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4 questions that develop emotional intelligence in the workplace

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 13-Nov-2015 10:27:58

What does emotional intelligence actually look like? 

In a previous article we focused on emotional intelligence in leadership. This article will go a step further and look at how a leader applies the four step process outlined in that article to resolve a common workplace situation – and also to help build emotional intelligence in the workplace.

First, a quick recap – here is the framework for emotional intelligence we are using (based on Daniel Goleman’s model) - if you read the previous article, we have updated this to include the four questions - and the numbering shows the order in which they will usually work best for you.


Leader as Model: it starts with you and you set the ceiling

If you want to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace – and specifically within your team – it all starts with you. A team leader has a disproportionate influence over their team, although that influence can go either way - positive or negative.

There are three main reasons for this influence:

  • The obvious one: the team leader’s decisions and actions impact more people more significantly - a leader's decisions may have consequences for many people
  • The first critical one: the way the team leader acts and behaves is both a template and a benchmark for their people. A team is highly unlikely to hold themselves to a higher standard than the one the leader works to.
  • The second critical one: not only does the way you respond indicate WHAT is appropriate to your team, it also shows them HOW.

emotional_intelligence_floor_ceiling-1.pngWhat we can tell you is that your people are learning emotional intelligence habits and strategies from you. What you will have to decide for yourself is whether they are learning good stuff or bad stuff.

This means that you must consistently model the standards of emotional intelligence you expect to see from your team. This is not about what you do on your worst days (we all have those) or on your best days – your team perceives the standards you set based on your average day. What level of emotional intelligence do you demonstrate in the workplace on a normal day? In regular interactions? With your team in general? 

Everyday opportunities to build emotional intelligence in the workplace

So, the leader has responsibility for modelling emotional intelligence in the workplace – the good news is that every day work life presents dozens of opportunities to model the standards you expect. How many of these things happen on an average workday for you?

  • You are working under pressure and a team member needs something from you
  • You or your team have a set back – a task that doesn’t work out, a deadline that is missed
  • A team member has a ‘melt down’
  • A couple of people have a disagreement
  • Someone is unhappy with a decision
  • You feel frustrated for a short time
  • You briefly lack a bit of motivation
  • Someone expects something unreasonable from you
  • Someone lets you down in a small way

In every one of these circumstances you will model emotional intelligence for your team. The question is – what specifically will you model? Will you get annoyed, flustered, frustrated, withdraw or some other response that is very human but neither deals with the issue nor establishes a high emotional intelligence benchmark for your team? Or will you experience those emotions but use a good framework to process them before responding in way that deals with the issue effectively and models high emotional intelligence.

How this works in real life 

Let’s take a situation that could happen for any leader - it just happens to be occurring in your office today. Fortunately there are two of you there:

  • The evil you who let's the inner gorilla off the leash
  • The saintly you who deals with things in a perfectly emotionally intelligent way

Obviously there are many points between these extremes but you will get a sense of how the two options play out using the four questions in the emotional intelligence framework


You may not have this exact scenario occur but situations like this happen every day in the workplace. There are a number of ways this could go depending on how emotionally intelligent your response is.

1. How am I feeling?

This is all about awareness of the emotions you are experiencing. Everyone experiences emotions but they obviously vary between people. What is consistent is that these emotions will either be acknowledged and processed - or they will drive your behaviour, perhaps without you being consciously aware of them.


These responses may sound similar but they differ in important ways - the saintly you has made the effort to think about what the emotions are rather than just generalising them as 'pissed off'. In this situation, you may experience different emotions - that doesn't matter as long as you make the effort to identify them.

2. What should I do about it?

This is where the two paths start to head in very different directions. One gives in to the emotion and runs rampant, the other processes the emotion and sets up a better outcome.


There are many ways to manage an emotion - you need to understand strategies that work for you and then select one (or more) that fits the situation.

3. How are they feeling?

Now that you are in a 'good place' you can start to think about managing your relationship with the other person. This is where trust, respect, rapport and communication are built - or destroyed


4. What should I do about it?

This is the pinnacle of emotionally intelligent leadership - if you get this far, you have observed your feelings, worked out how to manage them effectively and tried to understand what is happening for the other person. You are now set up to get a really good outcome from this situation - and model high level emotional intelligence in the process.


Is the emotionally intelligent alternative harder? Absolutely! Will it be more effective? Double absolutely! As a manager you can choose between the easy path and the effective one. As a leader, you will make a good choice!

Keeping good habits top of mind

If you are like many leaders working in hectic environments, a regular reminder of great leadership habits is essential. You can get that reminder by subscribing to receive blog updates, or by downloading these free, colourful and inspiration wall posters

Leadership posters



Topics: Leadership, Personal Development