Emotional Intelligence and Stress in the Workplace

I have to confess to enjoying reading different papers from around the world.  Some papers, like the Lancet (in the UK), feature interesting reports in areas that I am interested in.  The other day, I was reading the Harvard Business Review that described many important issues about stress, workplace stress, work behaviour, emotional intelligence and a range of other important organisational factors.

The HBR is usually very well based in research terms and which provides for robust, pertinent, and always helpful reports.  There is now a consistent theme around the world that EQ emotional intelligence is one of the most essential attributes when promoting (or denying) your effectiveness in the work place.

Their recent research points to the important role of what they call ‘group emotional intelligence’ in meeting organisational goals and objectives.  Given the amount of emphasis in most organisations on collaboration and team-work this is not surprising.  Obviously, if people working in a team have high levels of self-awareness and ‘other’ awareness (being able to understand and use strategies to work with the personal styles of team members) then the team will have greater harmony and increase productivity.

But in this article I’m referring to I’m not going to relate and talk about group intelligence.  No, instead, I want to give you some useful tips to help you to reduce workplace stress based on the components of emotional intelligence.

But first let me refresh your knowledge (if you have any) of what constitutes emotional intelligence.

One definition of emotional intelligence may be:  ”Emotional intelligence pertains to the emotional, personal, and social dimensions of intelligence. Emotional intelligence comprises abilities related to an understanding of oneself and in others, relating to people, adapting to changing environmental demands, and managing emotions”.

Let us make this a bit more practical by describing the scales used:

Intrapersonal ~ (Self-Regard, Emotional Self Awareness, Assertiveness, Independence, and Self-Actualisation);

Interpersonal ~ (Empathy, Social Responsibility, Interpersonal Relationship); Adaptability ~ (Reality Testing, Flexibility, Problem Solving);

Stress Management ~ (Stress Tolerance, Impulse Control); and

General Mood ~ (Optimism, Happiness).

Yes, we know, this could get quite detailed and complex and we could probably write dozens of articles just on these elements of the scales.  So, we will select four of the emotional intelligence factors and describe how paying attention to these at work will reduce workplace stress and increase positive teamwork and collaboration.

The four factors that we’ll select are social responsibility, interpersonal relationships, stress tolerance, and impulse control.

Social Responsibility

At work, as in relationships, you will always have certain choices that you can make.

You can act like a mature, thoughtful, empathic, and responsible person or you can indulge what ‘Freud’ called in his personality theory the “id”.  This is a nasty little piece of work of who we can be and which was described by Freud as blind, instinctual, irrationally striving.

If you give in to your ‘id’ responses, you will show very little social responsibility and you will become an aggravating and difficult colleague.  Being prepared to give and take, to understand the other person’s point of view, to maintain perspective, keep the larger view at the forefront, and be generous in your relationships with others, will increase harmony and decrease workplace stress for you and your colleagues.

Interpersonal Relationships

It’s not unrealistic to say that there two types of people in this world ~ the givers and the takers.

When I’m involved in relationship counselling I always do a quick assessment to test which end of the spectrum is the chief personal style of the person.  This can be easily assessed through normal conversation; questions, answers and physical reactions.

Obviously, if you have a “taker” with little or no compromise you will have a relationship battleground where they are used to slugging away to get as much they can from whatever the situation is.

If you have a giver then you will find a person whose life opportunities are sacrificed to the selfish interests of others.

Within relationships, when you have two givers, you’ll probably have a comfortable, generous, caring, reciprocal sharing relationship – and you will know you are on to a winner.   Two takers and there will always be present some form of inner-being disharmony and tension.

In many ways, you can see the same systems operating in the workplace with some people fighting tooth and nail to win at every opportunity.

Developing collaborative teams requires people to be sensitive and committed to building positive, respectful, sharing relationships.

When these relationships are the dominant interpersonal characteristics of work teams everyone’s workplace stress is reduced.

Stress Tolerance

Everyone has a different capacity to deal with stress and anxiety.  Some people have, as they say, a short fuse and are unable to tolerate even the smallest amount of stress.  This is a pain and provides such misery to everyone around them who have to put up with their limited capacity to manage stress.  We can however, improve our capacity to deal proactively and effectively with stress; we can increase our stress tolerance mechanisms.  This requires us to be mature and thoughtful and not indulge ourselves in juvenile expressions of frustration and impatience.

Impulse Control

Unfortunately, there are commonly too many people in the workplace who show a reckless disregard for even a small amount of impulse control.  They seem to believe that they have an incontestable right to vent their emotional eruptions whenever they feel like it and without regard to others.  The converse of this is the responsible person who doesn’t elevate other people’s stress levels but carefully and effectively deals with the pressures and stress that they are experiencing.

This is probably a little too technical and I have certainly glossed over some of the complexities of each of these personal styles but these are complex matters.  I could have given a simple tip checklist to reduce workplace stress based on emotional intelligence but this wouldn’t be fair to either the interested reader of this fascinating area of personality and cognitive theory.

Our message then is fairly simple – if you want to manage personal stress and reduce workplace stress you have a responsibility to behave in a mature, emotionally intelligent way.

Of course we know the response most people would make – “I’m not the problem, it’s my colleague who has very low emotional intelligence and creates all the stress in this organisation”.

Well, let’s begin as they say – “physician heal thyself”.

Then, after ensuring that you are OK, work to develop behaviours that reflect emotionally intelligent groups.

We agree with the Harvard Research that highly skilled work teams do reflect high group emotional intelligence and are much more productive. We are also certain that people who are lucky enough be working in groups with high emotional intelligence and strong interpersonal responsibility have much lower personal stress levels and cope much more effectively with workplace stress.

Michael Boase

CEO & EQ Consultant


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