Christine Mclean November 14, 2023

Emotional Intelligence Training: Why It Matters & How You Can Use It To Improve Team Dynamics

Employee Training

I’ve worked in four workplaces in my 11+ years of work experience. One thing has been consistent — how people make each other feel at work impacts their performance.

One of the places I worked was toxic. I remember my colleagues and I having to sit through 3+ hours of meetings where our boss made us feel ineffective and inadequate. I hated going to work and the environment impacted my feelings of self-worth.

But there have been other places where I’ve felt supported, cared for, and loved. These are the places where I was more likely to feel comfortable giving my all and making a difference.

Have you ever been in either (or both) of these situations?

How people make each other feel is directly linked to their emotional intelligence. Emotional quotient (EQ), a tangible measure of each person’s emotional intelligence, helps us understand how people process and manage their emotions. Your aim as an HR manager is to ensure each of your team members has a high EQ.

Piece a’ cake!

Eh, not so much. Developing a person’s EQ requires training, and training can only be effective if you understand how best to structure it for your needs.

That’s why we interviewed Krystal Tomlinson, an emotional intelligence training specialist with more than five years of experience. This article highlights key points from this conversation and provides actionable tips for emotional intelligence training.

You can listen to the full conversation with Krystal by clicking the play button below.

What is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence is an awareness of what you’re feeling, understanding why you’re feeling those emotions, and having the tools you need to manage them.

Sounds simple enough, right? Here’s the truth…

Fewer that 20% of companies qualify as emotionally intelligent, according to research done by the Harvard Business Review. Creating an emotionally intelligent workforce is hard. You’re dealing with people from different backgrounds, with different personalities, and having different approaches to situations.

These differences are only the beginning of the challenges with emotional intelligence in the workplace. Krystal explained that the biggest challenge is people not understanding what they’re feeling.

“Where most people have difficulty is understanding what they’re feeling. They don’t understand the sensation running through their bodies so they can’t properly identify it, which makes it difficult to come up with a strategy to match that feeling.”

Creating an emotionally intelligent workforce requires putting the tools and systems in place to help people understand their feelings and how to manage them. But how’re you going to do this if you don’t know what an emotionally intelligent person looks like?

Here’s an example.

What is an Example of an Emotionally Intelligent Person?  

Meet Jane.

Jane works in IT at a large corporation. She manages a 5-person team and is under a lot of pressure from senior managers to ensure they perform.

She’s in a meeting with other department managers and one of her team members, Kristi. A big project is on the line and there’s a lot of tension in the room. The meeting is fast-paced so there’s a lot coming at Jane at once.

If Jane is to be completely honest, she feels awful. Overwhelmed. Stressed. All these emotions are coming at her and they cause her to miss a critical portion of the meeting.

The project lead assigned a crucial task to Jane, a task she would have to report on in the next progress meeting. That meeting is next Tuesday.

The week passes and Jane is hyper-focused on the core responsibilities of her team. Imagine her surprise when Tuesday rolls around and the project manager asks for an update.

Jane quickly scans the room, her brow crinkling in frustration. She looks like the woman in the image below.

Jane getting frustrated in a meeting and thinking about how best to express her emotions

Her eyes land on Kristi. Ah, sweet Kristi who was in the meeting with her last week. Several thoughts flood her mind.

Why didn’t Kristi tell her about this task? Should she throw Krisit under the bus? Make a scene? Express distrust?

She takes a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Instead of lashing out at Kristi, Jane looks at the project manager and says, “Tina, I’m sorry but I somehow missed that task in my notes. Can I get a bit more time to complete it?”

Jane identified her emotions, used breathing techniques to control them, and gave an honest and measured response. She applied emotional intelligence.

The sad truth though is that situations where the opposite occurs are common in several organisations. In fact, Krystal was in a similar situation where she ended up on the receiving end of her boss’ frustration. Her boss lashed out at her right there in the meeting!

An emotionally intelligent workforce doesn’t happen by chance. It’s the result of mindset shifts at the individual and company levels. Business processes also often need to be fine-tuned.

Emotional intelligence training is a large part of the puzzle. Adequate training helps employees think differently and helps shift workplace culture.

What is Emotional Intelligence Training?

Emotional intelligence training involves helping employees understand their emotions and how those emotions impact the people around them. Successful training requires a clear understanding of the problem being solved. It also requires establishing a relevant baseline.

“When we’re clear about the problem we want to solve,” says Krystal, “we can be deliberate about creating a baseline. Once we create a baseline, we have the data we need to ensure that the tools we’re using are sufficient to answer those problems and have a positive impact on the baseline data.”

Different training modalities can be used for emotional intelligence training. Hybrid training that includes online training, in-person training, on-the-job training, and mentorship is often the best approach.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Training Important? 

Emotional intelligence training is important for many reasons, such as creating a healthy workplace, equipping your team to handle conflicts, helping your leaders inspire their teams to do good work, and helping employees reach their full potential.

Your training will help your team move from feeling frustrated and unhappy at work as shown in the image below…

Black woman in a green jacket holding her fingers to her temples and feeling frustrated by the lack of emotional intelligence at work

…to being happy and motivated, eager to work together.

Employees working together in a healthy work environment

But the words “emotional intelligence” often seem like bad words to many corporate employees. Eye rolls. Heavy sighs. People saying, “Not again!”

So how do you get your team to see the importance of emotional intelligence training? Facts don’t lie! Facts like emotional intelligence having a positive impact on conflict resolution.

Research done by Dr. Shweta Awasth and Parul Yadav from the University of India shows that there is a positive correlation between emotional intelligence and conflict resolution.  The researchers discovered that when emotional intelligence is high, employees use a more collaborative approach to conflict resolution. Employees collaborate and solve problems together.

Here’s another powerful fact. Research by Kon Ferry shows that leaders with high emotional intelligence create better work environments and have higher employee engagement. In fact, this research proves that a leader with multiple emotional intelligence competencies can more easily move between different leadership styles as the needs arise.

So use these two stats as the foundation for your discussion whenever a team member wants to shrug off the need for emotional intelligence training. You can then expand the discussion into the specific challenges your company faces and how better leadership and conflict resolution skills can resolve them.

How Long Does It Take For People To Develop Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence is a lifetime practice. We’re constantly on a journey of discovering who we are, what impacts our emotions, and how our emotions impact others. These core discoveries tend to change as we move through each stage of life. For instance, how you responded to not getting what you wanted when you were a toddler would be different to how you respond now as an adult.

Krystal provides a unique perspective about the lifelong nature of emotional intelligence training and the groups responsible for making that training possible.

“It’s rare that anyone will have the experience, exposure, and training to develop their own set of tools from childhood into adulthood. So the onus lands on two places of socialisation.

One is the school. If we can get in our school curriculum genuine focus on self-management and building emotional intelligence, we create more responsible, caring, loving, confident and productive individuals going into society.

The second place is the workplace.  It’s about religiously creating a culture that supports, nourishes, and encourages increased EQ among team members.”  

Who Needs Emotional Intelligence Training? 

Everyone. We’re constantly learning about our emotions and how they impact others. This reality makes it important for emotional intelligence training to be ongoing.

Does this mean that all employees need to do daily emotional intelligence activities? Not really.

How emotional intelligence training is structured depends on the specific problems you’re trying to solve, your goals, and the existing skills of your team. The emotional intelligence activities you do within specific training periods will equip your team with the skills they need for ongoing emotion regulation.

Start by identifying the current problems within your organisation. Do employees lack self-awareness? Are leaders having challenges inspiring and motivating their teams? Are there continuous conflicts?

There’s an endless list of questions you can ask to pinpoint the problem. Once the problem has been identified, your training should be structured to include all employees (including managers), not just lower-level staff.

And this is where another challenge steps in. Managers and senior leaders often either think emotional intelligence training is a waste of time or believe their emotional intelligence is exceptional. “Who me? I’m the most emotionally intelligent person I know! I don’t need training.” Sigh.

It takes data and research to get the C-Suite and senior managers to buy into emotional intelligence training. Start with the current situation of your company. Highlight team performance, barriers to business growth, and how emotional intelligence will make a lasting impact.

Finally, pull it all together with continuous on-the-job opportunities for people to develop their emotional intelligence skills. This is the critical piece of the pie that will make emotional intelligence training an integral part of your company’s culture.

How Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught? 

Emotional intelligence training is about teaching employees how to use tools to manage their emotions. Training is only effective, however, when it begins with buy-in from leaders.

“It has to start with the senior managers and team leaders accepting it,” Krystal says, “It can’t start at the bottom with you teaching your frontline staff and then when they come to work, the person who’s managing them isn’t demonstrating any of the skills these workers are being asked to demonstrate.”

It’s easier to choose emotional intelligence exercises and tools when there’s support from leadership. This support isn’t just about your CEO giving you the nod of approval. It also includes examining the problems within your organisation.

Are there issues with…

  • Lack of self-awareness?

  • Lack of self-regulation?

  • Lack of social awareness?

  • Lack of empathy?

  • Lack of leadership influence?

Starting with the specific emotional intelligence issues your organisation is facing will help you know the tools needed to correct the behaviour. Krystal mentioned a few useful tools such as breathing exercises, questioning your thoughts before making a decision, and meditation.

So emotional intelligence is taught by helping your employees understand the tools they can use to identify, process, and manage their emotions. It doesn’t stop there though.

Emotional intelligence requires an internal mental shift within each employee and an external culture shift within the organisation. Employees must understand the tools that work best for helping them manage their emotions. But the company’s culture also has to shift to one where employees feel like they’re in a safe space to express their emotions freely and respectfully.

What Are Emotional Intelligence Exercises? 

It’s time to get those coping mechanisms pumping! Emotional intelligence exercises will help your teams manage emotions at the individual and group levels. These exercises usually involve a series of questions or tasks that prompt reflection and introspection.

Examples of Individual Emotional Intelligence Exercises 

  • Complete a temperament questionnaire. This questionnaire will help you better understand how who you inherently are impacts your behaviour.

  • Practice deep breathing exercises. Controlling your breathing helps you better identify and regulate your emotions. You will be able to name your emotions and quickly think of an emotionally controlled response.

  •  Leadership Pizza by Session Lab. This activity will help you identify the skills and attitudes you need to become a better leader.

Examples of Group Emotional Intelligence Exercises

  • Reframe thoughts. This could either be a private conversation or part of a larger group activity. Ask your team to complete two sentences.

“I used to think ______. But now I think _________”.

This exercise often helps people realise that their initial emotions can change when they get better context.

For example, your boss may have seemed dismissive when you went to her about a problem you were having. But she later came back to you and explained that she was in the middle of preparing for a budget presentation that was due in an hour. She’s then open to listening to you and helping you solve the problem.

In this example, the complete sentences could look like this. “I used to think my boss was dismissive and that made me feel hurt. But now I think that I just need to be more aware of the best time to go to my boss.”

Learn more about this exercise by visiting SessionLab’s activity sheet.

  • Develop appropriate responses to everyday hassles. This Everyday Hassles activity created by SessionLabs is a great way to get your team to think differently about some common challenges. Put your teams into groups of three and give each group an envelope with a common hassle written at the front. Each team has to come up with alternative reactions. A group discussion follows where each group shares their hassles and solutions.

 SessionLabs has a great list of emotional intelligence exercises in their article entitled “25 Emotional Intelligence Activities for Happy, Productive Teams“.

How To Track Improvement In Emotional Intelligence Within A Team   

Improvement can’t be tracked without a baseline. You have to know what you’re starting with so that you can see how you’ve improved. Everything needs to be in black and white.

Krystal provided a good example for capturing this data. Look at the reports that were going to the HR department before training began. Compare those reports with the reports the HR department gets after training ends.

There are two key things that you can look for in these reports.

  1. Are employees taking responsibility for their roles in conflicts?
  2. Is the language employees are now using demonstrating increased self-awareness?

Another data point that’s worth assessing is employee absenteeism. What was your employee absenteeism rate before training? What was your employee absenteeism rate after training? How do those figures compare?

Krystal’s suggestions provide a good starting point for assessing the impact of your emotional intelligence training. But there’s one more thing that you can also consider — relationships between managers and their teams.

Let’s say there’s a specific team within your organisation that has been struggling. The dynamic between the leader and the team wasn’t great prior to training. Evidence of this is seen in the feedback surveys you’re getting from those team members.

What feedback are you getting from that team after training ends? Has there been an improvement or is it more of the same?

Assess the impact of your emotional intelligence training from as many angles as possible. This data will help you make an informed decision about the way forward for your team.

How To Get New Hires To Be Part Of An Emotionally Intelligent Culture 

Two words — mentorship and communication. New hires need an onboarding process that includes mentorship. Mentors help new hires learn how the company works. They also provide guidance that helps new hires understand the skills and behaviours they should adopt to succeed.

Communicate clearly. New hires should be clear about what’s expected from them and what will happen if they don’t comply. There should also be systems in place that allow new hires to communicate about their challenges and triumphs freely.

Create an Emotionally Intelligent Team 

Emotional intelligence training helps equip your team with the tools they need to identify and manage their emotions. Working with people will always be challenging. But the best teams are filled with people who are constantly improving their emotional intelligence.

Access our exclusive interview with Krystal to learn more about effective emotional intelligence for teams.