Using emotional intelligence to be a great coworker

Being a good coworker is largely a matter of contributing to the workplace morale and team spirit. It might seem preferable to stick to yourself and just get your job done, but people who try that tack often discover that their own interests as well as those of the organization suffer as a result. Unfortunately, cultivating good relationships with your fellow employees can be a challenge. Not everyone will view you as a comrade, and in turn you won’t feel open and trusting around everyone you work with. Your intuition about people is crucial in such cases. Here are a few ways to use it to your advantage:

Don’t make assumptions about those you work with. It’s so easy to project your prejudices and biases on to your workplace. You may not have to get to know your coworkers as well as your boss or employees, but you’ll never learn anything about them if you begin by assuming stereotypes like recent college grads are always arrogant or almost-retireds are stodgy; that women can be manipulated by emotions and men by data. Let your emotions show you what’s unique about everyone.

Don’t expect anyone to communicate with 100 percent honesty. Some people seem incapable of plain speaking at work. They’re afraid, they’re too polite, they’re cautious, and they rarely say what they mean or mean what they say. You can wait until you’ve been burned several times to figure it out, or you can pay extra attention to what your body tells you they feel, and less to what they say. Trust your intuition about people. Be particularly alert with people who may view you as a competitor.

Be prepared to draw the line. There’s a limit to how close you’ll want to be with a coworker, but that doesn’t mean you won’t or shouldn’t form friendships at work. If you share the values and goals of the organization and its other employees, there’s a good chance that you’ll find friends there. Stay attuned to your own feelings, however, so you know when you want to be an acquaintance, not a close friend. Don’t let emotional blackmail or office politics pressure you into relationships you don’t want. If you feel uneasy with a relationship, trust your hunch and back off. If a work conflict comes up with someone who is now a close friend, you’ll be able to tell from the intensity of your own feelings and your empathic feelings where your priorities lie.

Offer help; don’t wait for people to ask. Not only will your generosity contribute to the camaraderie and morale in the office, but your sensitivity to the needs of others will gain you their future support and loyalty.

Don’t take it personally. Remember that everyone has an agenda, a personal life, and a unique style of interaction. You don’t have to take anyone’s behavior personally. Let coworker’s behavior bring out your empathy, not your sympathy. You can understand how they might be feeling without being consumed by emotional memory or taking responsibility for their angst.

Using emotional intelligence to be a great boss

Like it or not (and many in supervisory positions do not), if your job involves managing other people, they’ll view you as their fearless leader. That means that even if they’ve been raising their EQs too, they’ll look to you to initiate action, elicit communication, and set the style and pace of daily operations. Here’s how you can meet their expectations to get them to meet yours:

Anticipate people problems. Use your empathy to know your employees and how they interrelate. With it, you understand what motivates individuals, what relationships have formed, and even the separate “personality” of the organization or department. Will your department’s rising stats begin to fall now that a mentor has retired? Will a reorganization remove critical support systems? Will turning a project over to a consultant be a relief or an affront to your staff? The more you know about how your employees feel, the less often your own actions will inadvertently create havoc or resentments.

Be the first to speak. Even if you’ve created a safe and open atmosphere for communication, some people will always be intimidated by the boss and won’t bring up a problem before it’s imposed a hefty toll. That’s why it’s so important to be quick to talk honestly with your staff about potential problems or changes and invite comment. If you sense discontent from one or more employees, try to broach the subject in a way that relieves their insecurities—then respect their privacy if they still decline to talk.

Make it known that you’re always ready for employees to improve themselves. We energize our world of work by looking for strengths in others. Working people have hidden talents that can be used for the benefit of all. Nothing builds morale better than noting the value of others. Let your employees know that you’re open to their reaching as far as they can, and they’ll probably aim higher.

Offer only as much as you intend to give. Don’t invite comment if you don’t intend to listen wholeheartedly. Never hold out the promise of rewards if you can’t deliver. Don’t hold brainstorming sessions and tell your staff how brilliant their ideas are if you never intend to put any of them to use. People recognize lip service when they hear it and don’t work very hard for those they don’t trust.

Model flexibility and adaptability. If you want your employees to be creative self-starters who work up to their potential, show them that proactive problem-solving is more important than sticking to rigid plans and rules. Can you toss out a game plan that isn’t working without worrying about how it makes you look? Can you react quickly to reports of problems by your employees? Can you regroup and restrategize without acting put out?

Cultivate employees, don’t coddle them. Despite what some managers believe, you can listen to your employees and show concern for their feelings without babying them. Remember, empathy is different from sympathy, and you must stay attuned to your own feelings while attempting to understand theirs. With a high EQ, you’ll be able to cut off a heart-to-heart talk before it becomes unproductive and interferes with your own goals, without offending your employee. You’ll be able to praise people for a job well done without fearing that it will result in a relaxed work effort. You’ll be able to balance your employees’ need to be valued, with your need to achieve goals. Your emotional acceptance will keep you from being manipulated by someone else’s distress.