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micro skills

Emotional intelligence can be used for both good and bad purposes.Andrew Ostrovsky/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first.

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If you were asked whether you have a high or low emotional intelligence score, how would you respond?

Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) can be defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our emotions, and to recognize how our emotions are impacting others, positively and negatively. Those people with a high EQ are typically on track to have good mental health. One reason is that when we can effectively manage our emotions under pressure we are less likely to make kneejerk, emotional decisions and actions.

In 2014, The Globe and Mail and Howatt HR launched the Your Life at Work Survey that's still online today and measures individuals' quality of work life. To launch this study, we ran articles on topics such as EQ that rated a person's mental health. We included a short risk survey on several topics.

For our EQ survey, there were 982 participants. This survey is meant to be educational, with the goal of increasing awareness of the role of EQ on our day-to-day mental health. Some findings from this survey:

· The average score was 37 out of 48, falling in the "Moderate EQ" range.

· 47 per cent of respondents scored "High EQ"; 40 per cent "Moderate"; and 13 per cent "Developmental opportunity for EQ."

· The top two items with the highest score were: 3.4/4 I adapt to change well and 3.3/4 I take responsibility for my actions.

· The two lowest scores were: 2.7/4 I care about how my emotions impact others, and 2.8/4 I rarely lose control of my emotions.

EQ plays an important role in managing how we interact with our environment. The better we do, the higher our chance to fit into what psychologist Alfred Adler referred to as the social interest – our ability to feel a part of our community, peers, work and family.


Developing your EQ starts with self-awareness of your current level. You can get your EQ baseline by completing the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Quick Survey. You can then compare your score to the above benchmarks.


Emotions are powerful drivers of behaviour. Most of us have one or two people in our world who are our kryptonite – that no matter how hard we try to communicate clearly and unemotionally with that person, whether it's a child, peer or partner, we end up losing our cool. We know that's not the way to deal with the situation and we know that losing our composure will only create more difficulty and strain on these important, personal relationships.

Psyschologist Daniel Goleman, who brought the concept of EQ into the mainstream, suggested that EQ is not innate. It's learned through practice and can be developed, but mastering it requires attention, self-direction and commitment. When successful, the benefits and rewards become obvious in our relationships, careers and mental health.


We can increase our EQ by practicing micro skills. Some that I have used with clients include:

No emotional decisions – The more connected we are to our emotions and how they can impact our daily decision making, the more likely we are to not make decisions when we are emotionally overwhelmed. Adopt one simple rule: "I will never make a decision when I am emotional, because I don't want to make a poor one I'll regret later."

Act of noticing – Most of us want to feel valued at some level by ourselves or others. Sometimes if we hyper-focus on our own needs we can over-focus to the point that we become self-absorbed. By being aware of this potential, we can instead learn to focus on others' needs and demonstrate empathy and compassion, which benefits others, feeds our sense of value, and supports developing higher EQ.

Notice others' body language – The old expression that a picture is worth a thousand words is aligned with EQ. When we notice others' non-verbal cues we are more able to adjust our message and social interactions. Focusing on how the message is being received versus the message itself can provide increased opportunity to build strong, trusted relationships.

Save 10 by taking 10 – It's amazing how 10 seconds of emotional discharge can take 10 hours or more to fix. When you're feeling emotionally charged, before you fire off what you think you want to say, stop, pause and break away to regain your composure by taking 10 minutes to write out what you want to say. Then read it out loud to yourself and ask how you would take it if you were receiving this message. By filtering out emotions from our key messages we increase our ability to have a successful outcomes.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

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