In the 1990’s, Rob Schneider played a character on "Saturday Night Live" that found its way into most workplaces at the time. Dressed in his business attire, Schneider played a character who sat near the copy machine and would annoyingly comment every time a coworker came to make a copy — “The Steve-Man and the Sandster makin’ copies!” — using a variety of nicknames each time. This might be funny or even endearing at first, but after the 100th time it would undoubtedly get very old.

We all can relate to the thought of that one person in the workplace who just seems to get under everyone’s skin, or perhaps there is that one person who just gets under your skin. As with so many other areas of life, our workplace can also be full of issues in relationships. We have all worked for difficult bosses or been assigned to a team project and had to find a way to connect and relate with potentially challenging coworkers. 

The ability to manage difficult relationships in the workplace, as well as stress and our own emotional states, is a concept known as emotional intelligence. The concept was introduced by Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer, current president of Yale University. They defined it as, “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” 

It was further popularized when Daniel Goleman wrote his 2005 book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships," Goleman writes, "then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

In fact, studies have shown that employees with higher scores on measures of emotional intelligence tend to be rated higher on measures of interpersonal functioning, leadership abilities and stress management. Thankfully these are skills that can be gained through awareness and practice. 

The skills involved in emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Embracing the nuances of human emotion in the workplace can have a variety of benefits including improved relationships, better communication, improved performance and a more peaceful environment.

There are many ways to start to practice emotional intelligence. The next time you are faced with that difficult coworker or workplace stress, take a deep breath and practice one of these practical tips:

  1. Pay attention to how you are feeling throughout the day and notice how your feelings impact your actions and decisions.

  2. Practice responding instead of reacting to conflict.

  3. Empathize with others.

  4. Acknowledge your emotional triggers.

  5. Reach out for help.


Bonnie Phillips, Ph.D., is an assistant professor, licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist and supervisor who specializes in working with addiction and trauma. She sees individuals, couples and families in an outpatient setting or through weekend intensives at Little Rock Counseling and Wellness where she is a co-owner. 


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