassion, kindness, and empathy

How can organizations design employee assessments that focus on employee development and growth?

SS: I think a good feedback mechanism is one that is grounded on the value of dignity, i.e. that recognizes the inherent value of humans. This grounding will help us carry out assessment in a way that is true to the job requirements but at the same time focused on building our people up.

First, it should be helpful to focus assessments on purely the skills required to do the job. It is helpful if employees are aware what these skills are and what are the key performance indicators that determine their progression.

Second, it is helpful being mindful about how and when performance assessments are delivered. Feedback is useful when it is delivered consistently and in a manner that is constructive – i.e. the feedback should actually help people improve their performance. Criticism and put downs are not good for employee morale. For instance, let’s say a manager is not happy with a presentation deck made by an employee. There are two ways of delivering feedback.

Approach A: Criticism

“I don’t like slide 6. There is not enough content on slide 7. The graphs on slide 8 don’t make sense.”

Approach B: Constructive Feedback

“Good effort on the slide deck. A couple of points from me:

Let’s make slide 6 more robust by keeping the bullet points sharp and concise. Can we add a few points to explain the charts on slide 7? Otherwise, it looks a bit empty to

me. The graphs on slide 8 are a bit hard to follow at the moment. It might be worth coming up with an alternative legend or adding emphasis on the growth curve.

What do you think?”

It is not hard to see why Approach B will yield better results than Approach A, both in terms of

product output and employee morale.

Third, it helps if improvement is recognized and communicated to the employees. There is no point having a feedback mechanism that fails to recognize moments of growth in employees.

Fourth, it is important to ensure assessments don’t suffer from recency bias and that they actually holistically reflect the performance of an employee. This means training ourselves to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses in a performance and taking a balanced view.

It will also be helpful if an organization has a sense of the skills that are key in helping employees rise to various leadership roles. Imagine the difference it can make if these skills are identified early on, and the suitable candidates are matched to the right roles internally. This will help organizations retain talent internally, even though it may mean shuffling the pathway for an employee to rise to leadership roles.

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