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What is Emotional Intelligence’s Role in Remote Work?

September 23, 2021

Though the idea of remote work has been around for a long time now, for many people, it is a new environment in which we were all thrust into back in early 2020. For most people, that sudden change meant that they were required to navigate their new environment themselves with little guidance from anyone. Not to say organizations didn’t offer guidance, but the normal process of planning things once, planning them twice, and then planning once more before implementing, was not possible. So, now, here we are, learning how to work remotely together.What is Emotional Intelligence’s Role in Remote Work

I have found that many of the task-specific things I do were easy to start doing remotely. However, one thing that has been a challenge is how to be emotionally intelligent in a remote environment. Emotional intelligence (EI) is already a tough concept to begin with, so add in an online environment and it gets even foggier. Let’s first start with the basics as we explore what emotional intelligence's role is in remote work.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive and express emotions, to use emotions to facilitate thinking, to understand and reason with emotions, and to effectively manage emotions within oneself and in relationships with others (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso 2000). Put simply, it’s the ability to understand and use emotions.

There are several different models of emotional intelligence (Joseph & Newman 2010, 54). However, two of the more widely cited models are the ability and mixed models.

The ability model is made up of four components:

  • Perception and appraisal of emotion
  • Use of emotion in thought
  • Understanding and reasoning of emotion
  • Management and regulation of emotion in oneself and others

The mixed model is made up of five components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

The takeaway here is that self-awareness, self-regulation of emotions, and management of others’ emotions are key to demonstrating high emotional intelligence.

Though the importance of emotional intelligence has historically been debated (Dasborough et al. 2021), there is research to suggest that emotional intelligence does have the power to predict performance (Joseph & Newman 2010, 54). Specifically, research by Miao and colleagues (2016) suggests that leaders’ emotional intelligence is positively related to their subordinate’s job satisfaction. This is why it is so important for leaders to keep focusing on emotional intelligence.

How do we support EI in a remote or hybrid environment?

First, research suggests that leader emotions are contagious (Sy, Cote, & Saavendra 2005, 295), so it is extremely important that leaders model positive emotions. Second, emotional contagion can occur even in text-based communications like instant messenger or email (Cheshin, Rafaeli & Bos 2011, 2-16). Additionally, emotions conveyed via email have been found to be much more negative than the sender intends them to sound (Byron 2008). Even worse, when emails are intended to sound slightly negative (e.g., a slap on the wrist), the receiver evaluates them as much harsher than the author anticipated (Byron 2008).

Perfecting your own EI

So how does all of this information fit together? Essentially, individuals (especially leaders), should strive to utilize emotionally intelligent behaviors, particularly in remote environments. You can start by analyzing your own self-awareness and ability to self-regulate. There are many assessments that help individuals understand their levels of these competencies. High levels of self-awareness can help you to understand more about who you are, what motivates you, and specifically how you may be feeling at any given moment. High levels of self-regulation can help you to model positive emotions even if you are not feeling so positive. Learn how to pinpoint these drivers in a non-stressful environment so that when you find yourself in a tense situation, you know exactly what you need to do to re-center and keep those emotions in check.

It’s important to utilize these behaviors in a remote or hybrid environment – especially when communicating electronically. If you are angry with an employee, don’t just send them a nasty email. That can often lead to things spiraling out of control (Friedman & Currall 2003, 1325-1347). Instead, take time to calm down and regulate your own emotions. Pick up the phone or schedule a video call to talk calmly about the problem. When you work to communicate messages positively to others, these positive emotions will become the norm and will be “caught” by other employees.

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Byron, K. 2008. "Carrying too heavy a load? The communication and miscommunication of emotion by email."

Cheshin, A., Rafaeli, A., & Bos, N. 2011. "Anger and happiness in virtual teams: Emotional influences of text and behavior on others’ affect in the absence of non-verbal cues. Organizational behavior and human decision processes." 116(1), 2-16.

Dasborough, M. T., Ashkanasy, N. M., Humphrey, R. H., Harms, P. D., Credé, M., & Wood, D. 2021. "Does leadership still not need emotional intelligence? Continuing 'The Great EI Debate'” The Leadership Quarterly, 101539.

Friedman, R. A., & Currall, S. C. 2003. "Conflict escalation: Dispute exacerbating elements of e-mail communication." Human relations, 56(11), 1325-1347.

Joseph, D. L., & Newman, D. A. 2010. "Emotional intelligence: an integrative meta-analysis and cascading model." Journal of applied psychology, 95(1), 54.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R., & Sternberg, R. J. 2000. "Models of emotional intelligence." JD Mayer.

Sy, T., Côté, S., & Saavedra, R. 2005. "The contagious leader: impact of the leader's mood on the mood of group members, group affective tone, and group processes." Journal of applied psychology, 90(2), 295.

Christa Bupp, PhD Christa Bupp, PhD is a Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She provides client support across many different industries with a primary focus on manufacturing. Christa is passionate about making clients happy through the implementation of various selection tools. She has expertise in the areas of research and development, assessment design, data analysis, and validation.