Many of us pride ourselves on our emotional intelligence. It’s become an increasingly common topic of workplace culture and conversation, and has even become a focus of mentoring relationships. But while you might make a point of exhibiting empathy and compassionate directness in your interactions with your colleagues, that doesn’t necessarily mean you make emotionally intelligent decisions in your day-to-day work life. 

Making emotionally intelligent decisions at work can ultimately help you lower your stress levels because they have long-lasting results, consider a wide variety of factors, and more often than not, evoke positive change, Kerry Goyette, M.S.W., a management consultant and author of The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence, writes for Fast Company. However, making  decisions that are emotionally sound involves more than showing an awareness of others’ feelings and responding accordingly — it encompasses the intelligent use of emotion, and consideration for the me, the we, and the why, according to Goyette. Goyette has coined the me, we, and why approach to emotionally intelligent decision-making “EQ³.”

“EQ³ starts by looking at yourself, before shifting to examine the communities and groups that influence you and shape your environment, and finally considers your purpose,” Goyette writes. 

Goyette says the foundation behind her approach is based on brain science; it pushes us to gain awareness of the emotional drivers behind our decisions. For example, Goyette says a fear of rejection, loss, failure, or even our innate fight-or-flight instinct can play a role in the choices we make — often without us even realizing their influence. An easy way to consider the me, we, and why when making decisions at work is to ask yourself a simple set of questions — listed below — before making a high-impact choice, or trying to change your behavior.

What personal factors might play a role in this decision? 

Maybe you’re accustomed to making impulsive decisions, or taking the time to outline every single possible outcome of the choice you need to make. No matter which end of the decision-making spectrum you fall on, it’s possible that you make your decisions without considering the underlying personal factors at stake. “Emotions exert a huge — and often unconscious — influence over our decisions. Many decisions are attempts at predicting future outcomes. If we are feeling positive, we might come to a different conclusion than if we’re feeling negative,” Marc Brackett, Ph.D., a professor and founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, tells Thrive. 

Brackett recommends taking a moment to pause and reflect to determine how any personal emotions or factors might be playing a part in your decision. “Ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling? Is how I am feeling related to the decision I’m about to make, the meeting I’m about to attend or lead, or is it about the previous meeting or phone call?’ When we attribute our feelings to their cause, they are less likely to influence future outcomes,” Brackett says. Taking this pause will allow you to actively separate your feelings in a healthy way, so that unrelated emotions don’t assume a role in your decision-making process.

How might my decision impact others, and how do they impact my choices, too? 

Taking a moment to step outside of yourself and consider your impact on others is a key to emotionally intelligent decision-making. Not only will it help you anticipate outcomes, but it will also help you understand how others’ emotions might influence you, too. “If you can learn what they do that triggers your fight-or-flight, you can see it coming. You can also make a plan for your limbic brain that doesn’t result in counterproductive behavior,” Goyette explains. If you’re faced with a decision that could impact other members of your team, try asking them for their input on how they feel about the choice at hand. If it’s a decision you need to make individually, consider how your choice might make someone else’s role easier or harder, or if a specific choice would impact your work relationship. 

What environmental factors might influence my decision?  

Your environment plays a bigger role in decision-making than you might expect — especially when you are trying to act with emotional intelligence. The University of Minnesota’s Taking Charge Initiative has found that your environment can facilitate or discourage social interaction, influence your motivation to act, and even play a part in your mood. What’s more, our stress levels are sensitive to our environments. For example, a noisy, confusing environment can make us feel worried, sad, or even helpless, Taking Charge reports. When making a decision at work, consider how environmental factors might be coming into play. Do you feel rushed to make a choice because your colleagues are in a chaotic space in the office? Do you feel stressed by the decision because you can hear a tense meeting taking place around the corner? Once you consider your surroundings, you can either embrace the environment or remove yourself from it, and find a place to clear your head. 

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  • Jessica Hicks

    Managing Editor at Thrive

    Jessica Hicks is a managing editor at Thrive. She graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism, sociology, and anthropology, and is passionate about using storytelling to ignite positive change in the lives of others.