article4 min read

Emotional intelligence in the workplace

‘There are strings in the human heart that had better not be vibrated’ – Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge

Menacing vibrations

Your boss has been sitting in her office all day with the door shut. She seems angry. The last thing you want to do is knock and ask for advice about that report you need to do by the end of the day. She’s a veritable ticking time bomb. The curt and, quite simply, rude way she dismissed your colleague earlier means that you feel edgy and anxious, unable to continue working because you have to ask your boss something but don’t feel at all welcomed in the no-go zone of her office – the door of which now seems to be leaking steam…

Does this sound familiar?

Or maybe it isn’t your boss but one of your employees, or one of your team. He came into work this morning with a gnarled look on his face, lips a bloodless hyphen and eyes that say don’t-even-look-at-me. You’re supposed to be working with him on a project today, but he is in an attitude of recalcitrance and refusal. How does this make you feel? Do you feel composed and motivated, or unsettled? Does this stress pollution put you in the best mindset to work productively?

Sound waves spread – emotional contagion

The thing is, our moods and emotions not only affect the way we behave but also have noticeable impacts on those around us.

The bad mood boss quarantined in her office might think that her negativity doesn’t impact anyone else. But, as a leader, her negative posturing unnerves and discomfits the rest of the team.

Psychological research proves this. Emotions spread through a wireless network of mirror neurons, small parts of the brain used for empathy. Whether it is through nonverbal or verbal communication, being around and interacting with someone who is stressed elevates your body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This is called ‘emotional contagion’. Our emotions are toxic and – when negative – can have a detrimental domino effect on those around us.

So, this grumpy unresponsive team member isn’t just reducing his productivity by being negative, but also that of the team as a whole, spreading ‘emotional contagion’. The whole company might suffer if such behavior continues.

Positive retuning

How, then, do we counteract such negativity in such a hyper-connected world? Also, feeling angry and frustrated sometimes is totally natural, right?

Yes, this is true, feelings of negativity aren’t unhealthy in and of themselves. However, it is important that we don’t embed feelings of negativity and then ourselves become embedded in more permanent bad-mood states.

Again, you might ask, how do we counteract such negativity? Well, the key to outfitting yourself against lingering negativity is to become self-aware of your emotional triggers – what makes you angry/happy – and then learning how to postpone or quell the manifestation of anger. This is what we at Positive call developing ‘emotional literacy’.

It has been found that if you create a positive mindset about stress and stop fighting it, you experience a 23% drop in the negative effects of stress. The key to avoiding most negative emotions which arise from your own or others’ stress and anxiety is to acknowledge the problems you’re facing and see them as challenges, as opportunities for development. Instead of fighting stress, it is important to confront it optimistically, viewing situations with a positive perspective.

We must use our minds to regulate the tremulous vibrato of our hearts. For example, by momentarily pausing and taking time to rationally evaluate your emotional state and the consequences of that state, accepting that it is only your perspective and not external factors which are under your jurisdiction, we can make better decisions, be more productive, and have a better impact on those around us.


What happens when we avoid twanging Dickens’ ominous heart-strings? We become more approachable and cooperative, and teamwork flourishes.

On a musically apt note, studies suggest that guitar playing – an activity usually individual activity – was shown to become faster and more accurate when performed with others. When we work together and don’t rebuff or infect others with negativity our productivity improves.

Such joint action, such harmonious production can only be achieved if we are considerate of our emotional impact on others, using our heads wisely to temper our fractious hearts.

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