Applying Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Understand your brain

Your brain has two parts that work together as a team—emotion and logic. The purpose of this team is to protect you and help you achieve your goals. Each part is an adviser who offers you a different perspective and set of skills. Sometimes one adviser shouts too loudly and drowns out the other adviser’s guidance. At other times, one voice speaks and the other remains silent. And at still other times both speak at once—and give you conflicting advice. But you will make your most intelligent decisions if you recognize the roles of these advisers, listen carefully to both, and make choices based on their combined input.

To make these advisers work together as a harmonious team, you need to:

  • Grasp the role of emotion
  • Acknowledge the role of logic
  • Compare emotion and logic

Grasp the role of emotion

You arrive home in the dead of night. As you emerge from your car, a man in a ski mask steps out of the blackness and shoves a gun in your face. Fear immediately freezes you in place, but it also readies you to run: your heart speeds up, the blood rushes from your face, fingertips, and stomach and into your muscles. This is the purpose of fear.

Each emotion prepares the body for a certain kind of action. Anger sends blood to the fists and muscles, preparing the body to fight. Happiness and love calm the fight-or-flight response, preparing you to rest, play, work, and socialize. These responses are programmed into your body because they are the ones that helped your ancestors survive and thrive. They represent a primitive form of wisdom: “If you’re in danger, run!” “If someone hurts you, fight!” “If everything is going well, relax and focus on family, friends, fun, or the task at hand.”

Acknowledge the role of logic

Your logical brain processes the information you receive through your senses, integrating and analyzing this information to help you form an accurate picture of the world and achieve your goals. It identifies the problems you face and comes up with solutions.

If you are approached, as in the example on the previous page, by a masked gun-toting stranger, emotion will prepare you to run, or possibly to fight; but logic will try to assess whether these reactions would really work and find a better option.

Compare emotion and logic

Both emotion and logic have strengths and weaknesses. Emotion prepares you to respond to danger, or whatever confronts you, channeling your body’s limited energies toward whatever is most urgent. It gives you a motive for action. And it helps you to act quickly, without going through the often-slow process of making a decision based mostly on logic. But it can also push you to act too impulsively, without enough thought, and make bad choices.

Logic gives you greater flexibility. The solutions that worked for your distant ancestors often won’t work for you. You can’t run away from the presentation you’re afraid of. Logic can help you determine what response is appropriate. But logic requires resources that may not be available when you need to make the decision: time and information.

The ideal is to act neither in the heat of passion nor out of cold logic, but to have your logical and emotional selves working in harmony. Without logic, you can only act impulsively; but without emotion, you might never act at all.