Emotional intelligence and the workplace might seem like oil and water, but they are inextricably linked. Self-awareness and social intelligence are similar, and arguably quite important – especially at your job.
People are sensitive about work in the way they are sensitive about money – it’s common to assume that each make moral or hierarchical statements about who we are. This leads to a lot of self-consciousness, fear and projection, all of which can easily seed itself beneath the surface of day-to-day life and make us more sensitive to ordinary interactions that we may not need to be.
For many, a job is more than a means to an end, it is an identity. It gives us a feeling of security, defines us as individuals, and offers us purpose. It’s easy to see why we can often take things too personally, try to overcompensate, or become too attached to an arbitrary outcome. However, there is another way to approach some common anxieties surrounding your career.
Here, the 7 main things that emotionally intelligent people do differently at work.
1. They don’t ascribe intent.
The boss had a bad morning at the Q2 budget meeting. A coworker is stressed and seems short. There was an error in the last memo that went out and someone should have caught it, but didn’t, and now a supervisor is mad.
People have a tendency to take things too personally at work, assuming every transgression against them is a sign of their incompetence, or worse, how unnecessary they are. (How many people do you know who still freeze up when the boss asks to speak to them privately?)
“Ascribing intent” is when we assume things are about us when they aren’t. It’s like the spotlight effect, which is that we overestimate how much people are thinking about us (this is exacerbated by social media). It also often occurs as a confirmation bias: if we are afraid we are incompetent, we are unconsciously searching for evidence to prove it. Emotionally intelligent people can differentiate their biases from reality, and recognize that nobody is as focused on them as they are focused on themselves.
2. They don’t try to prove their importance.
People who are constantly trying to communicate how busy and stressed they are not trying to send you a message about their schedule, they are trying to highlight how important and needed they are. This can also come out as being overly critical: people who always want to point out what you’re doing wrong want to place themselves in a position of authority, even if they don’t have one.
Emotionally intelligent people show their importance because they know their importance.
They recognize that it is less powerful to talk about how hard the work is, and more powerful to simply show the end result. They recognize that proving oneself as integral to a team involves being positive, supportive, and showcasing their ability to handle high stress. They recognize that the very behaviors some people rely on to prove their importance can have the opposite effect.
3. They don’t conflate their whole identity with their job.
The first thing someone will ask you after where you’re from is what you do, which is a perfect example of how intricately identities are tied to jobs. However, when this is the case, what happens when you lose a job? When you underperform one quarter? When you have a midlife career change?
The answer, of course, is that you think you are losing part of yourself. It’s this fear that holds people back from seeing their losses as opportunities to find new or better work. Fear is paralyzing, and never more so than when you think that by losing your job, you are losing yourself.
Of course, you existed before this job and you will exist after it. What you do is part of who you are, not the entirety of it.
4. They give respect to get respect.
Everyone wants to be respected at work, but few people talk about the importance of giving respect as well. If you are in the presence of someone who has been in the field for 25+ years, acting as though their opinions are irrelevant because you have a hot, new take isn’t going to go over well. If you want your ideas to be respected, you need to recognize and respect those of others, even if you don’t agree with them.
5. They understand where their money is coming from.
Emotional intelligence very often has to do with basic awareness. Emotionally intelligent people tend to have a more grounded understanding of how compensation works, which is to say that they do not take receiving a check for granted: they understand it’s something that they have to work, and continue working, to earn.
Likewise, they do not expect a three figure salary at the first year at a startup, or on the other hand, take a weak excuse for denying a raise at a major company at which many of their peers are compensated better than they are.
Yes, your time and your work are worth something, and you should be aware of that. But you also need to be aware of the company’s financial structure and understand that you are not going to be given what you aren’t giving. You have a salary (or a paycheck) because you earn it, not because you are so invaluable to a company that they would lose money just to keep you around.
6. They treat losses as opportunities.
Most people are terrified of loss because they see it as a finality or a judgment of their character. However, it is possible to look at it differently: if you lose out on a promotion, perhaps you weren’t best suited for the position. If you lose your job altogether, perhaps it is an opportunity to begin your own business, or seek employment somewhere you’ll feel more appreciated. What you lose isn’t a loss, it’s an opportunity to try again.
7. They maintain humility.
The single most striking and powerful trait that you can harness in your career is humility. No matter what position you hold, how much you make, or how well respected you become in your field, if you don’t maintain your humility, you’ll become immune to the critiques and ideas of others – which is to say you will stop growing.
There is nothing more insufferable than someone who is closed to evolving as their field does because they want to be correct. Humility begs the question: Would you rather be right, or would you rather be good?