How to develop your emotional intelligence to get ahead in the workplace

Has your career gone off track? Have you resolved to go up a gear in the workplace in 2016? Business coach, Barbara Nugent tells Jonathan de Burca Butler how tapping into your emotional intelligence pays off handsomely in the workplace.

This time last year, Barbara Nugent made a New Year’s resolution that would change her life. She had worked as financial controller in a large US multinational for 15 years.

As the company grew, she had found that her role veered away from managing finance towards managing people.

“I had become very interested in motivation and getting the best out of people,” she says, “and I had started to read a lot about it.”

A few years ago, as part of a post graduate diploma in leadership, Barbara received some business coaching and was so fascinated she decided to become a coach herself.

“I had a full-time job which was very busy and very stressful,” she explains, “but I was immersed in the coaching. So last year I decided I would leave and set out on my own.”

Barbara took the plunge and set up Transilient Coaching. Not everybody is going to do what Barbara did and go it alone, but the New Year is a time when we take stock of where we are.

Quite often the focus is on the personal, but perhaps the time off work can be used to reflect on our careers.

And while we might like the idea of sitting back with a glass of wine and dreaming about our rise to the top, Barbara says that having something tangible to hone in on is a necessary first step.

“You have to see where you are for a start,” says the Cork-based business coach.

“Getting feedback from others helps to identify strengths and weaknesses. As part of what I do, I provide what are called emotional capital reports, which basically identify and measure your emotional intelligence. Once you’ve done that, you can work on those areas incrementally.”

Barbara Nugent
Barbara Nugent

Barbara equates making these changes to giving up smoking or going on a diet.

New behaviours take time to get used to, so she recommends starting with small practical steps and practising those once a day.

“So let’s just say you were somebody who wasn’t very assertive,” she says.

“So you’ve decided this is what you’re going to do and you look for opportunities to speak up. Once a day. That’s all you need to do. The crucial part is at the end of the week you have to review it and reflect on how it went. What was difficult? What was easy? How do I feel about it now? And then you step it up and grow it over time.

“And if you do something everyday over a month, you’ve done a lot but it’s about consistency and reviewing helps with being consistent. If you sit and reflect and you see progress, that’s what spurs you on.”

To many, this may come across as corporate mumbo jumbo but there is science behind it.

The basic idea, as Barbara explains, is to embed the behaviour so it feels more natural.

“If you think about something like driving,” she says, “you have to practise that to the point that it just becomes a habit or something you do without thinking. You get into the car and you have a neural pathway that automatically kicks in so you know what you’re doing. So if you practise enough you build a new neural pathway so you behave in such a way that becomes more instinctive to you.

“So self-control, for example, is another part of emotional intelligence. Let’s say you’re in a situation where someone says something that really annoys you, do you have the control to ask yourself which neural pathway you are going to go down? Am I going to turn around and blow this person’s head off? Or am I going to take a deep breathe and say: ‘OK Mary I hear what you’re saying I’ll come back to you on that,’ and avoid that whole blow-up.”

According to Barbara, the conscious decision to practise keeping calm, albeit made weeks or months before the encounter, has led to you making the right choice and keeping your cool.

“But again you’ve got to review it,” she continues. “Sit and say to yourself ‘OK I had an opportunity to blow Mary’s head off today but didn’t and I feel better about myself’.”

Over the course of a few weeks and months little changes can make huge differences in both how you are perceived and how you perceive yourself in the workplace.

By monitoring and developing your emotional intelligence you are helping your work relationships and hopefully enhancing your career prospects.

“We know that we like likeable people,” says Barbara. “But for some reason people don’t consciously develop their emotional intelligence as much as they should.”

Something to think about for 2016 perhaps.


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