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EI - Why it Matters
Other readings on EI by The
10 Dimensions for EI Teams
Leading with EI
EI at School
EI, Values & Behaviour
Culture, Connectivity & EI
More insights on EI in
Issues #4, #7, #10
You might also be interested to
Clinics by The Change Forum
Intelligence - Why it Matters
Bill Cropper, Director - The Change Forum
Quiet Emotional Revolution
There’s an emotional revolution going on. It stems from a growing
realisation emotions do matter for good work, good relationships and a
good life. Office, factory, work, school or home, emotions affect how we
think, who we are and how we live. They:
play a role in every corner of our lives;
influencing our moods, decisions, actions – our entire outlook on life
have a big impact on how we behave, how we
cope with change and stress, how well we get along with loved ones,
workmates, friends, bosses and customers.
impact physical health because of a close
connection between our immune system and brain areas that regulate
determine how satisfied, motivated, happy,
healthy and effective we are in work and life – our level of
achievement, focus, purpose, perseverance, optimism, hope and joy.
“People who experience chronic anxiety, long periods of sadness and
pessimism, unremitting tension or incessant hostility or cynicism were
found to have double the risk of disease. This makes distressing
emotions as toxic a risk factor as smoking or high cholesterol – a major
threat to health.” Daniel Goleman
in EI: Why it Matters more than IQ p.167
EI: What it
is and Why it Matters
Forget intellect. Emotions are the main part
of our make-up – the background to everything we do. Learning to live with
our emotions, to understand them and harness them for good effect, takes
Emotional Intelligence (EI).
EI is not just a random concept – it’s a real
brain function. We’re equipped with emotional circuitry hard-wired into
us, but instructions on how to use this well has to be learned. Family and
school are where we pick up our first, often most ingrained emotional
patterns. But these can be learned and unlearned throughout the lives,
because our brain is capable of constantly re-moulding its pathways.
What is EI? Very simply put, it’s about:
Knowing my emotional patterns, how they
affect me and controlling my moods
Seeing how my feelings impact others
Choosing how I think, feel and act (not be
controlled by or at the whim of my feelings)
The ability to relate to/get on well with
Communicating what I feel clearly, and…
Connecting with others – or empathy.
Many of us were brought up believing we should
keep emotions to ourselves – that they get in the way of rational work
practices. You can’t keep emotions out of workplaces – thankfully. Because
they play a positive role in doing good work – just as much as they do
sometimes get in the way.
"EI is the foundation for a host of critical work life
skills – focus, concentration, teamworking, communication, leadership
and relationship-building – accounting for 58% of performance in all
types of jobs overall. 90% of high-performers are high in EI, while only
20% of low performers are." (in
EI-2 by Bradberry & Greaves p 20-21)
EI skills like perseverance, resilience,
empathy, self-confidence and self-motivation are essential to
work and life success; for workplaces that are welcoming, warm, inspiring
and connective and for decreasing dysfunctional emotional patterns like
anger, apathy and anxiety that turn teams toxic and poison relationships.
EI has a lot to do with how much respect, support and positivity there is
in a workplace. When it’s not there, we notice.
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and Emotional Contagion...
The prevailing pattern and frequency of
positive/negative emotions generated in any workplace is an often
unnoticed determiner of the health and productivity of a work culture.
Related to this, are two core concepts that make EI such a potent force
for positivity or negativity at work.
The first is emotional hijacks. The amygdala
is our fear and anger centre. In situations where emotions run high, we’re
at risk of being hijacked by them. Feelings control what we say and do
because our brain is wired to feel first, and think second. When our
amygdala takes over, our rational brain takes a backseat. We act in ways
that make things worse, escalate bad feelings, damage relationships and we
generate negative, unhealthy emotions. That’s an ‘emotional hijack'.
Learning how to manage our feelings, moods and
stress reactions helps us avert or lessen hijacks. Why bother? Well,
that’s the second EI concept.
Emotions are contagious. We catch them like
’flu, but much faster. When we manage moods well – we’re cheery,
optimistic, supportive or connective – people act the same. We ‘resonate’
emotionally with each other. This helps us retain energy, handle stress
and remain emotionally balanced and creates a positive emotional work
Bad moods are equally infectious. When we act
cranky, impatient, intolerant, cynical or sullen, we infect others with
toxic feelings and people treat you the same. If you’re abrupt, they’ll be
rude back. If you blame, they’ll blame back. When you attack, expect a
counter-attack. It’s the amygdala at work again – defending us from
“When someone dumps their toxic feelings
on us – explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt – they
activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions”,
says Daniel Goleman in his book
People who can’t, or won’t, control their
negative feelings, set off negative emotional chain-reactions that create
toxic work climates.
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The Cost of
Research is showing toxic emotions may pose a
serious health threat, just as if they were real, physical bio-hazards.
Toxic emotions infect every workplace. They’re:
Embedded in arguments, caustic comments,
dictatorial bosses or cantankerous colleagues
Inherent in the stress of work-pressures and
A by-product of not handling our hijacks –
the patterns of blame, bullying, rage, resentment that simmer underneath
The costs of toxic emotions are often
invisible. Apart from resignations and absenteeism, they blunt our sense
of purpose, poison people’s experience of work, rob them of vitality and
resilience and drain workforce productivity. Toxic emotions –
generated by you or picked up from others, leave a residual in the body.
Unless we learn how to emotionally insulate ourselves from their effects,
they can play havoc with our health, behaviour and sense of well-being.
“Strong negative emotions such as anger,
sadness, frustration, or despair can be particularly toxic to the human
body and affect the immune system’s ability to protect it...In effect,
handling emotional toxins can be as hazardous as working with physical
toxins.” Peter Frost Toxic
Emotions at Work
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Stress at Work: The EI Connection...
The stress of non-stop change, the demands to
deliver more, cope with more complex work environments, work longer hours
and meet tighter deadlines is taking its toll in terms of fatigue, rising
stress levels, more caustic work climates, alienation and illness.
Workplace stress costs Australian
organisations hundreds of millions of dollars every year, not to mention
costs in lost productivity, accidents, mistakes and staff turnover.
What’s the EI link? Well, EI plays a big role
in how well we cope with stress and work pressure. Stress is an emotional
reaction first. Depression, acute anxiety, chronic pessimism and many
other disabling conditions, are connected to the way we think and react
emotionally to stress situations.
Not everyone reacts to stress the same way.
Some learn to control their stress response better than others – they
often seem more resilient, robust, calm and controlled.
The stress response is our bodily reaction
to situations we find threatening, tense, fearful, uncomfortable or
pressured. It helps us cope with it and can protect and preserve us.
Learning how to regulate our emotions and
control our stress response and behaviour is one important aspect of EI
In a 2000 Gallop Poll, 80% of workers
reported feeling stressed – nearly half said they needed help to learn
how to manage it. In 2001, stress claims in the public sector alone cost
Australia in excess of $35 million, according to an ACTU report, and
60%-80% of accidents on the job are stress-related.
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Cycle of Stress...
When our stress levels go into the red, the
same chemicals that energised and made us alert, like cortisol and
adrenaline, work in reverse.
They build up in our system – drain us,
fatigue sets in, we can’t focus, anxiety increases, we feel out of
control. These feelings affect our behaviour. We start relating in
scratchy ways with people. We snap at them as we start to snap inside.
This diagram traces the escalating cycle…
We feel more demands on us, so we put more
effort and time into work, which eats into relax-time, physical
exercise, or other pursuits that kept us balanced.
Because this build-up is slow, we ignore the
alert signals or wake-up calls this happening. We do defensive routines
to justify our bad behaviour. We deny, rationalise, excuse-make or
As we get busier, we get more stressed and
more off-balance. Things we once handled in our stride start to trip us
up. To combat this, we work harder – or withdraw into our shell.
We distance ourselves from others and stop
connecting with others, which is one support we need in stressful times.
Our sense of confidence and energy then wane. We begin to focus even
more on how tired, behind-the-game and demanded-of we feel – and that
disconnects us more.
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Combating Stress and Toxic Emotions...
What can we do to manage stress, combat toxic
emotions and look after our well-being at work? Here’s a few suggestions
signals, pay attention to wake-up calls and signs of
slipping into stress
Get in tune with
and express feelings. This has a calming effect and
literally gets the Amygdala to release ‘antidotes’.
Delve deeper into
real feelings – finding the right feeling word (ie. not
angry – “I was feeling left-out, ignored...”) also has a
maddening messages – eg. “I feel frustrated,
‘pissed-off’” are surface level feelings. They wind us up and
wind-up thoughts – ones that fuel bad feelings. See what
they do to you, and find more calming or consoling thoughts.
strengths and weaknesses – ones that have a positive effect
for you and others – and ones that have a negative effect.
Pay attention to
emotional impacts you have on others – get feedback on your
triggers – situations that hijack you, get up your nose or
Choose your mood
– don’t bring bad ones to work and infect others. Consider impact on
you and others – be emotionally responsible.
you have about people. Bad stories breed bad feelings. Good
stories breed more positive emotions that can lead to more healthy
feelings and act as a buffer against other’s toxic emotions.
positivity. Get a handle on levels of pessimism and
optimism. Catch yourself feeling negative and re-frame more
moments. Connecting may be the last thing you feel like
when you’re stressed and the first you should. Connecting may be a
great stress reliever. Empathy is calming, restoring and healing.
“Research shows connecting and compassion
may be pivotal in stress relief. Without them we are more vulnerable to
toxic emotions – both our own and others. They have a constructive
effect on neurological functioning, well-being, physical health and
personal relationships and counters the physiological and psychological
harm done by stress.” In
Becoming a Resonant Leader McKee, Boyatzis & Johnston p. 38
compassion. Identifying emotionally with others increases
connectivity, insulates from toxic emotions and counters physical
effects of stress by calming bodily reactions.
Do things that
energise you – tasks that interest you, you find
meaningful, extending, that give feelings of satisfaction/completion.
activity helps drain toxicity. Walk. Cycle. Swim. Garden.
avoidable stressors. Make a list of stressors then work
through it to see which you can eliminate, lessen or re-proportion.
Work out what
really matters most. Get back in touch with your personal
vision, work out what you really should be doing – and do it.
acceptance and small acts of kindness. Exercise tolerance
for frailties of others. Identify things you sweat over you can let
go. Accept what you can’t change and do a kind thing for someone every
Find spots in your environment where you feel more calm,
inspired, powerful or protected – and visit them daily or weekly.
There are mental disciplines you can use to focus thoughts,
control emotional reactions, and take on new patterns of being,
thinking and acting that can relieve stress.
Well in Workplaces...
We hear more often these days about the need
for work-life balance. Research and common sense, supports the idea that
people perform at their best when they’re healthy, positive,
emotionally-balanced and feel valued by their organisation.
Many organisations (not nearly enough) are
providing staff with services to encourage them to look after their health
and wellbeing: emotional self-management, healthcare and happiness
classes, stress seminars, work-gyms, massage, meditation-relaxation
sessions, Tai-chi, pilates, yoga, even colour and aroma-therapy.
Staff perceive programs like these as
morale-boosters. They feel more valued, recognised, appreciated and
Organisations see investments like these far
outweigh the costs of dissatisfaction, de-motivation, depression,
burnout and losing staff to stress-related illness.
People are more productive and motivated if
they enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Cultivating ‘well-being’ at work acts like
stress inoculation. It also lifts motivation when exercise, relaxation and
meditation are incorporated as regular routines into work-life. Workplace
well-being programs can be effective on all these levels, either as a
preventive strategy to combat stress before it manifests physically or as
a way to identify and contain it before it gets critical.
While initiatives like this are great, getting
at the systemic causes of toxicity by creating more emotionally
intelligent, supportive, compassionate workplaces is still the ultimate
This FactFile is derived from our program participant Guide: EI at Work
– Working with Emotional Intelligence
Bill Cropper - The Change
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Sources referred to:
Boyatzis, Richard E. and McKee,
Annie 2005, Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting
with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion Harvard Business
School Press, Boston Mas.
Bradberry, Travis & Greaves,
Jean 2009 Emotional Intelligence 2.0 TalentSmart, SanDiego CA
Frost, Peter (2003) Toxic
Emotions at Work, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge
Goleman, Daniel (1996)
Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, Bloomsbury, London
Goleman, Daniel (1998)
Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury, London
McKee, Annie, Boyatzis, Richard,
Johnston, Frances 2008, Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your
Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your
Effectiveness, Harvard Business School Press, Boston Mas.
More on Emotional Intelligence by Bill Cropper - see our
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