Once seen as a topic too taboo to touch in corporate cultures, emotional intelligence (EQ) is now on the mind of nearly every leader and organization seeking to be innovative, especially as newly dispersed workplaces moved into uncertain home office situations. Previously, emotions in the workplace were seen as unnecessary and even a hindrance to productivity and professionalism. Today’s organizations and their leaders recognize that emotional intelligence is a must-have for keeping employees happy and engaged, whether working from the kitchen table or the office, while simultaneously driving business results.
A 2019 research report conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and Four Seasons confirmed what they described as the EI (emotional intelligence) advantage: “Whether in the C-suite or on the front lines, emotionally intelligent employees are a critical force driving innovation and enhanced customer experiences that come from a strong culture of empowerment.”
Reaping the business results of emotional intelligence begins with embedding it in your company culture. As Roberta Moore, founder of EQ-i Coach, says, “Organizations and personnel suffer when emotional intelligence is absent, because emotional intelligence affects culture.” Emotional intelligence opens the doors to collaboration and innovation in your organization that you would otherwise leave untapped.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive and manage your own emotions, as well as the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of others. Dr. Steven Stein, clinical psychologist and the founder and chief executive officer of Multi-Health Systems (MHS), distinguishes five major areas that we must foster to become emotionally intelligent: our ability to recognize our emotions, our ability to express our emotions, our ability to control impulse, our ability to manage stress and our ability to develop relationships.
These abilities combine to create emotionally intelligent people who can make informed decisions about their emotional responses and the emotional responses of others, rather than relying too heavily on emotion or eliminating emotion from decision-making altogether. Emotional intelligence fosters empathy, creativity, flexibility, resilience and more. In turn, EQ enables your organization, your team and yourself to be collaborative, innovative and authentic amid challenging and uncertain situations.
Without collaboration, productivity comes to a screeching halt. In the remote workplace, organizations need teams that can come together, while never physically coming together, to find solutions and keep the ball rolling. For example, Zappos emphasizes the importance of collaboration and the ability to work as a team in its company culture. Its website describes its core value of building a positive team and family spirit: “The best team members take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members whenever challenges arise. The best team members have a positive influence on one another and everyone they encounter.” Emotionally intelligent team members are open to their peers’ ideas, and emotionally intelligent cultures encourage team members to speak up and share their own solutions.
“Every person’s opinion is important. Every person’s opinion enriches the conversation,” says Moore. Therefore, the ability to notice when you’re dominating the conversation to let others join or to recognize when you’re preventing yourself from sharing due to fear or anxiety demonstrates emotional intelligence and encourages collaboration.
Stein echoes this idea, stating, “Productivity suffers when there’s lower EQ, because people maybe don’t cooperate as much, people don’t have a common purpose, people don’t have a common goal.” Establishing a company culture that emphasizes emotional intelligence unifies team members in working toward a common goal, encouraging collaboration.
Gossip and indirect, inauthentic communication are counterintuitive to fostering an emotionally intelligent, productive and collaborative workforce. Charlie Swift, senior editor at Emerald Works, says that with emotional intelligence, “Communication flows. Those conversations — which you don’t have, dread having, avoid having, or try having and then can’t quite manage — just happen in a more timely way.” Direct communication between team members is particularly crucial in a dispersed workforce, as virtual interactions lack the context workers gain from observing colleagues’ facial expressions and body language.
Collaboration is easier when trust is present. Emotional intelligence calls for people to be open and honest in their interpersonal and workplace relationships. Zappos, for example, embeds emotional intelligence in its organizational culture by emphasizing the importance of open, honest communication in its teams: “A key ingredient in strong relationships is to develop emotional connections … Open, honest communication is the best foundation for any relationship.”
In addition to fostering collaboration, emotional intelligence prepares our brains for innovation. When you begin to consider how other’s view a situation and your reactions to your own emotions, you enter “that questioning, open mode,” says Swift — which is great for creativity. Connecting the emotions of the people around us with their actions and reactions enables us to practice making connections in other situations, too.
We often find ourselves most in need of innovation when confronted with change. In the rapidly changing times we live in, innovation and adaptability go hand in hand. In its core values statement, Zappos recognizes the necessity of an adaptive workforce, stating, “We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to embrace it enthusiastically, and perhaps even more importantly, to encourage and drive it … Change can and will come from all directions. It’s important that anyone, anywhere in the organization is a sensor for meaningful change.” EQ allows for flexibility and adaptability, as emotionally intelligent team members are proficient in recognizing and adapting to the needs of others.
Zappos also believes in supporting its employees in making mistakes “as long as they learn from them.” Emotionally intelligent leaders foster risk-taking and innovation and recognize the potential of their employees’ creative solutions rather than valuing traditional business practices that simply “get the job done.”
Emotional intelligence also boosts our self-confidence and self-esteem, helping us bring our authentic selves to work. Emotionally intelligent workplaces value individuality, because the qualities that make us unique enable us to bring different perspectives to the table when it’s time to collaborate and innovate. Valuing authenticity and individuality in the workplace can create more equitable and inclusive work environments for all employees.
“You can have all the hard skills in the world, but if you don’t have [emotional intelligence], you’re not going to be as effective using those hard skills,” says Moore. Perhaps you’re an impressive software developer, but you shut down the ideas of others. Perhaps you’re making six figures annually in the C-suite, but your people fear you, and productivity slows because they hesitate to come to you when problems arise. Emotionally intelligent organizations recognize that they are lost without their people.
Businesses know that collaboration and innovation are key to meeting business goals. However, they may forget the key ingredient: emotional intelligence. Embed emotional intelligence in your company culture by emphasizing empathy, honesty, creativity and individuality, and watch collaboration, innovation and authenticity transform your business. For insights and resources on developing a company culture that supports emotional intelligence, visit Zappos Insights.