UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Leveraging emotional intelligence in the workplace


Emotional intelligenceEmotionally intelligent leaders are increasingly valued in the business world. Research suggests emotional intelligence (EI) is twice as important as IQ in determining future career success, making it more important than ever before to use emotional literacy skills in the workplace. 

A panel of UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni shared tips for “Leveraging Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace” at the eighth annual Carolina Women in Business conference Nov. 8.

Liz Kasberg (EMBA ‘10), USCAN sales leader for applied markets at GE Health Care Life Sciences, uses an easy-to-remember tool to guide her through emotional situations.

“It’s a little corny,” Kasberg says, “but it’s called Q-TIP – quit taking it personally. It’s not about you. You’re on a job site and you’re trying to accomplish something. Just step away from it.”

A narrow range of emotion seems to be acceptable for women in business, Kasberg says. A perceived EI "spectrum," female leaders are often expected to limit their emotional expression within the workplace.

"Expressing your excitement and engagement can tip the balance to come across as emotionality,” she says. Similarly, showing fear or anger can be counterproductive. “Is it fair? No. Is it true? Yes. And people are going to interpret you that way. But you also have to be authentic."

The key to reacting professionally in emotional situations is becoming aware of your emotional “triggers” and feeling comfortable in situations when they are most likely to “go off.”

“Not only is it important to be seen as a successful leader, but the lack of emotional intelligence can also be a career derailer,” says Cheryl Stevens (EMBA ‘98), an executive career and strategy coach who works  with the Executive MBA and UNC Executive Development Custom Programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

EI needs to be “spot-on,” especially when communicating via email, Stevens says. If emotions arise, Stevens recommends a cathartic approach: send an email to yourself. Of course, take care not to send it to the wrong email address by mistake, she warns. “There is nothing that will get you in trouble sooner than an emotionally charged email.”

When emotions are high, remove yourself from the situation and share your feelings with a trusted peer.

“In situations of self-doubt, just ask yourself, ‘so what?’ Does that help us get our job done? If it does, great,” she says. “If it doesn’t, accept it and move on.”

Stevens’ inspiration for improving her EI comes from a TED Talk by Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” as well as Brown’s award-winning book, “Daring Greatly,” which challenges misperceptions about vulnerability in the workplace.

Ken Arneson (MBA ‘98), chief operating officer of 3C Institute, breaks emotional literacy into five constructs: the ability to recognize, label, understand, express and regulate both your own emotions and the emotions of those around you to get them “pumped up.”

“Emotions are information,” he says. “Either you’re detecting emotions in someone else or yourself. If you’re aware of this, it gives you the freedom to choose. If you’re unaware, all you can do is react. And you may choose to show your anger, recoil or whatever. But at least it’s your choice.”

Psychologist Paul Ekman’s facial recognition research and motivational speaker Mark Gungor’s workshop “A Tale of Two Brains” are tools Arneson used to improve his EI.

EI can grow with practice, he says. “With the term ‘intelligence,’ it sounds like something innate that can’t be changed. I prefer the term ‘emotional literacy.’”

Become familiar with the norms and customs of other cultures when working internationally or with globally diverse peers and clients, whether in person or virtually, says Sophia Lopez (MBA ‘09), client executive, IBM Corporation. “There are a lot of countries where they want you to take an effective leadership style or they won’t respect you.”

Lopez recommends taking an online assessment offered by Gallup, Inc. called the Clifton StrengthsFinder, which offers personalized tips to improve leadership and communication skills.

“There’s a danger in being a woman and showing that narrow range of emotion,” Lopez says. “But living wholeheartedly, being a little vulnerable and letting (coworkers) share – that’s really just an opportunity.”