Read the Room: Emotional Intelligence at Work

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Read the Room: Emotional Intelligence at Work

A female and male colleague talking to each other, but the male colleague looks unengaged
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I once worked with a fellow television news reporter who would approach both lottery winners and grieving parents the same way. There was very little difference in how he greeted them, in his tone, or in how he asked them for an interview. After several months of getting turned down for big interviews, he was venting about how nobody ever agreed to talk to him on camera.  “Cal,” said our field producer, “You don’t know how to read the room.”

Cal is a made-up name, but it’s not a made-up story. We’ve all worked with colleagues who just don’t know how to read the room.

Recommended training from HRDQ-U

Red Light, Green Light: Stop and Go with EQ

The idea of reading the room relates to Emotional Intelligence (EQ). EQ is often defined as the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions – and the emotions of others – in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize, overcome challenges, and diffuse conflict.

When thinking of reading the room in that context, let’s look at ways we can use EQ to boost our effectiveness at work.

Read Your Manager/Boss/Client

If you walk into a meeting with your boss, ready to ask for some extra time on a project, are you first taking the time to read their mood? If they just came out of a meeting that did not go well, perhaps it’s not the time to ask for that time extension.

If you’re talking to a client and you have news that they probably don’t want to hear, are you first thinking about the situation from their perspective? If something isn’t favorable for them, there are ways you can phrase the news or potential solutions you could offer to soften the news.

Reading your boss, manager, or client is an ongoing process. It’s essential to be adaptable and receptive to changes in their behavior and communication style. Building a strong relationship with them helps you better understand their reactions and creates more open communication. Developing the skill to read your boss, manager, or client can contribute to a more positive and productive working relationship.

Read the Group

Similarly, you need to read a group when you are delivering an update or presentation. Are people nodding off around the 15-minute mark? Are you seeing crossed arms and tapping feet, or, virtually, are you seeing cameras turn off? If so, quickly engage them with some open-ended questions. Read the group and tailor your tone.

Group dynamics can be complex and constantly changing, so continually observing the group and picking up on small cues is essential. Look for facial expressions, signs of agreement or disagreement, or even confusion. Pay attention to the tone and volume of others. It’s even helpful to be aware of established norms and expectations of the group. Developing your emotional intelligence and the skills to read a group effectively contributes to better communication, participation, collaboration, and engagement.

Express Yourself

In the same way you need to read others in the previous two situations, remember, others are also reading you. When you walk into the room, do you project confidence? When you present virtually, are you making eye contact? Are you really listening to what your employees are telling you in conversation?

These are just three ways we can strengthen our emotional intelligence by reading the room. I’m sure you’ll discover more ways to add to this list as you continue reading the room for opportunities.

Christina Butler headshot
Christina Butler

Christina Butler transitions 20 years of covering breaking news as a reporter and anchor into professional coaching on presentation skills, development, and media management. Fascinated by behavioral styles, she’s trained on Emotional Intelligence and DiSC certified. running programs for both individuals and groups. As a speaker, she uses her expertise in impression management, relationship building, and media coaching to help our clients in a variety of industries.

Virtually, Christina enjoys connecting with clients and audiences on best practices for virtual engagement and presence.  She is a contributing author for Best in Class: Etiquette and People Skills for Your Career (2018) and Making the Grade: Presentation Success from Classroom to Conference Room (2019). When she is not speaking or on television, Christina enjoys spending time outside with her husband and two children.

Connect with Christina on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and at

Recommended Training from HRDQ-U
Red Light, Green Light: Stop and Go with EQ

Learn how emotional intelligence (EQ) can improve your communication, empathy, and accountability, and find out your personal EQ score.

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