Emotional intelligence has become a fairly typical topic of discussion, but do you know what it means? Here’s a real-world example of someone who was told she needed to boost hers.

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You’ve probably heard the term “emotional intelligence” over the last few years, as it’s become a fairly typical workplace topic. One of my clients (I’ll call her “Sue”) was told by her boss that she needed to work on improving her emotional intelligence. But what exactly does that mean, Sue wondered.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and journalist, wrote a book on the topic called Emotional Intelligence. In his research, Goleman found that successful leaders weren’t just intelligent (high IQ), they also had a high degree of emotional intelligence (EQ) as defined by these five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill.

At the time of her performance review, when her boss told her that she needed to work on improving her emotional intelligence, Sue was surprised and didn’t know how to respond to the comment.

We talked about the concept of emotional intelligence and each of the five components, but what Sue lacked were some examples of the areas in which her boss was seeing issues. So she approached her manager and asked him to provide instances where he saw room for improvement. From that discussion, here were the examples:

  • Sue had recently completed several tasks behind schedule, but didn’t seem to realize how this had negatively impacted several colleagues with their projects.
  • Sue had allowed her frustration with another employee to escalate into an angry argument outside her cubicle, disrupting the work of employees nearby.
  • During staff meetings, Sue had a habit of sharing her opinions, to the point of interrupting and even talking over quieter co-workers.

The examples fell into the first two categories of emotional intelligence: self-awareness and self-regulation. During our discussion, Sue admitted she wasn’t always cognizant of how her behavior was affecting others. So we focused on techniques to help her better regulate her behavior and identify her emotions:

  • Timelines: Provide regular updates to all those affected by key tasks and project, including adequate warnings if falling behind.
  • Emotions: Recognize internal feelings and emotions throughout the day. Whenever frustrated or angry, take a time out from the situation before it escalates, to avoid angry outbursts.
  • Behavior: Because strong personalities can sometimes overwhelm quieter co-workers, avoid interrupting others during meetings. Look for ways to incorporate others’ ideas and solicit the comments of introverts.

Sue is a great example of how emotional intelligence can be learned. She began doing a better job of recognizing how her behavior and emotions impacted others (self-awareness), and then made changes to how she reacted and responded to stressors in the workplace (self-regulation). These actions helped Sue improve her relationship with co-workers, as well as her boss.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.