Emotional Reflexivity: Why It Can Matter More Than Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Reflexivity: Why It Can Matter More Than Emotional Intelligence

Conflicts are inevitable, and situations in the workplace can be emotionally taxing, taking a toll on our lives.

Since its introduction in Daniel Goleman's book, the idea of emotional intelligence (EI) has received undivided attention from academicians, practitioners, public speakers, media and internet sites. The workplace has always been an amphitheatre where conflicts face-off with employees, and it calls for our emotions to take the lead in being intelligent enough to deal with toxicity or conflict. However, EI is more than understanding, controlling, monitoring and managing emotions and behaviour.


Instead of stifling our emotions at the workplace, the need of the hour is to delve deeper into our insights, create self-awareness, and facilitate our beliefs and values in making choices that would impact everyone surrounding us. But this should not be confused with the reflection of looking back and pondering. Reflection and reflexivity are two distinct terms. Reflexivity goes beyond reflection by constantly questioning one's choices and looking at the impact on others. Simply put, reflexivity is the ongoing process of self-reflection for generating self-awareness about our emotions, dispositions, and perceptions that make us emotionally intelligent.


Emotional Reflexivity


Organisations and surveys have surrogated emotional reflexivity with and embedded in emotional intelligence because both are mutually inclusive. One cannot be reflexive without being emotionally intelligent, and one cannot be emotionally intelligent without being reflexive.


A recent survey by Capgemini has revealed that EI is a "must-have skill" for 74% of executives and 58% of non-supervisory employees. An in-depth analysis of these studies has left an issue worth pondering, ignoring the root of EI, i.e. emotional reflexivity. Without emotional reflexivity, employees cannot be more than a robot. EI can be taught to machines and robots as some of the organisations focus on making these machines understand human emotions. With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution and technologies such as AI, machine learning, robots and chatbots, emotional reflexivity is impossible to emulate.


Given the impact of emotional intelligence on employees and the workplace, reflexivity leads employees to connect with others by knowing themselves and others better by constantly being aware of who they are as a person. This awareness influences their relationship with their team members.


Look Beneath the Surface


With the constant evolution of the job landscape and the complexities of the modern workplace, as well as continuous shifts in job demands, roles and responsibilities, employees must be reflexive of their emotions and be aware of their beliefs and values.


Today's workplace complexities, coupled with constant change, necessitate emotional self-awareness so that you can be aware of others. If organisations require their workforce to be emotionally intelligent in order to cope with change, it is important to look beneath the surface. Emotional reflexivity does not equate with emotional intelligence. Emotional reflexivity entails delving deeper into the "why", "how", and "who" of a particular choice.


Challenges Abound, and Life Is Stressful for All of Us. So How Do We Cope?


Organisations will soon require a certain level of emotional intelligence as an important prerequisite. The real challenge, however, is instilling and teaching emotional reflexivity to employees and measuring it as one of the required skillsets.


1. There should be more training sessions and intervention activities at the individual and interactional levels so that employees become more competent in gaining self-awareness. Building reflexivity and emotional intelligence can help organisations sustain changes in the nature of their work, relationships and job roles.


2. The ability to delve deeper to gain insights into ourselves will be meaningless if not done with honesty. Without being honest about our emotions of ourselves and others, we end being emotionally constipated, with no room left for self-awareness and empathy. Different people will display a range of emotions and behaviours due to individual differences based on their values and dispositions and how they handle their own and others' emotions. Without honest communication with each other about what is suitable for us and how our reflexivity affects us, employees across the management level will end up building assumptions and be judgemental about us and others.




Conflicts are inevitable, and situations in the workplace can be emotionally taxing, taking a toll on our lives. It is natural to be swayed by our emotions in our personal lives and in the workplace when issues such as job loss, promotions, salaries, and so on are involved. In such situations, it is important to be reflexive (i.e., to be continuously proactive and aware of who we are and how we react and perceive an event).


Nevertheless, emotional reflexivity must be taken with a pinch of salt: It has its own cons; that is, not everybody can derive the best out of reflexivity. Emotional reflexivity is a double-edged sword—whichever side you look at can be used both in a positive as well as a negative sense: It may lead to motivation to reach higher performance and meet organisational goals, or it may push one back by demotivating them in the workplace. In a myriad of interactions, a person may think about his or her position in the workplace as a stepping stone to further success or may feel hamstrung by different factors acting together that might pull him or her back from the path that he or she seeks to pursue.


Should we continue to suffer from being judgmental with assumptions? What will we miss out on if we kept our emotions to ourselves? Should we, maybe, let out emotions go? Self-awareness will be the torchbearer and show us the path.


Jeeta Sarkar is a Visiting Professor in Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at XIM University. She is also a Doctoral Scholar (OBHR) from Xavier School of Human Resource Management, XIM University Bhubaneswar, India. She has more than six years of teaching experience. She has published several papers in the areas of Compensation and Benefits, Executive Compensation, Employee Turnover and Retention in national and international journals. Her teaching interests are in the areas of Rewards and Recognition, Total Rewards, Behavioral Science and Positive Psychology.


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