It’s a truism of personnel management that “Emotional Intelligence” is essential to the modern workplace. But what does this actually mean? At the very least, it means professionals using their emotions intelligently by not letting them get in the way of a project’s success (and their long-term career progress). It also means enabling people to see their emotions as a form of intelligence that can help resolve complex problems e.g. through hunch, intuition, gut feeling and so on. Ultimately it means being clear with others about who you are as a person and a professional: your needs, triggers and what motivates you. So emotional intelligence has a big role to play in conflict resolution in the workplace.

But with this emphasis on emotional intelligence in the workplace, some myths about it have developed too. These can cause far more harm than good. Here we look at the four biggest offenders.

Myth One: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace is a New Idea Older Professionals Don’t Need
The argument goes a little like this: Getting “meaning” from your work, seeing your work as an “authentic expression of who you are” and so on, are new concerns, more relevant to the 20-something than to the 50-something. So designing a workplace or professional environment that is cognisant of people’s emotional needs and temperamental wiring is more relevant to the young than the older and more experienced.

Total nonsense! The need for meaningful work is a persistent feature of human civilization. Aristotle wrote about it, Sisyphus was punished by the Gods by being made to complete a meaningless task (pushing a boulder up a hill) time and time again. We all need to find some meaning from our work and so we all need work that speaks to the emotional beings we are. We need a professional environment that understands us as beings with emotions, whether we are young or old.

Myth Two: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace Means Always Asking People How They “Feel”
Many people think of “emotional intelligence” as well-meaning but useless HR person, looking concerned and asking you about your feelings because you have to work this weekend and they’re concerned you’re going to put your head in the kitchen microwave.

In fact an emotionally intelligent workplace is not a workplace in which people should be expected to discuss their feelings. Many people are uncomfortable doing this and that does not make them repressed or anything like that. It just means they are private people. An emotionally intelligent workplace doesn’t emotionally grope it’s staff, asking open questions and expecting transparent and heart-felt responses. It understands that different people are comfortable with different levels of expression. Sometimes emotional intelligence means knowing when to leave people alone.

Myth Three: Emotional Intelligence is a “Soft Skill” Whose Value Can’t be Measured
The prejudice about “soft skills” and “hard skills” is as old as it is stubborn. Project management, building a bridge and conducting an experiment are seen as “hard skills”. They require analytical clarity, measurable deliverables and quantifiable outcomes. But emotional intelligence is seen as subjective, personal and, since it can’t be measured the way other things are, it’s not measured at all. Given there is no place for things you can’t measure, it may as well not exist, or at least is best kept down in HR where it belongs.

However, emotional intelligence is only “soft” until the project goes over budget due to poor communication and rapport within the team. It is only “soft” until a CEO’s reputation for publicly admonishing staff sends new talent elsewhere. And it’s only “soft” until the expensive workplace solutions firm is called in to a toxic workplace. Because a skill deals with people’s interior, subjective life, doesn’t mean its value can’t be measured.

Myth Four: Emotional Intelligence is an Excuse to Indulge People Who Need to Suck it Up
Some people are sceptical of all talk of emotional intelligence in the workplace. They see it only as a licence to open the floodgates. They fear that staff will spend their time whinging and, worse, using emotional excuses (feeling stressed, overwhelmed, harassed or manipulated) to avoid work. It’s a can of worms they say.

First, there’s nothing wrong with a good whinge. Get it out and get on with it. What are we so scared of? This attitude only sees emotions as a barrier to efficiency and productivity, not as a partner to them. Underneath this attitude is a fear of what to do should staff cite stress, harassment and so on. This in fact leaves managers vulnerable to manipulation because they can’t deal with strong emotions. An emotionally intelligent workplace is one in which managers and staff is trained to recognise the difference between manipulation and genuine emotional expression.

Get Emotionally Intelligent
There is no alternative to being emotionally intelligent in the modern workplace. Doing so opens up horizons of

possibilities and opportunities. The potential opportunity cost of not doing so is enormous.