A common question people ask before they start a new job is, “How can I prepare for my new role?” Well, there are a number of things you can do to can get up-to-speed on the company and your role—and most of the time, you’re already pretty clear on those things—but what is often overlooked is another important question: “How can my emotional intelligence help me as I start my new role?”
Emotional Intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), is the ability to understand and manage your emotions, as well as the emotions of those around you. Regardless of the industry, title or role you’re stepping into, having a well-developed sense of emotional intelligence will serve you well as you start your new job.
Let’s look at the five components of emotional intelligence (based on Daniel Goleman’s framework) and see how each of these can set you up for success in your new role:
- Self awareness – knowing what you’re feeling, and how your emotions and actions affect you and the people around you
- Self-regulation – having control over how you respond to situations, especially stressful ones
- Motivation – having the internal motivation to consistently achieve your goals
- Empathy – seeing situations through the eyes of others and understanding others’ circumstances
- Social Skills – building and managing relationships
On your first day of work, you’re likely to experience some combination of excitement and nervousness. I remember walking into my first management role, palms sweaty, thinking, “What if I don’t know everything they think I should know? What if there are colleagues who aren’t happy about me taking this role? What if I say or do the wrong things? “
In contrast, someone with a high level of self-awareness might approach this same situation and say, “I am feeling nervous right now. This feeling is likely coming from my fear of uncertainty. Because I don’t know what will happen, I am creating a bunch of “what if” stories. This is normal, but it’s not helpful to me right now. I’m going to slow down, take a deep breath, and focus on what I do know. I am more than qualified for this job and I’m ready to face whatever challenges may come with an open mind.”
Self-awareness can be practiced. Journaling, for example, is an excellent way to practice observing your thoughts and feelings, and evaluate the actions you tend to take when you feel a particular emotion. In the previous example, our very self-aware heroine may know from her journaling practice that she tends to create stories whenever she enters an uncertain scenario. She knows that the best way to stop herself from spiraling into “what ifs” is to remind herself of what she does know. She reminds herself that she earned this job, and she has track record of facing similar challenges boldly in the past. As a result, she can choose to act in a way that reflects her confidence and has a positive impact on her first impression.
In a new job, it takes time to get to know your colleagues and understand the culture and environment you’ve walked into. Until then, there will be times where you make judgements about people or the situation, especially if they are different from what you were used to at your previous company. For example, you might feel frustrated at a team member who keeps making mistakes. You might feel angry that you’re inheriting a horribly managed project from your predecessor. Rather than lashing out at the incompetent team member or venting to your colleagues about the mess of a project you’re now stuck with—slow down and take control of your emotions.
Someone who can regulate herself effectively is able to slow down enough to get perspective before taking action. Instead of reacting immediately, she takes the time to choose the appropriate response for the situation. There are a few ways to do this:
- Deliberately give yourself time to process, e.g., “I’ll let you know my thoughts on this tomorrow.”
- Stop playing the Blame Game when things go wrong. Be willing to admit to your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions. This allows you to earn the respect and trust of your colleagues.
- Manage your stress reaction. On a regular basis, practice taking deep, calming breaths. Develop a system that you can rely on when your stress reaction is triggered. For example, taking a 10-minute walk outside, listening to music, or writing down your negative thoughts instead of verbalizing them.
Motivation is typically high when starting a new job, but after a few weeks, the excitement of being a “newbie” starts to wane, and you may even start to question if this was the right move for you. The antidote to this dip in motivation is to figure out your “why” before you start your new role, and then remind yourself of this whenever your motivation dips.
Why did you want this job in the first place? What do you love about this career / company / role? The answers to those questions are what will keep you going when you inevitably stumble upon challenges in your new job. It’s easy to forget our “why” when we are dealing with immediate stressors during our day. It helps to write down the answers to these questions and refer back to them whenever you start to lose motivation.
If you focus on your internal drivers of motivation (e.g., personal growth, impact on others) versus external drivers (e.g., getting a raise or promotion), your goals are more likely to energize you and keep you engaged in the job for the long term. How can you create a positive impact using your unique skill set and experience?
Stepping into a new job is like stepping onto a new planet with its own ecosystem. You may arrive as an alien, but empathy is the that will allow you better understand the personalities, structures, and procedures unique to this planet. By giving you the ability to see things from another person’s perspective, empathy will help you become a healthy part of this ecosystem.
You may be eager to prove yourself at your new job by calling out all the things that you think could be done “better.” Before you start making any improvements, however, first seek to understand the work or situation from your colleagues’ perspective. Be curious about why they do things a certain way. What is important to each person / team? Listen deeply when others talk and be mindful of their body language. Evaluate the situation from all possible angles before you start suggesting and making changes.
Empathy also means being able and willing to acknowledge other people’s emotions. For example, “It’s understandable that you’re feeling frustrated by this change. What can I do to support you?” Even if you don’t agree with someone, acknowledging their feelings allows them to feel heard and be more open to working with you to come up with a solution.
As the new kid on the block, meeting your new coworkers can be daunting. Many companies on-board new employees by setting up a large number of individual or group meet-and-greets within the first few weeks. You may hear more names than you can possibly remember. It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re an introvert, but go forth in the spirit of introducing yourself and opening up a connection with everyone you meet. Sow the seeds for deepening your relationships as time goes on.
Your social skills are crucial for developing formal and informal networks that will help you understand the inner workings of a company. Connecting with people from different areas of the firm allows you to see different perspectives. If you are able to create genuine relationships with colleagues across your organization early on, you’ll have an easier time in the future resolving conflicts, garnering support and managing change.
Social skills include both verbal and non-verbal communication, both of which can be developed and improved with practice. Invest in any opportunities that will help you work on your communication skills.
Understanding and applying these five components of emotional intelligence is one of the best ways you can prepare for a new job. You’ll be setting yourself up for success from Day One. And if you are not starting a new role anytime soon, there is no better time to start developing your EQ so that you’ll be ready when the time comes to make your next move.