Use Emotional Intelligence to Control Stress

May 12, 2015

emotional intelligence stress relief

A recent study on mindfulness showed that high employee stress levels have become the biggest management issues in the workplace. Over 55% of organizations in the study reported that they experience above average levels of stress. This was more than double the next highest response rate. Daniel Goleman is a renowned psychologist and emotional intelligence expert. Recently, he sat down with AMA to discuss leadership’s role in creating or preventing stress at work. Here are his recommendations on avoiding emotional contagion and helping your team feel less stressed out.

AMA: Why is it so important for leaders to address stress?

DG: Stress spreads like a virus. If a leader is displaying negative energy, is full of anxiety, or incites conflict, so does the rest of the team. The only thing a constant stream of toxic energy from higher-ups does is encourage valuable team members to update their résumés rather than their to-do lists.

AMA: Why should leaders care if their teams are stressed out? Isn’t stress normal?

DG: Some stress is normal, yes, but the culprit is the unnecessary stress created by emotional contagion and negative attitudes. When we’re stressed, our attention shifts away from our goals. In that case, we focus on the cause of the stress, not the task at hand. The brain’s executive centers – our neural circuitry for paying attention, comprehending, and learning – are hijacked by our networks for handling stress.

Dan Goleman stress

AMA: How can managers and leaders better handle their employees’ stress levels? Does emotional intelligence play a role here?

DG: Absolutely it does. Leaders who are less emotionally intelligent are probably less capable of managing their own or their subordinates’ stress levels well. Similarly, leaders who lack a high degree of EI may well have a more difficult time engaging employees. After all, employees suffering from high levels of workplace stress are not likely to feel engaged in their work. Rather, they are likely to resent leaders for unrealistic and stress-inducing expectations.

At every level, especially in a leadership role, self-regulation is a key ability of emotional intelligence. People who can control their emotions well are able to recover more quickly from stress arousal. This means attention becomes nimble and focused again, the mind flexible, the body relaxed. A state of relaxed alertness is optimal for performance.

For more insights on emotional intelligence in the workplace, see all of Daniel Goleman’s work with AMA Playbook.

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About The Author

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures frequently to professional groups, business audiences, and on college campuses. As a science journalist, Goleman reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, a Times bestseller for a year and a half—with more than 5,000,000 copies in print worldwide in 40 languages—has also been a bestseller in many countries. He has written books on other topics as well, including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, ecoliteracy and the ecological crisis.


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    Leaders with high EQs are more effective in creating an atmosphere of collegiality. While the article stressed the importance of reducing stress in the workplace, it didn’t answer the question on how to achieve it.

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    […] Goleman, realizó estas declaraciones en una entrevista de análisis de los resultados del estudio realizado en el que han participado  991 trabajadores de empresas […]

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    We should not be surprised that stress management is a problem.

    Employees are not hired for their capacity to manage job stress.
    Managers are not hired for their capacity to manage job stress.
    Executives are not hired for their capacity to manage job stress.

    Employers need to hire employees whose reaction to job stress will be a job strength not a job weakness.

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    Thank you for raising an important issue. I think it is important to also mention that when we are stressed we become very self centric and empathy simply disappears from our experience. This is a huge contributor to conflict and general dissatisfaction in the workplace and in our lives in general. Also in my experience it is exercise along with a body centered mindfulness approach to stress reduction that is the most powerful. Mindfulness gives us the awareness, the tools, emotional intelligence is a welcome side effect but not the starting point.

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    Am at a point where i might just break down with stress. But expectations are to work more than 12 hrs a day just setting up a process framework. No EI where i am at but i need to get out and get trained in EI to train others in the practice.

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    I am employee of 3000 px organisation,I am victim of one of DGM & I am glad to read this for my imotional intelligence to deal with

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