I confess to enjoying the Harvard Business Review papers that describe many important issues about stress, workplace stress, work behavior, emotional intelligence and a range of other important organizational factors. Their research is robust, pertinent, and always helpful. There is a consistent theme that emotional intelligence is one of the most essential attributes 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 organizational goals and objectives. Given the amount of emphasis in most organizations on collaboration and team work this is not surprising. Obviously, if people working on 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 not going to talk about group intelligence, instead, I want to give some useful tips to help readers reduce workplace stress based on the components of emotional intelligence. But first let me refresh your knowledge of what constitutes emotional intelligence. In my clinical work, I use an instrument called the BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory. This is BarOns definition of emotional intelligence from the test manual: Emotional intelligence pertains to the emotional, personal, and social dimensions of intelligence. Emotional intelligence comprises abilities related to understanding oneself and others, relating to people, adapting to changing environmental demands, and managing emotions.
Let me make this a bit more practical by describing the scales used: Intrapersonal (Self-Regard, Emotional Self Awareness, Assertiveness, Independence, and Self-Actualization); Interpersonal Scales (Empathy, Social Responsibility, Interpersonal Relationship); Adaptability Scales (Reality Testing, Flexibility, Problem Solving); Stress Management Scales (Stress Tolerance, Impulse Control); and General Mood Scales (Optimism, Happiness). Yes, I know, this could get quite detailed and complex and I could probably write a dozen articles just on elements of the scale. I 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 I'll select are social responsibility, interpersonal relationships, stress tolerance, and impulse control.
At work, as in relationships, you have certain choices 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 nasty little piece of who we are was described by Freud as blind, instinctual, irrational strivings. 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 and keep a larger view, and be generous in your relationships with others will increase harmony and decrease workplace stress for you and your colleagues.
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 marriage counseling I do a quick assessment to see which end of the spectrum is the chief personal style of each partner. Obviously, if you have two takers and no compromise you will have a marital battleground where each partner slugs away to get as much they can from the other. If you have a giver and taker then you will find one person whose life opportunities are sacrificed to the selfish interests of the other. When you have two givers, you'll probably have a comfortable, generous, caring, reciprocal sharing relationship - you know you are on a winner. In many ways, you can see the same system 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.
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 misery to everyone around them who has to put up with their limited capacity to manage stress. We can 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.
One of my research areas is ADHD and a key characteristic of some people with ADHD is a diminished capacity for impulse control and self-regulatory management. Unfortunately, there are 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 peoples 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 certainly have 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. My message 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 I know the response most people would make - I'm not the problem, its my colleague who has very low emotional intelligence and creates all the stress in this organization. Well, let's begin as they say - physician heal thyself. Then, after ensuring that you are OK, work to develop behaviors that reflect emotionally intelligent groups. I agree with the Harvard research that highly skilled work teams do reflect high group emotional intelligence and are much more productive. I'm also certain that people 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.