How to Boost Our Emotional Intelligence at Work Right Now

Increasing our compassion and empathy is more important than ever.

Nattakorn_Maneerat/ Shutterstock
Nattakorn_Maneerat/ Shutterstock

Emotional intelligence has always been important in the workplace, but now that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we do our jobs and communicate with others, tapping into it is more important than ever. Research has shown that the ability to be self-aware about our own strengths and challenges, interpret others’ emotions and react with empathy can make us better leaders, smarter problem solvers, and achieve more success. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their experiences with emotional intelligence during the pandemic, and to share their own tips. Which of these will you try?

Ask about your teams’ passions outside work

“Paying attention to what gets my team members excited and what drains their enthusiasm has been a huge benefit. To me, emotional intelligence is knowing whether your coworkers are internally or externally motivated. When you are not in tune with what drives the people around you, or don’t understand their motivations, you’ll make snap judgments about their behavior and possibly underestimate their potential. Paying attention to what gets my team members excited and what drains their enthusiasm has been a huge benefit. Don’t be afraid to ask directly!”

—Armida Markarova, professional coach and conflict resolution mediator, Chicago, IL  

Encourage flexible hours

“During the second week of the new job I started in August, one of the co-founders sent an email asking everyone in the company to extend grace to each other during the next few weeks, as many of our interns were starting college online for the semester and other workers were homeschooling their kids. She asked leaders to look for ways to be flexible and understand that remote staff may respond at odd times of the day, navigating other parenting duties while working. It proved to me that the company sees employees as whole beings that need to integrate, not separate, their work and personal lives.”

—Tara Bethell, VP of Talent, Phoenix, AZ

Implement a “meeting-free” day

“We’ve implemented a ‘meeting-free’ day each week,  and have been told to take a mental health day when needed as well. We’re also constantly reminded about the employee assistance plan that is available to all family members.  I learned recently that work-life balance is less of a weighing scale and more of a string quartet, where each instrument has its moment and together creates a beautiful song. Emotional intelligence emphasizes that this moment is all we have, and we must remember to be in it.”

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker and life coach, Toronto, Canada

Schedule regular check-ins

“Even with all the Zoom fatigue, our manager set up a biweekly virtual happy hour with our team to check in on us. But aside from a regular check-in, we’ve really been opening up the conversation to important topics. For example, as the country grappled with the events surrounding George Floyd’s death, we talked openly and candidly about racial justice, how we were feeling, and what it meant to us personally and professionally. It was refreshing and inspiring to be able to talk openly about our feelings and get different points of view given our isolation from one another. I was in awe of everyone’s willingness to share. And happy hour is just the right place to do it!”

—Marcie White, relationship director, Tempe, AZ

Implement virtual team meditations

“I started my current role during the peak of COVID, so I only had one week in the office with my colleagues before we went into lockdown, leaving me very limited time to bond with those in my office. But as soon as we started working from home, the company instituted digital meditation classes at 4:00 pm on Mondays, which led to new friendships I have made across the network of 23,000 people. My immediate team even started a WhatsApp group to keep up with each other, share jokes, and try to lighten the mood.”

—Tara Nolan, VP of global growth and communications, New York, NY

Encourage a “family-first” mindset

“Working in the government sector, my colleagues and I are heavily motivated by service and patriotism — but when the pandemic abruptly shut down all but the most survival-essential societal functions, many of us felt suddenly helpless, as our jobs were now unable to assist in helping our country. As many of us questioned how to rectify this idea, our boss remained in touch with us. He reminded us that we needed to protect ourselves and our families, and that without our overall health, we could not serve our country and fulfill our mission. He reminded us to redirect our sense of collective purpose and service to our homes as our primary focus, and that doing so was actually protecting others in a different way. His reminder to put our families first was truly a display of empathetic leadership.”

—Holly S., U.S. government, Washington, DC

Ask for help when you need it

“For me, increasing emotional intelligence has been about recognizing and acknowledging when I am feeling overwhelmed and burned out, and then better communicating my own needs to my peers and managers. This time has taught me to embrace my missteps as opportunities for growth. We are all experiencing mental blocks, and the exchange of support between my colleagues and I has been a way that emotional intelligence has come into play in my workplace.”

—Cecilia Grey, client liaison and content creator, Santa Barbara, CA

Send around helpful resources 

“I have been fortunate to work somewhere that puts well-being high on its agenda. We have daily briefing notes that come from our leadership team which contain the usual daily events, however additional words of encouragement and links to articles and websites that promote self-care are also included. It’s a great reminder that we need to make sure we’re preventing further mental health needs when this pandemic has finally disappeared.”

—Amanda Edmanson, primary teacher, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

How have you experienced high emotional intelligence at work during the pandemic? Share your story with us in the comments.

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