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DSW Course Insight: Improving the Workplace with the Use of Emotional intelligence

Doctor of Social Work candidates learn how managing emotions enhances leadership ability.

Leaders with high IQs may be standouts, but when it comes to workplace success, there’s another quotient that matters most: emotional intelligence (EI).1

“Daniel Goleman, known as ‘the father of emotional intelligence,’ was the first person to talk about, research, and compile data about feelings and emotions in the workplace,” writes Elizabeth Leigh Farrington in the article “Use Emotional Intelligence to Improve Your Work.” “His model accepts that people in the workplace have feelings and emotions—and says that we should deal with them by first dealing with our own. He defines emotional intelligence as ‘the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.’”


Farrington’s article is required reading for Walden University Doctor of Social Work (DSW) candidates enrolled in the course Leadership Development. In studying for an advanced degree in social work, some DSW students delve into the psychology of leadership and leader development. Topics include psychological theories of leadership, leadership styles, qualities of great leaders, and instruments used to assess leadership and leadership potential.

Harnessing the power of EI can enhance your leadership skills, Farrington says. “And it just could be the key for getting through your day with your sanity intact, or for making real changes.” Read along with Walden’s DSW degree candidates to learn more, in this excerpt from the author’s insightful article:1

While intellectual intelligence is influenced by genetics and is not affected by day-to-day experiences, EI can be taught and learned. It’s not fixed, it develops over a lifetime, and is directly related to day-to-day experiences. It works by scanning an environment, looking at one’s options, and then deciding how to act or respond.

EI is centered in the limbic system. An emotional center, the limbic system is considered an open loop. To manage itself, it depends on external sources. EI is based on connections with others, and interactions with others can change its physiology. You’ve probably observed this in action before, with the phenomenon of mirroring. People who interact often mirror each other’s physiological profiles within 15 minutes.

Leaders tend to catalyze even more physiological mirroring and have a large effect on shaping the profiles of others. “People look to you and take cues from you,” explained Elaine Fukuhara Schilling, a leadership development consultant and co-founder of Pinehurst Consulting. She presented “Emotional Intelligence: An Asset of Effective Leaders” at the Office of Women in Higher Education’s Northern California Network meeting in 2008. “They are paying attention to what you do, what you wear, and what you say.”

It all comes down to EI. Goleman’s research of 200 companies found that almost 90% of leader success was due to EI. Its contributions to excellent performance mattered more than two times more than IQ and technical expertise. Successful leaders, he found, tend to listen and use data.

Developing and Using EI

“Whenever you see someone stop in their tracks and do a redo, it changes the tone of the meeting,” Schilling said. “That’s using emotional intelligence.”

“It’s also useful in managing your own day-to-day experiences. Moods are one example. If you work for someone who is grumpy, you can’t fully engage,” she said. “EI can teach you how to regulate your own moods.”

The five steps in the EI framework build on each other:

1. Self-awareness. Know what’s going on for you, and the effect you have on others. Self-confidence is a component.

2. Self-regulation. The next step is to regulate it. It’s about managing your emotional life, without letting it control you, through depression, anger, or worry. Schilling worked with a professor who always said, “on it!” at the end of a sentence—but had no idea he was doing it. A student e-mailed him to tell him it was confusing. He asked his students to raise their hands when he said it, so he could control it.

3. Motivation. Know that things aren’t always going to go your way, take charge of what you can control (your thoughts and your optimism), and control your approach to your job.

4. Empathy. Understand others by reading their emotions, so that you know how they’re feeling without them having to tell you. It’s also about learning organizational culture and unspoken rules, by reading a group’s power relationships and emotional currents.

5. Effective relationships. Learn how to maintain effective relationships by being a good leader, cultivating communication and collaboration, and skillfully and harmoniously handling feelings in relationships.

The first three are self-management skills, and the last two are relationship management skills. To develop your EI capacity, ask yourself: What do you want to self-regulate or self-manage to be more effective in the workplace?

One strategy is to recognize that some situations tend to bring up prior experiences. When that happens, the limbic system is engaged, and thoughts run away. That puts you in victim mode. Recognizing your triggers and self-regulating your responses can help you to address the situation at hand rationally and move on from there.

In a typical situation, when things happen, we select the data we want to process. We create a story about the data, adding meaning and making assumptions before reaching a conclusion. We then take action, triggering a new run through the cycle.

Changing the process requires accountability: accepting that we can be a change agent. Ask yourself, what is your intention? You can determine how an interaction will go. Picture an infinity symbol. On one side is accountability; on the other, victim mode. “If your intention is to get back at a person, you’ll whirl around in victim mode,” Schilling said. You can’t escape the closed loop.

To move along the line into accountability, ask yourself, “What does this remind me of?” Deal with the emotions of the situation, don’t squash them. Reflect on what went on, so you have more information. Then, interpret the information.

Start with the objective. What did you notice or hear? What are the facts? Then reflect. What concerned you? What did this situation remind you of? Next, interpret. What could possibly be going on here? Use all of this to decide what a good next step might be, take the action, and be ready to cycle through the process again.

Goleman’s tips to use EI come from the colors of a traffic light. At red, take a time out, and think before you act. Pay attention to your emotions. Know what triggers them. At yellow, proceed with caution. Think about your goals for the situation, analyze your options, and consider the consequences of your choices. At green, you’re ready to act. Pick an option and try it out.

Lead With EI in a Social Work Career

If you’ve delayed earning a degree because of career and life demands, look to Walden for the flexibility that can put your dream within reach. The accredited university’s online DSW degree program lets you further your education—and social work career—while staying fully engaged at work and at home.

An online doctoral degree in social work can lead you to your professional destination, where you are ready to make your mark. Expand your practice, serve a new population, or take a leadership role with a crowning academic achievement—a doctorate in social work.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

1Source: - E.L. Farrington (2008), “Use Emotional Intelligence to Improve Your Work”

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,