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How to Cultivate Higher Emotional Intelligence in Your Employees Doing it right could lead to higher productivity, greater team bonding, better client relationships and even more benefits.

By Timothy Carter Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Emotional intelligence (sometimes called EQ or EI) has the power to reshape your entire workplace. With higher emotional intelligence as a leader, you'll be able to exercise more patience. You'll have an intuitive understanding of what other people are thinking and feeling. You'll practice more compassion and earn more trust from your team. You'll even be able to keep your own emotions in check, making more logical decisions and staying calm and stress-free under pressure.

But your employees can also benefit from high emotional intelligence. If you had an entire team of people with high EQ and consistent levels of emotional control and compassion, you'd hypothetically enjoy higher productivity, greater team bonding, better client relationships and even more benefits.

The question is, how can you cultivate higher emotional intelligence in your team?

Understand the elements of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence can be defined and understood in a variety of different ways, but these are some of the most common hallmarks of it:

  • Awareness and understanding. Emotionally intelligent people are able to practice self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions.

  • Self-regulation. They also have the ability to regulate and control those emotions.

  • Empathy. People with high EQ find it easy to practice empathy and compassion, relating to the people around them and feeling what they feel.

  • Positive social interactions. Emotional intelligence also makes it easier for people to practice positive social interactions. They listen to others vent, provide meaningful advice, express sympathy and make other people feel good about themselves.

Practice active listening

Practice active listening within the team. Active listening requires you to pay attention to what a person is saying, interjecting only occasionally to verify understanding. It's the social opposite of people talking over each other in a meeting.

You can practice active listening by calling out and minimizing interruptions in a meeting-like setting. You can also train your employees how to ask meaningful questions and focus on a listener.

Related: 5 Psychological Strategies for Building a Winning Team Culture

In time, your employees will become better listeners naturally. At that point, they'll be able to better understand each other's thoughts and feelings and will be able to exercise more patience.

Encourage explicit emotional expression

Some office environments suffer from pent-up negative feelings like jealousy or resentment. People practice passive-aggressive behavior, deceive one another and look for opportunities to retaliate subtly. But all these problems can often be avoided when people feel comfortable expressing their feelings openly and explicitly.

For example, encourage your employees to say things like, "I'm stressed from the higher workload I've had recently. Can you help me by taking on a few tasks?" instead of, "Why don't you chip in for once?" It makes for a healthier environment and tends to lead to much faster resolutions.

Adopt flexibility

Emotional issues can't always be resolved with a sympathetic ear or a quick apology. If someone is especially stressed, or if there's a personal issue at play, you'll need to take more significant actions. To better respond to the needs of your employees and encourage them to respond to others' needs on their own, try to keep your workplace as autonomous and flexible as possible. As an added bonus, autonomous workplaces tend to be happier.

Recognize and respond to stress

One of the most important emotional experiences to recognize in the workplace is stress. When a person is stressed, they tend to be less focused, less productive, less kind and less effective. If your employees get better at recognizing the early signs of stress, both in themselves and in others, they'll eventually gain more control over those feelings.

Improve team bonds

Emotional intelligence is only effective if it's consistently practiced. And it's only going to be consistently practiced if your employees genuinely care about each other. Accordingly, one of your best strategies for boosting EQ in your team is facilitating better team bonds. Host team-building events and encourage your employees to get to know each other to do this.

Set the example

Finally, work to set the example. You're the leader of this organization, or at the very least, you carry influence within your team. Whatever you do, people will be paying attention, and whether they realize it or not, they'll probably mimic you. If you consistently practice patience, empathy, self-control and understanding, they're going to follow suit. This is difficult to do if you struggle with emotional intelligence or if you don't have much practice in the field — but you'll need to do it if you want your team members to follow these habits.

Related: Are You Really Listening to Your Customers?

Emotional intelligence isn't just about being nice and creating a comfortable workplace. With better emotional intelligence, your organization will make more money as well. It's a slow and iterative process, especially if your organization hasn't dabbled much in the area of emotional intelligence in the past, but it's a worthy investment.

Timothy Carter

Chief Revenue Officer of SEO.co

Timothy Carter is the CRO of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO & digital marketing leading, building & scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and driving growth from websites and sales teams.

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