Why HR Leaders Need Strong Emotional Intelligence

You’ve likely engaged in professional development before, but has that ever included emotional intelligence training?

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

While listening to Daniel Goleman, leading author on Emotional Intelligence (EI), he said that given our brain’s neuroplasticity (how the brain shapes itself based on repeated experiences), we should “…teach kids regularly, overtime, in a systematic way, self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skills.” And given the far-reaching impact of high emotional intelligence, I believe this education should continue into adulthood—and more specifically, be nurtured in the workplace.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important In The Workplace?

In the context of work, research indicates that emotional intelligence is critical to organizational culture. Although technical abilities are clearly important, emotional abilities are, too. One study finds that EI “…instills high levels of trust and cooperation throughout the organization while maintaining the flexibility needed to respond to changing conditions.” Yet, even with this growing body of research, Harvard Business Review says that emotional culture is rarely managed as intentionally as cognitive culture—and too often, emotional culture isn’t managed at all.

Which got me thinking—if organizations want to retain high-quality employees, foster creativity, maintain optimal productivity, and sustain a healthy working environment, they can’t ignore EI. And although EI is helpful in any role, it’s particularly important for HR folks, the People Leaders who regularly interact with diverse personalities and workstyles, and frequently navigate tricky interpersonal situations that require high levels of emotional intelligence.

Diving into this topic, I’ve identified three interconnected prerequisites for emotional intelligence at work: (1) self-awareness (a topic I’ve written about before), (2) interpersonal relationships, and (3) psychological safety, or the shared belief that a group is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Recognizing the complexity of EI—along with the groundwork that must be laid—what does it look like to actually teach and cultivate emotional intelligence within an organization?

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Here are three solid strategies to incorporate emotional intelligence in the workplace:

Foster employee relationships

Though you probably said farewell to ice breakers when you graduated college, given EI’s dependence on interpersonal relationships, organizations benefit when they help employees connect with each other. Real estate service, Spruce, founded Spruce Adventurers, a group for employees who want to do outdoorsy activities together. FareHarbor pairs team members up for weekly coffee or lunch dates. This approach may also take the form of in-house mentoring programs, company happy hours, or lunch and learns—to name a few.

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

As with any skill, it’s difficult to increase your emotional intelligence if you don’t understand it. Whether you hire an outside consultant, or can call on an internal HR Leader who specializes in EI (like an Employee Experience Designer or an Employee Culture and Engagement Specialist), it can be helpful to coordinate an EI workshopto begin teaching emotional intelligence. Depending on the curriculum, an EI workshop can help participants learn the core skills of healthy emotional intelligence, deal more effectively with difficult people, and/or enhance team awareness.

Model empathy and compassion

It may seem elementary, but one of the best ways to foster emotional intelligence at work is to model it yourself. Create a culture of compassion by recognizing employee accomplishments and supporting employees who are struggling. Write thoughtful thank-you notes for an exceptional job. Or order flowers for an employee experiencing a loss. Demonstrating situational awareness—and publicly recognizing the emotional needs of your team—can be an effective way to not only practice EI, but foster it across the organization.

Emotional Intelligence Is Key

If your organization wants to retain high-quality employees, foster creativity, maintain optimal productivity, and sustain a healthy working environment, emotional intelligence is vital. Actively foster relationships among employees, explicitly teach about EI in the workplace, and always work to model empathy and compassion—after all, it’s one of the most accessible and effective ways to increase EI in yourself and those around you.