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« 4. Develop EQ: How to express feelings at work »

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and internationally recognised Emotional Intelligence Coach.

Developing emotional intelligence and EQ can involve many different emotional intelligence competencies and many different emotional intelligence activities.

In this article we focus on competency two on the Genos emotional intelligence model - emotional expression, i.e. expressing feelings clearly, accurately and safely.

Here are five EQ skills you can develop so you are clear and skilled in expressing your feelings at work. If you are designing an EQ program for yourself or your team at work, activities which focus on how to express feelings can be very helpful.

This is the first article in a two part series on emotional expression. This article considers expressing feelings generally, including appreciation. The second article covers five EQ skills on how to express anger and negative feelings safely at work.

Want to develop your levels of emotional intelligence and receive coaching from a top emotional intelligence coach? Sign up for our five star emotional intelligence coaching package and have your emotional intelligence assessed on the MSCEIT as part of that. It could change your life - for the better. Click here to find out more.

Developing EQ 1: Quit emotional retaliation

There are many ways of expressing feelings that can reflect a high emotional intelligence or a low one, it depends on how you do it.

Expressing feelings is not a means to an end. Sometimes wanting to express your feelings can simply be a knee-jerk reaction to hit back at someone because you feel hurt, stupid, or rejected, for example. This is being emotional rather than emotionally intelligent. It can also escalate conflicts at work.

Feelings contain important data. What may be far more important then emotional retaliation is learning from your feelings. Identify how you feel and then consider why you feel like that.

Once you know this ask yourself what options you have in expressing and managing them. This would demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence.

For example, let's say you feel hurt by what someone has said. You want to blame him or her and seek a way of getting back. You are ready to send off a nasty e-mail complaining to them about their behaviour and are going to cc the senior manager. STOP.

Instead, work out what you can learn from the situation so next time you respond differently, or are faster at recognising your feelings, or you know how to avoid such a situation arising again.

This is the value of feelings. They contain such useful information to help us to continuously learn and improve. When you can benefit from them in this way you are truly emotionally intelligent.

Emotional intelligence and emotional retaliation are not the same thing. Dumping your feelings and emotional intelligence are not the same thing either. In fact they could both be indicators of a lower level of emotional intelligence and EQ. 

Developing EQ 2: Express appreciation

Expressing feelings is not just about unpleasant or "negative" emotions but pleasant and "positive" ones as well. How well do you express your feelings of pride, affection, joy, delight, admiration, enthusiasm, satisfaction, appreciation, contentment and ease?

Do you express your appreciation for your employees, your team mates, your colleagues, your partners, stakeholders, the Board, your children or your in-laws?

Why is this important? Because if you don't, they may feel taken for granted, undervalued, ignored, used, or lack trust or confidence in you.

If this happens they may then become unproductive, disengaged, disruptive, disobedient, argumentative, or difficult to work with. Why risk this?

The ability to express feelings is not just about being able to say when you feel displeased, annoyed or put-out. It is about being able to express the full range of feelings.

Can you express all feelings or do you limit yourself to a chosen few? Start to observe which ones you express clearly. I don't mean indirectly or via hinting, but openly, clearly and respectfully saying how you feel.

Having a high level of emotional intelligence includes being able to clearly say, "I am proud of you" as well as "I am frustrated".

Developing EQ 3: A gift PLUS words

Expressing feelings of appreciation, pride and love through the giving of gifts is a time honoured tradition. However, what you do when you give the gift makes an enormous difference.

Simply giving a bunch of flowers and saying, "I thought you'd like these", or presenting a certificate at work for employee of the month and saying, "Congratulations, job well done" is not a clear expression of your feelings.

When you give the certificate, if you add the words, "I appreciate the hard work you've done, I'm proud of you", you've expressed two emotions, appreciation and pride.

If you say, "I appreciate you and the work you do, I am so grateful for the research you did as it meant we met the client's deadlines, thank you", when you give the flowers, you've expressed two feelings, appreciation and gratitude.

In other words, expressing feelings clearly can often involve articulating and using a vocabulary of feeling words. When these are used, there can be no misunderstandings. It is clear how you feel and people are not left trying to work it out. 

  • How clearly do you express feelings at work?
  • Which feelings do you express at work?

Jot down the actual emotional words you use in the next month at work and see how many are true expressions of feeling or are just comments on people's behaviour, e.g. "good job well done", or "great food", or "good man".

However, having said this, giving the bunch of flowers or a certificate and acknowledging someone's value is still much better than doing nothing, which is a much lower level of emotional intelligence!

Developing EQ 4: Choose your time and place

When and where you express your feelings are very important. Some people would be totally embarrassed if their CEO stood up in a meeting and said how proud he or she was of them. In contrast, if the CEO stops by their offices and tells them in private it may be deeply rewarding.

Getting the timing right is also important.

Festering on an incident and then not expressing your irritation or annoyance until much later may take people by surprise and be hurtful. Expressing your feelings as the situation arises, or when you next see the person involved (if it is soon after) may turn out to be a far better time for you to explain your reactions to an event. Delaying the expression of feelings can minimise the benefits.

Of course, if you are furious, it can be good to calm down first to make sure you don't say something that will simply inflame the situation.

  • How quickly do you express your feelings at work?
  • Do you take the timing into consideration?
  • Would you get better results if you altered when and where you expressed your feelings?

When you express your feelings do not do it in isolation of the other person, also consider his/her feelings. This is another aspect of emotional intelligence for you.

Struggling to manage your emotions or read others? Sign up for our five-star emotional intelligence coaching package and have your emotional intelligence assessed on the MSCEIT as part of that. Emotions will become easier. Click here to find out more.

Developing EQ 5: Express negative feelings face-to-face

I do not recommend expressions of unpleasant feelings, such as annoyance, rejection or anger via email, text or fax. Expressing feelings when they are critical or unpleasant, in particular, are best not delivered in this way. It may be the easy way out, but that doesn't mean it reflects a good level of emotional intelligence. It can also escalate conflict at work.

My test for this is one of courage. When you are about to express your feelings of annoyance via email or text, ask yourself this one question: "Do I have the courage to say this to his or her face, (or at least over the phone)?"

If the answer is "no" then I suggest this is not likely to be an emotionally intelligent way to express your feelings.

Emotions are usually best expressed when the other person has the opportunity to read your non-verbal signals, whether they are of admiration or annoyance.

Emotions are also best expressed when the other person has an equal opportunity to respond person-to-person with you. In this way you can talk things through.

Expressing feelings together in a shared situation can help reduce misunderstandings, misinterpretations and the escalation of conflict (unless in situations of abuse, potential violence or bullying).

Share the pride. Bask in the love. Discuss the resentment. Develop your emotional intelligence.

How high is your emotional intelligence when expressing feelings?

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