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Harnessing Emotional Intelligence for Leadership Success

While cognitive intelligence is one trait that will bring us success, we often forget about another that reaps equally significant benefits in both our professional and personal lives: emotional intelligence. Also referred to as “people smarts,” possessing this attribute is key to successfully navigating and resolving interpersonal conflict in the workplace.

“It’s about how to read people, what’s going on in their minds, and how they’re showing those emotions,” said Ray Barishansky, MPH, MS, CPM at his EMS World Expo session, “Understanding Why We React the Way We Do: Harnessing Emotional Intelligence for Leadership Success.” Fundamental elements of emotional intelligence are knowing how to react emotionally, identifying others’ emotions and your own, and recognizing how impactful emotions are—once you do, it will shape the way you interact with people for the better.

Imagine you’ve just had an argument with a spouse, friend, or relative, and now you have to attend a meeting. How is that meeting going to go? Probably not well. When in a delicate state of mind like this, think before you react. Otherwise, you risk allowing emotions stemming from your personal conflict to impact your interactions with colleagues. Barishansky asked the audience to consider the following questions when assessing their emotions:  

What makes you angry?
How do you handle a bad day?
How willing are you to seek help?
Have you ever had to change your behavior at work? If so, how?
Who inspires you and why?

Our society assigns a significant amount of value to IQ scores, particularly as we progress through the school system, but rarely are we taught the necessity of having emotional intelligence, said Barishansky. “It’s one of the most important personal attributes but we don’t pay attention to it. We don’t realize it takes both your intelligence quotient and emotional quotient to really understand success and happiness.”

Success comes with practicing emotional intelligence as it helps you understand the meaning of your emotions and how they affect other people, especially in terms of how you communicate because everyone does so differently. Part of this emotionally intelligent communication is being capable of handling criticism without denial, blame or excuses, including criticism that comes from your employees. Barishansky challenged leaders in the audience to ask themselves, “If I can’t give my people everything they need in regard to resources and I’m not giving them anything in regard to my emotional intelligence, what am I giving them?” 

It’s helpful to understand what exactly emotional intelligence is so you can practice applying the skill in your daily interactions. It’s comprised of five components:

  1. Self-awareness: This is about understanding your feelings, knowing what your emotional triggers are, and accurately evaluating your capabilities.
  2. Self-management: This requires you to keep disruptive emotions in check. Learn how to control your outbursts and discuss disagreements in a composed manner. Try to avoid activities that you know distress you. Note, however, that “we can’t always avoid certain situations at work, so we have to be hyper-aware of how they’re going to make us feel,” said Barishansky.
  3. Motivation: This is our drive to improve ourselves and set and achieve goals; it’s being resilient and optimistic. What is your motivation? Earning a living to take care of yourself and loved ones? Identify it and pursue it.
  4. Empathy: This is the ability to understand and be sensitive to other people’s emotions and reactions, and it’s crucial to master in the field of EMS. Barishansky said when you have to inform someone that their loved one is dead, “empathy is something you better embrace and you better understand.”
    1. Emotional maturity: This is part of the foundation of empathy. It’s being interested in other people’s concerns, anticipating their emotional reaction to a situation, and understanding societal norms.
  5. Social skills: EMS professionals are constantly communicating with others—patients, partners, dispatchers, fire and police departments, people on dynamic scenes—so honing your social skills is a must. Understanding how they work in the context of conflict resolution, day-to-day interactions, and team-building activities entails applying empathy and negotiating the needs of others with your own by finding common ground. When conflict arises, know what you want and communicate it clearly. Understand what the other person wants and find a middle ground that provides satisfactory outcomes for everyone.

With those components in mind, Barishansky offered five tips to becoming more emotionally intelligent:

  1. Manage negative emotions
  2. Be mindful of your vocabulary—word choice matters
  3. Practice empathy
  4. Know your stressors
  5. Bounce back from adversity

“Remember the questions from the beginning,” Barishansky said. “It’s about knowing your emotions, knowing others’ emotions, effectively communicating with them about critical issues we face every day at work, and coming to a resolution. It’s not going to work every time, but it really does work most of the time.”

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