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How Your Emotions Can Help You Win at Work

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IQ gets all the fame. It has Albert Einstein as a poster child, and it just sounds so, well, smart.  But your EQ — your Emotional Intelligence — is just as important, and sometimes we don’t realize it.

Emotional intelligence accounts for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs. Studies have found that 90 percent of high performers are also high in EQ, and that every point increase in EQ increases annual salary by $1,300 on average.

Plus, a high IQ is less important when it comes to leadership skills. That’s where your EQ really comes into play. EQ addresses how we perceive and understand our own emotions and the emotions of others. And then we get into Behavior Emotional Intelligence (BEQ), which is our ability to use EQ to manage personal behavior and relationships.

We talked with Casey Mulqueen, Ph.D., Director of Research & Product Development for The TRACOM Group, one of the nation’s top leadership development companies. They’ve developed a proven BEQ training program used by many Fortune 100 and 500 companies from all around the world. Mulqueen wrote an entire white paper on the subject called “Behavioral EQ: Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work.”

Here are a few of her best tips so you can get your EQ in check:

1. Control your behavior by understanding your emotions

Learn and understand your emotional triggers — the things that result in losing behavioral control. This is invaluable for understanding the situations and emotions that you experience just prior to losing control of your behavior. Understanding your emotions is key to learning how to manage your behavior.

2. Mentally rehearse common situations that set off your emotional triggers

Research shows that when you mentally rehearse scenarios, you’re activating the same neural circuitry that is activated when you’re actually in the scenario. Instead of responding the way you typically have in the past, imagine yourself acting in a more productive way. Develop a mental “movie” of yourself and clearly imagine yourself behaving in the ways you want. This will help prepare you for when these situations actually occur as you will have a script to follow.

3. Force your brain into action by solving a problem

Actively distracting yourself is an effective way to maintain self-control. If you’re suddenly in a situation where you’re feeling anger or frustration, for instance, shift your focus from the other person or situation to a mental problem. Make the problem challenging. For example, work out the solution to 15 x 18. This will force your brain to focus on the math problem and away from the stressful situation.

The old adage that you should count to 10 is not effective. It’s too easy, and therefore doesn’t actively engage the brain. Distracting yourself with a difficult problem is an effective strategy for avoiding an emotional reaction.

It isn’t important to solve the problem correctly; the point is to engage the brain region that solves problems, thereby preventing the emotional center of your brain from flooding the bloodstream with adrenalin and other stress hormones that cause strong emotional reactions.

4. Engage in healthy escapism

If it’s too hard to find a mental problem to solve, another form of distraction is to actively let your attention shift to a pleasant memory. You can sing a song in your mind, think of your favorite place or activity or a funny TV show — whatever works best for you. Similar to solving a problem, this will engage your mind and prevent the amygdala from taking control and causing a strong emotional reaction.

Think of this as a healthy form of mental escapism.

5. When it comes to email, the “send” button is not your friend

Ask a friend or trusted colleague to review questionable emails before you send them. Research shows that as many as one-half of all emails are misinterpreted by the recipient. If you think something sounds neutral, it might be interpreted as offensive or rude.

Carefully consider your message and the recipients. What type of people are they? What are their behavioral styles? How are they likely to interpret your email? In what ways could your message be misinterpreted?

Just as important, if you’re feeling angry or frustrated when writing the email, this is a red flag. It’s too easy to hit the “send” button, so develop a habit to always wait at least 30 minutes before sending an email when you’re feeling emotional. (Click here to tweet this advice.)

6. Walk away from tense situations

If you’re in an emotionally heated conversation or situation, say, “I need time to think about this before I respond,” or some other appropriate response that allows you to leave the situation. Not everything has to be dealt with immediately, especially if tempers are high. Separate yourself from the situation. Allow adequate time to pass so you, and the other person, can calm down. When feeling more controlled, you can then respond to the person.

Remember that in these situations, the amygdala is in control of your mind. It takes time to calm down and for your prefrontal cortex to resume control of your thoughts and actions. Leaving the situation is not escapism; it’s a healthy and productive action that will result in a better outcome.

7. Make a conscious decision to speak clearly and with decorum whenever you’re in an emotionally charged situation

This is an effective strategy for avoiding the urge to blow up and lose control. Think of the language you will use; make sure it’s respectful and calmly delivered. Like all habits, practice will enhance your effectiveness and it will become more natural over time. If you know that you will be in an emotional discussion, rehearse ahead of time. Determine exactly what you will you say and the language you will use.

Meredith Lepore is the former editor of the women’s career site The Grindstone. Before that, she was on staff at Wall Street Letter and Business Insider and was a contributing writer for LearnVest. She earned her Masters in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University after graduating with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from the University of Rochester. Meredith resides in New York full-time and enjoys reading, jogging, shopping and playing with her puppy, Otis.

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