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Working With Emotional Awareness

September 19, 2022 Leadership
Imogen Sharma
By Imogen Sharma

Emotional awareness, or the ability to skillfully manage your emotions, has been called "the essential skill of the 21st-century economy." People may know emotional awareness by another name: emotional intelligence (EI or EQ), but they are basically the same thing.

Daniel Goleman, who wrote one of the most influential books on emotional awareness and intelligence in the workplace, has said having high EI is more important than having a high IQ when it comes to success in business.

What Is Emotional Awareness?

The two most influential psychologists on the topic, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, described emotional intelligence as recognizing and understanding emotions in yourself and others. You use EI to solve problems, communicate with others and make decisions.

Salovey and Mayer outlined four levels of EI:

  • Perceiving emotions
  • Reasoning with emotions
  • Understanding emotions
  • Managing emotions

More recently, Heather Craig outlined differences between EI and IQ in a paper titled "Theories of Emotional Intelligence Explained."

"What differentiates EI from the 'personal' intelligences is that EI does not focus on a general sense of self and the appraisal of others — rather, it is focused on recognizing and using the emotional states of the self and others in order to solve problems and regulate behavior," she wrote.

Related Article: Why Emotional Intelligence Is Key to Authentic Leadership

Emotional Awareness in the Workplace

When Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and former science reporter for the New York Times, wrote his influential book "Working with Emotional Intelligence" in 1999, he built much of his research on top of the work that Salovey and Mayer had done previously. He broadened his work to include research done by the Harvard Business Review that showed that emotional awareness "counted twice as much as IQ and technical skills combined in determining who will be successful."

Essentially, the most intelligent people in the office were not necessarily the ones with the highest salaries. Instead, the people working with emotional awareness/intelligence tended to adapt better to the workplace, be more successful, work better with others, thrive in their jobs, be more motivated and advance more quickly in the company.

Goleman outlined five essential elements of EI:

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

"The interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace stems from the widespread recognition that these abilities — self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill — separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average," Goleman said at a World of Business Ideas event in 2012 (the business equivalent of a TED talk.) "This is especially true in roles like the professions in the higher-level executives where everyone is about as smart as everyone else, and how people manage themselves and their relationships gives the best an edge."

The Essential Skill of the 21st Century

In a 2020 whitepaper on emotional intelligence, "Emotional Intelligence: the Essential Skill of the Future-Proofed Workplace," the Institute for Health and Human Potential outlined several important factors relating to emotional awareness in the workplace:

  • The World Economic Forum has added emotional intelligence as a top 10 skill needed for success in the 2020s.
  • 80% of the defining characteristics of exceptional leaders were emotional intelligence behaviors.
  • The need to develop emotional and social skills is increasing across all significant industries, while the need for physical and manual skills is declining rapidly.
  • Only 18% of those surveyed said their organization had ingrained EI in their cultures.
  • Nearly 70% of organizations measure employee satisfaction; only 10% measure EI skills.
  • 64% of emotionally intelligent companies have a high degree of empowerment and tolerance for risk.

Related Article: The 15 Traits, Characteristics and Qualities of Effective Leaders

The Five Essential Elements of EI

As noted, emotional intelligence in the workplace is a crucial skill.

"Emotional intelligence is important at work so you can perceive, reason with, understand and manage the emotions of yourself and others. Being able to handle emotions gives you the ability to guide and help people, and it can help you be happier and more successful," the Indeed editorial team wrote in 2021.

Emotional awareness/intelligence consists of five elements. Let's look at them a little more in-depth.


It's essential to pay attention to how you are feeling. If you go to work in a lousy mood and allow it to dictate your response to various work situations, it won't be a pleasant experience for anyone. Self-awareness will enable you to recognize your emotions and adjust them to create more positive results.

Self-awareness is one of the foundational components of emotional intelligence. Your emotions affect how you make decisions and interact with coworkers. When you are more aware of your feelings, it helps you understand how coworkers might perceive these emotions.

Making decisions based on an emotional response can be bad for the cohesiveness of your work team, not to mention your personal goals and career. It pays to analyze every emotional experience. Ask yourself what happened that made you feel that emotion and how you responded to it. How did you express that emotion and body language? Contemplating these things is a way to increase your self-awareness.


Controlling your emotions and adjusting them to achieve a more positive outcome is self-regulation. Your emotions directly affect the people you work with or who work under you. It's important to be in control of your emotions.

Don't bottle up your emotions. Look for an appropriate way to express emotion rather than an impulsive reaction. Work on techniques that can release stress in the workplace. Outside hobbies and exercise are great tools to help release stress.

It's also important to remember that you can't control everything, so keep calm. Look for ways to deal with the situation. Don't pour gasoline on a burning fire, but instead help extinguish the flames. Always think before you make any decision. Take a step away from the situation and make a more rational decision.


People with strong emotional awareness are inclined to set goals for their own sake. It's not just about getting rewarded or beating the competition, although those are important. It's more that people with strong emotional intelligence want to do things because they find the actual act of completing the task rewarding. They are passionate about what they do, which contributes to success on the job.

Motivated individuals enjoy new ventures. Even if there's a risk involved, they use emotional intelligence to see it as a challenge rather than an obstacle. When you have intrinsic motivation, you can motivate your entire team. It helps you inspire others to work hard and persist in the face of obstacles.


We often underestimate how important empathy is in the workplace. It's the ability to identify and understand how another individual is feeling. When you understand that a coworker may be feeling anxious, stressed or depressed for whatever reason, you deal with workplace situations more effectively.

Empathy allows you to see and understand the dynamics between coworkers and supervisors. When you see things from the other person's point of view, it gives you an entirely different perspective. Yes, it can be challenging and complex, especially if you have mixed feelings about your coworker or they have said something in the past that offended you. However, when you put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to understand how they see things, it offers you the opportunity to find a middle ground and avoid conflict.

Social Skills

How you interact and communicate with coworkers defines your social skills. One of the most important social skills is the ability to listen. Not just pay attention but actively listen. Sometimes when other people are talking, we think about what we're going to say in response rather than listening to what they're saying, asking questions and providing feedback. Coworkers will respond more readily to you if they feel you've been genuinely listening to what they had to say. This will induce them to provide the desired response to your questions.

Another important social skill is paying attention to nonverbal communication. Body language can convey a lot more about what people are genuinely thinking as opposed to what they're saying. We all know what somebody thinks when they sit back in their chair with their arms crossed. Pay attention to the signals and respond accordingly. Learn how to read the room.

Finally, do your best to avoid office drama. Office politics occur in every team and company. If politics dominate the office, that's trouble. You can't always avoid office politics but in that case, practice active listening. Pay attention to what others are saying and then look for a way to minimize tensions.

Related Article: What It Means to Be a Human Leader, and Why It's Important Today

Emotional Awareness and Job Satisfaction

Another critical aspect of emotional awareness in the workplace is how strongly it is related to job satisfaction. Individuals who exhibit EI have much greater job satisfaction and are less likely to leave their workplace than those with lesser EI. This is true globally, as studies in Korea and Pakistan have shown.

Toxic Culture and Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is essential for those in charge of a business or company, no matter its size. Employees regularly look to their supervisors and those above them for clues on how to behave and perform on the job. Leaders who lack emotional intelligence fail in this regard.

One of the most cited factors in the Great Resignation occurring in the later stages of the pandemic is that employees are tired of working in a toxic culture. If a workplace has a toxic culture, you need to look no further than the company's leadership.

"A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover," the authors of a 2022 article in the MIT Sloan Business School Review wrote. "Our analysis found that the leading elements contributing to toxic cultures include failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior."

Many of the toxic elements mentioned in the MIT Sloan study relate directly to emotional intelligence and a lack of it in the workplace.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Create a Healthy Remote Workforce

Working With Emotional Awareness

Here are some examples of how emotional intelligence can manifest in the workplace:

People Actively Listen to Each Other

Sadly, attending a meeting is considered a punishment in too many businesses. Meetings can be chaotic, unproductive and everyone can talk over each other with no one offering any helpful information. In other words, a great display of a lack of emotional intelligence. When people actively listen, ask relevant questions and provide meaningful feedback, meetings become a productive pleasure rather than a punishment.

People Aren't Afraid to Say What They Think

Another sign of emotional intelligence is the individual who is comfortable speaking up about important workplace issues. They appropriately express their feelings and willingly accept others who express different opinions. Employees who think other people should keep their thoughts to themselves and keep their opinions bottled up are low in emotional intelligence.

Offering a Compassionate Ear

How you deal with coworkers having a bad day is an excellent indicator of your emotional intelligence. Instead of saying "Just snap out of it" to a coworker, try to offer understanding and compassion. We all have bad days.

You don't have to offer them therapy — just a compassionate ear if they feel the need to talk.

Walk in Another Person's Shoes

One of the foremost experts on negotiation and conflict management, the late Roger Fisher used to regale his classes at Harvard with stories of how he got Israelis and Palestinians to sit down together and negotiate peace treaties in the 1980s. One of the essential things that Fisher would do, he said, was to get the Israelis to argue the Palestinian position and the Palestinians to argue the Israeli positions. When the two sides suddenly discovered themselves arguing for their opponents' positions, they understood them much better and were more willing to compromise.

It works the same way in your workplace. When you have difficulty with another person, put yourself in their shoes and try to understand where they're coming from. It will help you reach a compromise that you can both appreciate.


Welcome to the third decade of the 21st century, where your workplace can be a coffee shop, your kitchen table, the local library or maybe your actual office. As a result of the changes forced upon many companies because of the pandemic, managers and executives allowed more flexible definitions of a workspace. Managers and supervisors who understand people have different needs and offer ways to work smarter show emotional intelligence.

Freedom to Be Creative

A company that encourages its employees to be creative, think outside the box and find innovative solutions to problems or ideas is very high in EI. It's not only the right way to encourage job satisfaction and retention of key employees, but it also is one of the best ways to ensure that your company will be successful. Encouraging employees to be creative thinking outside the box allows them to turn problems into opportunities.

The Workplace Happy Hour

A sign of an organization that encourages emotional awareness/intelligence is that its employees get together outside of work. It doesn't have to be for a happy hour every Friday. You can enter a work softball team in a local league, have a workplace bowling team or organize charity events.

When people have emotional intelligence, they usually work well with their coworkers and understand the value of spending time together outside the office. They know this makes their jobs more enjoyable and the workplace function efficiently.

Related Article: Why We Need More Kindness in the Workplace

Final Thoughts

While some people may be born with emotional intelligence, nothing prevents you from becoming a more emotionally intelligent person. Emotional awareness/intelligence is not gender-based — a man who works to develop his emotional intelligence is as good at it as a woman.

What's important to remember is that emotional intelligence is increasingly becoming the critical factor in whether a business will be successful or fail. That only 18% of workplaces think that their workplace is emotionally intelligent speaks to how far we have to go.

EI is also key to enjoying your job and improving the overall environment in your workplace.


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