From Good to Great: Leaders Utilising Emotional Granularity


Harnessing Emotional Granularity at Work

Emotional granularity, the ability to precisely identify and articulate emotions, plays a pivotal role in enhancing emotional intelligence (EI), social intelligence (SI), cultural intelligence (CQ), and conversational intelligence (CI) in the workplace. By fostering a nuanced understanding of emotions, employees can navigate complex social interactions, appreciate diverse cultural perspectives, and engage in more meaningful conversations. This article explores how emotional granularity can be cultivated and its impact on various forms of intelligence within the workplace.

The Concept of Emotional Granularity

Emotional granularity refers to the ability to recognise and describe emotions with a high degree of specificity. Rather than categorising feelings into broad categories like “happy” or “sad,” individuals with high emotional granularity can differentiate between emotions such as “elated,” “content,” “melancholy,” or “disappointed.” This skill is integral to emotional intelligence, a concept popularised by Daniel Goleman, which involves self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Impact on Emotional Intelligence

Lisa Feldman Barrett, a leading researcher in the field of psychology, emphasises that emotional granularity enhances emotional intelligence by allowing individuals to better understand and regulate their emotions. According to Barrett, “The more granular your experiences are, the more precisely your brain can predict and respond to the world around you” (Barrett, 2017). This precision in emotional understanding helps employees manage stress, build resilience, and maintain a positive outlook, which are crucial for personal well-being and professional success.

People Plus Science’ Emotional Intelligence Training: People Plus Science offers an emotional intelligence training program called “Search Inside Yourself” (part of the Science of Me Program)”.  This program teaches employees to recognise and articulate their emotions, leading to improved emotional and social intelligence across the organisations.

Enhancing Social Intelligence

  • Social intelligence, the ability to effectively navigate social interactions and build relationships, is significantly bolstered by emotional granularity. When employees can accurately identify and express their emotions, they are better equipped to understand and respond to the emotions of others. Susan David, a psychologist and author of “Emotional Agility,” notes that “When people label their emotions accurately, they can respond to them more effectively” (David, 2016). This heightened awareness and responsiveness foster empathy and improve interpersonal dynamics, leading to a more cohesive and supportive workplace environment.

Some organisations taking action to improve the social intelligence of their teams include:

  1. Air New Zealand’s “Manaaki” Program:

    • Description: “Manaaki” means to support and take care of in Māori, and this program focuses on social and emotional intelligence.
    • Components: It includes workshops on empathy, cultural awareness, and customer service.
    • Impact: It enhances customer interactions and promotes a supportive workplace culture.


2.  Fonterra’s “Social Intelligence Training”:

      • Description: Fonterra, a global dairy nutrition company, offers training to develop social intelligence.
      • Components: The program includes modules on emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and teamwork.
      • Impact: It aims to improve team collaboration and overall organizational effectiveness.

3.  NHS Leadership Academy’s “Healthcare Leadership Model”:

      • Description: This model includes programs designed to enhance social intelligence among healthcare leaders.
      • Components: Training focuses on self-awareness, emotional resilience, and interpersonal skills.
      • Impact: It aims to improve patient care and teamwork in the healthcare setting.

Cultivating Cultural Intelligence

  • Cultural intelligence involves understanding and adapting to diverse cultural contexts. Emotional granularity aids in this by enabling employees to recognise and respect the emotional expressions and social norms of different cultures. For example, in some cultures, expressing emotions openly is encouraged, while in others, it is considered inappropriate. By developing a nuanced understanding of these cultural differences, employees can communicate more effectively and avoid misunderstandings. This sensitivity to cultural nuances is essential for global organisations and multicultural teams.
  • Air New Zealand’s “Te Kete Tikanga Māori” Program: Air New Zealand offers the “Te Kete Tikanga Māori” program, which provides employees with training on Māori culture and customs. The program includes immersive experiences, language lessons, and cultural workshops designed to deepen employees’ understanding and respect for Māori heritage. This initiative is part of Air New Zealand’s broader strategy to enhance cultural competence and foster inclusivity within the company.

  • Cisco’s “Inclusion & Collaboration” Program: Cisco’s “Inclusion & Collaboration” initiative includes a series of workshops, webinars, and mentorship programs. The training covers topics such as cultural awareness, inclusive leadership, and allyship. Cisco also uses data analytics to measure the effectiveness of their training and continuously improve their approach. This program helps Cisco create a diverse and inclusive workplace, driving employee engagement and innovation.

  • Salesforce’s “Equality Training”: Salesforce has developed an extensive “Equality Training” program that includes workshops, online courses, and interactive learning experiences. The training focuses on understanding privilege, addressing unconscious bias, and fostering an inclusive culture. 

  • People Plus Science have integrated  an “Equality Circle during shared lunch experiences” into their Cultural Competency Program, where employees can share their experiences and learn from one another. This holistic approach including cultural mapping, neurodiversity mapping, lunch and learns, common projects and conversational skills, helps organisations build a culture of equality and respect for culturally diverse, neurodivergent and disabled employees.

"Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.

Advancing Conversational Intelligence

Conversational intelligence, a term coined by Judith E. Glaser, refers to the ability to engage in meaningful and productive dialogues. Emotional granularity enhances conversational intelligence by allowing individuals to express their thoughts and feelings with clarity and precision. This leads to more authentic and transparent communication, fostering trust and collaboration. For instance, instead of saying “I’m frustrated,” an employee might say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed because of the tight deadlines.” This specificity helps others understand the root cause of the emotion and work towards a solution.

Microsoft’s Conversational Intelligence Initiative: Microsoft has implemented initiatives to improve conversational intelligence among its employees. 

People Plus Science work with leaders and teams to develop conversational intelligence as part of the “Science of Me and Science of We and Leading from the Chair Programs”.  Conversation skills are the largest skills gap in leaders and supervisors today (according to research conducted by People Plus Science Psychological Safety and Well-being in the Boardroom 2024 study.   Through workshops and training sessions, employees learn to communicate more effectively, fostering better collaboration and innovation.


Practical Strategies to Increase Emotional Granularity

  • Emotion Journaling: Encourage employees to maintain an emotion journal where they record their feelings throughout the day. This practice helps in identifying patterns and understanding the triggers of various emotions.

  • Emotion Vocabulary Expansion: Provide training sessions or workshops focused on expanding emotional vocabulary. Tools like the “Emotion Wheel” can help employees learn new words to describe their emotions more precisely. Or join the People Plus Science mailing list or watch out for Emotional Granularity Fridays for a new word.

  • Mindfulness and Reflection: Promote mindfulness practices such as meditation and reflection. These practices enhance self-awareness and help individuals observe their emotions without judgment.

  • Feedback and Coaching: Implement regular feedback and coaching sessions where employees can discuss their emotions and receive guidance on how to articulate them better.

  • Role-Playing Exercises: Conduct role-playing exercises that simulate challenging emotional situations. These exercises can help employees practice identifying and expressing their emotions in a safe environment.

Key Takeaways for Leaders

  1. Foster Social Intelligence for Better Collaboration:

    • Encourage open communication and empathy to build trust and cooperation among team members. Leaders who model social intelligence create environments where collaboration flourishes.
  2. Enhance Emotional Intelligence for Effective Leadership:

    • Develop self-awareness and self-regulation to manage emotions constructively. Emotional intelligence helps leaders navigate complex interpersonal dynamics and maintain a positive workplace culture.
  3. Leverage Cultural Intelligence for Inclusive Teams:

    • Understand and respect cultural differences to create an inclusive and harmonious work environment. Leaders who prioritise cultural intelligence can effectively manage diverse teams and drive global success.
  4. Promote Continuous Learning and Development:

    • Provide training and resources to help employees develop their social, emotional, and cultural intelligence. Investing in these skills enhances overall team performance and prepares the organisation for future challenges.
  5. Lead by Example:

    • Demonstrate the behaviors you want to see in your team. Leaders who exhibit high levels of social, emotional, and cultural intelligence inspire their teams to do the same, leading to a more cohesive and high-performing organization.

Key Takeaways for Team Members

  1. Develop Social Intelligence for Stronger Relationships:

    • Practice active listening and empathy to build better relationships with colleagues. Strong social skills enhance teamwork and create a supportive work environment.
  2. Cultivate Emotional Intelligence for Personal and Professional Growth:

    • Work on recognising and managing your emotions, as well as understanding others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence helps you navigate workplace challenges and improves collaboration.
  3. Enhance Cultural Intelligence for Effective Collaboration:

    • Learn about and respect the diverse backgrounds of your teammates. Cultural intelligence enables you to work more effectively in diverse teams and contribute to a more inclusive workplace.
  4. Engage in Continuous Learning:

    • Take advantage of training opportunities to develop your social, emotional, and cultural intelligence. Continuous learning helps you stay adaptable and ready for new challenges.
  5. Contribute to a Positive Team Culture:

    • Actively participate in creating a positive and inclusive team environment. By demonstrating social, emotional, and cultural intelligence, you contribute to a high-performing and collaborative team dynamic.

“Neuroscience is the foundation for the approach we bring to every engagement, and it provides a means for consistently making informed decisions that accelerate organisational performance and well-being”.  Carolyn Grant

Interested in Learning More?

Book a briefing on psychological safety today. Mitigate your greatest risk and drive high performing, thriving teams.