Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The concept of emotional intelligence is now part of popular culture. Just as we each have an IQ or Intelligence Quotient that measures cognitive ability, some social scientists say we have an EQ or Emotional Quotient.

Emotional intelligence (EI) can be defined as the ability to recognize your own and others’ emotions, and to manage your emotions and relationships effectively. You can see right away how important EI is to your business as a retailer. Your customers’ experience is profoundly impacted by interactions with your staff. And your staff’s experience in the workplace is profoundly impacted by interactions with storeowners and managers.

Whether there’s a scientifically valid parallel between IQ and EQ is still a source of controversy. The key question–Is emotional intelligence innate or can you improve it through learning and experience?

Dr. Daniel Goleman, who has probably done more than anyone to popularize the concept of emotional intelligence, claims, “We’re each born with certain levels of EI skills. But we can strengthen these abilities through persistence, practice and feedback from colleagues and coaches.”

Let’s look at the elements of EI and see how you can take them into account when hiring, training and managing.

Emotional intelligence is comprised in five skills:  self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy and social skill. The first three concern the self while the last two are about how one relates to others.

  1. Self-awareness shows up in realistic self-assessment and openness to feedback from others.
  2. Self-regulation involves controlling or redirecting one’s own disruptive emotions and impulses.
  3. Self-motivation is displayed in passion for the work itself, desire to learn, and commitment to the organization’s mission.
  4. Empathy includes the ability to imagine others’ reality and respond authentically to their emotions.
  5. Social skill manifests in teamwork, networking and the ability to find common ground.

How can you hire people with the five EI skills? Try using interview questions like these:

  • Could you tell me about a time when you adjusted your own behaviour to work effectively with people who have different personalities and work styles? (Self-awareness)
  • I’d like to hear about a situation where your patience was sorely tried. How did you find a way to stay helpful and engaged? (Self-regulation)
  • Tell me about a past job where you got really excited about something you were working on. (Self-motivation)
  • Tell me about a time when you encountered someone who was emotionally upset. How did you respond? (Empathy)
  • Have you been in a situation where you felt you had to do more than your fair share of the work?  How did you handle that? (Social skill)

How can you train your staff to be emotionally intelligent in their dealings with customers and coworkers? According to Dr. Goleman, EI cannot be learned through books or online seminars. It takes human-to-human interaction—modeling the desired behaviour, motivating change, coaching, practice and feedback.

Two specific skills that promote EI are active listening and choosing positive language. Active listening is the discipline of paraphrasing your understanding of what the other person just said, with the goal of understanding her/him, before responding. This skill is particularly effective when receiving customer questions and complaints and feedback from coworkers and bosses.

Emotional intelligence can guide choice of language that focuses on the future and gives others options, (as opposed to demanding or blaming). Teach employees sample lines for asking if a customer needs help, apologizing for store’s screw-up and disengaging from a lengthy customer conversation.

Above all, be mindful of the example you set when in the store.

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