Applying Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Communicate effectively

Data sheets convey information, but they can’t appreciate or express its emotional impact or importance. We gather information and then dole it out to others; but we fail to understand others’ feelings or express our own. Great communicators, on the other hand, move beyond exchanging data, the way two computers might, to a more warm, human style of communication.

To enhance your own ability to communicate feelings:

  • Improve your listening skills
  • Expand your emotional vocabulary
  • Adapt your communication style

Improve Your Listening Skills

Listening helps you understand how others feel and helps them express their thoughts and feelings to you. Careful listening shows that you care about and respect others. When people feel they are receiving respect and consideration, they are more likely to express themselves calmly and sincerely.

To listen well, you must listen actively. Active listening requires that you first, paraphrase what the speaker has said and then reflect back his or her feelings. Restate briefly—and in your own words—the gist of the speaker’s message, and then identify the emotions you believe the other person is expressing or feeling.

Another powerful technique for understanding what someone is feeling is listening with your eyes—watching for body language. To assist you with this, we have provided the How to Read Nonverbal Signals Tool #3. For additional dos and don’ts of effective listening, consult the Listening Checklist Tool #4.

Active Listening

The idea is to reflect back the speaker’s message and emotions in a way that seems natural. For example, “It sounds like you’re disappointed with the way I handled the Devlin account,” or, “If I’ve understood you right, you feel angry at Megan for discharging your marketing thoughts.”

Expand Your Emotional Vocabulary

The words used for expressing personal emotions may be limited to a few overused choices. The vocabulary for expressing positive emotions might be happy and good, that for negative emotions bad, sad, and upset.

It’s smart to expand the range of your emotional vocabulary so you can be more clear and precise about your own feelings and those of others. To understand and reflect back what someone is feeling, you need to identify and find words to describe both the kind of emotion and the degree of emotion he is experiencing. A coworker who feels furious won’t believe that you understand if you describe how he is feeling as upset. The more precisely you pinpoint the speaker’s emotion, the more he will feel understood.

Use the Expand Your Emotional Vocabulary Tool #1 to enhance your skill at identifying feelings.

Adapt Your Communication Style

Each of us has a distinctive communication style, rooted in our emotional needs and life’s experience. None of these styles are simply good or bad. Each has both weaknesses and strengths. The secret to harmonizing your communication differences with others is to understand and accept others’ styles and to be versatile in dealing with them.

Don’t change your style, but learn to adapt it as needed. Don’t be afraid to stretch a bit outside your comfort zone now and then in order to accommodate the needs and communication styles of others.

Think about a coworker with whom you have difficulty communicating. How do you clash? Do you have different goals in communicating? Do you use different techniques? How can you accommodate her style? There is no one simple formula for harmonizing personal differences. You will have to be creative.