Career & Jobs

How to Leverage Emotional, Social, and Cultural Intelligence to Enhance Professional Lives


by Lemuel W. Watson


The notion of the workplace has changed in unique ways over the last four years. Whether one is in an online, hybrid, or on-campus environment, we have noticed a difference. A 2023 report by Gartner shared that “In 2023, organizations face historic challenges: A competitive talent landscape, an exhausted workforce, pressure to control cost, and the rise of artificial intelligence and automation.”

On top of workplace changes, concerns around mental health have grown. An Arizona State University study of 2021 work-life found that employees and employers recognize the need to address mental health issues. Additionally, a 2021 McKinsey survey about psychological safety and mental health issues found that one-third of respondents reported that the return to on-site work had a negative impact on their mental health. Plus, half of those who have not yet returned anticipated negative mental health impacts.

The adjustments to a post-COVID world, coupled with these growing mental health concerns, should compel all of us to grapple with our role in creating just and welcoming communities regardless of where we are in the world and in the workplace. This new normal requires mindfulness, awareness, and emotional, social, and cultural intelligence in a more central way in our work lives.

Understanding Mindfulness and Emotional, Social, and Cultural Intelligence

In an NPR interview, scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn shares his notion of mindfulness as being aware of the present moment without judgment or striving and paying attention on purpose. We can create a more productive workplace culture by learning to recognize emotions in ourselves and others, incorporating empathy and compassion into our interactions, and better understanding different cultures. With this knowledge, we can adjust our communication styles to best fit the needs of those around us and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect.

A Ted Talk by Daniel Goleman explains that by developing compassion in addition to emotional, social, and cultural intelligence, we can better understand the motivations of others, learn how to interact more effectively with them, and become more successful in our professional endeavors, as shared in his 1995 mega-bestseller book Emotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and the feelings of those around us. Social intelligence (SI) is understanding and interacting effectively with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. Cultural intelligence (CI) is understanding and adapting to different cultural contexts. Emotional, social, and cultural intelligence are all essential parts of human behavior that can significantly affect how successful we are in our lives.

The Benefits for the Workplace

Emotional, social, and cultural intelligence are essential to a successful workplace. They can help employees better understand their colleagues, students, and partners, build stronger relationships, and work more effectively together. Using emotional intelligence in the classroom can benefit all involved, especially when an environment is created where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and their feelings. It also helps foster collaboration between teams and improve communication between different departments. Leaders who employ emotional intelligence have learned how to lean on those skills during challenging times to bring a sense of intentionality to their decision-making for positive benefits.

Developing EI can help you become a better communicator, team player, leader, and problem solver, but doing so requires both self-awareness and self-management skills. Fortunately, plenty of emotional intelligence training opportunities are available to help you build your emotional quotient skill set — from online courses to in-person workshops.

Social and cultural intelligence are critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. Cultural sensitivity training helps people become aware of their biases and how they affect their interactions with others who are from different backgrounds. By investing in social and cultural intelligence training, employers can equip their staff with the necessary tools to work productively in diverse environments. This will ensure that they create an inclusive and safe workplace for all.

Awareness: A First Step in Building Emotional, Social, and Cultural Intelligence

Jack Kornfield, author of “A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises,” is the leading voice in modern Buddhism and meditation practices; he is a strong proponent of awareness practices to combat some of today’s significant challenges. His writings also emphasize empathy and compassion as keys to unlocking greater social justice in our communities. Through awareness, we can develop empathy to help us understand and connect with others, better understand their feelings, and motivate us to act compassionately. From improving relationships to increasing job satisfaction, learning to listen deeply, recognize emotions, and empathize with others can help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you.

In addition, self-awareness helps us to understand our strengths and weaknesses, why we do what we do, and how our thoughts and actions impact those around us. We can better understand ourselves and our relationship with the world with self-awareness.

Enhancing active listening is another essential skill to help us better understand and engage with others. This involves paying attention to what is being said, asking questions, and ensuring the conversation is centered around the other person’s interests. Active listening skills are essential for successful communication, as it can help us build stronger relationships, identify potential problems before they arise, and create a more productive work environment.

Building meaningful relationships depends on the quality of the aforementioned skills. By learning to listen to others without judgment, we can create an atmosphere of understanding and respect. Active listening also allows us to recognize the perspectives of others, develop a better understanding of their needs, and ultimately create a more harmonious environment.

As a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIY) Certified Mindfulness Teacher, I have seen amazing things happen when one brings awareness and emotional intelligence with intentions into the workplace. Search Inside Yourself was developed at Google in 2007, and they have something called the “Siberian North Rail Road” (or SBNRR- stop, breathe, notice, reflect, and respond) practice, and it is one of my favorite awareness practices that I have taught teams of people to use. Try this the next time you are triggered or allowed to learn.

  1. Stop. This is the most crucial step. Instead of becoming wrapped up in the emotion or making an impulse decision, stop. Decide to take a moment.
  2. Breathe. Take a deep breath. This helps clear your mind, as well as helps physiologically calm down your brain.
  3. Notice. Notice what you’re experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. What are you feeling in your body? What emotions are you experiencing? Is it static, or is it changing? Does the emotion seem out of proportion compared to the trigger?
  4. Reflect. What’s causing the emotion? Is it the right response? Is a part of you feeling attacked, belittled, or threatened? Is there a story to the experience you’re having?
  5. Respond. Think of all the different courses of action you can take. Consider the kindest, most compassionate way to respond to the situation (even if you don’t take that path). Finally, make a conscious decision on how to respond.

Having an emotionally intelligent workforce is beneficial for organizations in many ways. From increasing productivity to improving customer service, cultivating emotional, social, and cultural intelligence in the workplace is essential for long-term success. By integrating empathic-based awareness practices into our daily lives, we can begin to create more compassionate and meaningful connections.

Disclaimer: HigherEdJobs encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and don’t imply endorsement by HigherEdJobs.

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