Recognizing Emotions as Real at Heart of Developing Emotional Intelligence

March 18, 2022 | By Kevin Gray

Man with several faces

TAGS: best practices, career development, coronavirus, nace insights, talent acquisition,

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of and understand effective methods to manage your emotions and, by doing so, you are impacting the emotions of others, explains Dr. Airies Davis, founder and chief strategist of WorkforcEQi LLC, which addresses well-being issues and emotions in the workplace.

“What makes emotional intelligence distinct in the workplace is that, typically, we crave and value scenarios to create mindset shifts at work,” Dr. Davis says.

“Emotional intelligence offers space to tap into connected experiences through shared workplace scenarios.”

"'No' is a complete sentence."

For example, you are having a rough day and come into the office, where you encounter your colleague who is having a great day. Davis asks: “How are you going to address the way that you show up in that situation positively so that you avoid negatively transferring your emotions to your colleague or coming across as not being present?” The ability to do so demonstrates heightened emotional intelligence.   

“Employees can strengthen their own personal emotional intelligence by understanding that when they are emotionally triggered, these situations are real and deserving of attention,” Dr. Davis explains.

“We tend to dismiss our mental and physical response to emotional situations as not being real. Oftentimes, we bury our emotions without creating space to give them the level of respect they deserve. As an employee, you need to face your emotional state with curiosity and compassion. Lean into the authentic reaction from your head and heart with empathy. Some psychologists even suggest labeling it so you are able to identify what those emotions are and how your employer can support you and your colleagues. You want to describe your emotional landscape so when you experience future situations, you're able to adopt strategies to regulate your mindset.”

The concept of recognizing feelings as real is a key step in developing emotional intelligence. The risk you run by not doing so is burnout.

“Author Michael Gungor says that burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long,” Davis says.

“I respect this definition because it acknowledges and connects the human side of how we're feeling in the moment. Burnout may show up in the workplace as irritation, low energy, lack of responsiveness or attention, drowning or feeling overwhelmed, and/or avoiding tasks.”

Too often, employees try to mask or power through their emotional struggles and burnout.

“We have been conditioned as employees to believe by investing more time into and becoming more visible at work will result in reward, praise, and attention from leadership, but this mindset is unrealistic and not sustainable,” Dr. Davis explains.

“Research shows if we don't deal with workplace stressors, they will have a great impact on employee retention and emotional well-being. Employees who try to power through with busyness using the miscalibrating myth, oftentimes because of the organizational culture, are not able to bring their best selves to work. ‘The Great Resignation’ is not happening just because of shifts in the economy. It’s happening, in part, because people are realizing what's valuable and important to them, and sometimes that does not involve working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

One of the biggest reasons for burnout is an employee’s lack of control over a situation.

“This comes up most often with deadlines,” Dr. Davis says.

“Another cause of burnout is increasing expectations to ‘pivot.’ We have to be more empathetic to the agile skill requirements, constrained time, and enhanced role and responsibilities employees face even more in our new world of work.” 

Dr. Davis recommends that people who are experiencing burnout should:

  • Examine what they are feeling;
  • Label the emotion;
  • Reflect on responses to the labeled emotion;
  • Identify a strategy to address the emotion; and
  • Take realistic, transparent, and immediate action.

“Take a break and breathe! Depending on identified emotions, that action may mean stepping away to reset, practicing mindfulness exercises, accessing resources to shift focus, asking for help and coaching, or more,” she says.

“‘No’ is a complete sentence. There is power in taking ownership of our time with the word ‘no.’ Sometimes, using ‘no’ can open blocks of time for self-care to address burnout.”

In addition to the toll burnout has on the mental and physical health of individuals, it has a negative effect on organizations that do not address it in the form of damaged morale, reduced production, increased employee turnover, shrinking profits, and more.

Organizations that effectively address emotional well-being recognize stressors and reduce or eliminate them to support their employees. Take, for example, the growing number of retailers that closed their stores for the Thanksgiving holiday last year. In addition to reducing/eliminating stressors, employers should have resources and/or approaches—such as providing methods of resilience or emotional regulation tools—that validate and address the feelings of their employees.

“Many organizations are responding to emotional burnout by offering mental health/self-care days, exercise equipment and memberships, wellness retreats, and life coaching,” she says.

“Equally, constantly being tied to technology weighs us down. Allow space and time for walk-and-talks, during which employees can disconnect from technology and connect with one another.”

The surge in the need for emotional and mental health care during the pandemic has shed stigmas surrounding it. Supporting this, Dr. Davis mentions public figures such as gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka, who acknowledged their recent struggles with mental health in real time.

“These notable figures helped to make emotional health a real and necessary platform of focus,” she notes.

“Employers are recognizing more than ever how emotional intelligence can serve as a viable cure for workplace and emotional burnout. Adapting practices and committing resources to support their employees’ emotional state can play a key role in developing high-performing cultures of belonging.  Thus, successful employers are investing in emotional health as a part of the heart of their workplace culture.”