How to Apply Emotional Intelligence in Difficult Workplace Scenarios (Part 1)

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How to Apply Emotional Intelligence in Difficult Workplace Scenarios (Part 1)

Emotional intelligence is an important leadership skill and one that is being considered more and more by HR and in hiring, recruiting, and promotion. First outlined by Daniel Goleman in his book of the same name, the concept has since taken off, and for good reason.  However, developing your emotional intelligence and actively working to improve yourself in this area can be difficult, in part because of the transient nature of emotions.

Emotional intelligence involves factors such as how you create and resolve conflicts, manage anger, deal with adversity and moods, how well you give and take criticism, how you solve problems, how you self-motivate, and even how you respond (productively) to the feelings and emotions of others.

While you likely know that, and you have probably read books or taken courses on the subject, you’re also likely wondering, how do you actually apply emotional intelligence in the workplace.

These common but difficult workplace scenarios should give you a good idea of how to go about applying your emotional intelligence to a problem. This is especially crucial if you have been asked to start working on your emotional intelligence but aren’t aware of how to or even what counts.

Part 1 will cover unwarranted criticism and a lie from a colleague. Part 2 covers being put in the middle of an argument, late work from colleagues, and plagiarized work.

Scenario 1: You Receive (Unwarranted) Criticism

You work hard on a project, but nothing goes right. The end result is not up to standard because of factors outside of your control (project partners, timeline change, inability of a partner to deliver, change of parameters last minute, illness, etc.). Your colleague criticizes you for your performance in front of the team, stating that if you were not able to complete the project, you should have gone to him and asked for help or asked to transfer it early on.

You worked hard on this and gave it your 100%. You feel that the criticism is wrongful. How do you react to being criticized? While most people would react with anxiety or even anger, the emotionally intelligent thing to do would be to step back and recognize that the change in project parameters has likely affected how or what your colleague has to do for their job. They are feeling anxious. Taking it out on you is wrong but de-escalating the situation and offering to help with additional work or taking it to someone higher up (where applicable) would defuse the situation and help both of you to reconcile and solve the problems.

Scenario 2: A Colleague Lied To You

Your colleague told you they were almost finished on a project and would turn it in. You made plans around that, and now they are late and you are responsible not only for your lost time, but that of your boss.

Emotional intelligence suggests that you find out why your colleague lied to you, ask them nicely, and determine what factors may have been behind their lying. Did they simply forget? Did they lie on purpose? Or was there a hold up preventing them from actually following through on the process? In an ideal situation, you would consider their motivations, ask them about it in private, and reach a resolution which you then share with others you are responsible to.

Similarly, if a colleague lies to you about something smaller like whether they took your lunch out of the refrigerator, you would want to ask them in private, determine what their intention was, and reach a solution. This necessitates stepping back from the immediate reaction of anger most of us feel when lied to, trying to look at the situation from their point of view, and gently having a conversation about it.


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