A lack of emotional intelligence could be holding you back from excelling at work.
  • Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, licensed clinical social worker, mental strength coach, and international bestselling author.
  • When she hosts workshops for executives, Morin says many of them are surprised to realize they have very limited emotional vocabularies. 
  • Expanding your emotional intelligence is key to developing self-awareness and improving how you react to certain situations at work, she explains.
  • Morin says to avoid negotiating when you're sad, accepting new opportunities when you're overly excited, and taking risks when you're embarrassed or angry.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When I conduct workshops with executives, I give them an exercise: Write down as many feeling words as you can in 30 seconds. When those 30 seconds are over, I ask everyone who is impressed with their list to raise their hands. No one has ever raised their hand.

The average number of feeling words they're able to produce is five.

The vast majority of the audience feels horrified by their inability to name feeling words beyond happy, sad, angry, anxious, and scared. But they quickly gain a sense of relief when they learn that their counterparts (whom they admire and respect) have equally slim emotional vocabularies.

The truth is, despite the fact that we throw around the phrase "emotional intelligence," most of us don't spend much time actually thinking about our emotions and how those emotions affect how we think and how we behave.

If you're like most people, your lack of emotional awareness might be affecting your professional life. Here are four emotional mistakes that could be harming your career:

1. Accepting an opportunity when you're excited

Why it's a bad idea: Researchers have found when you're excited about something, you'll overestimate your chances of success. You'll also underestimate the likelihood that anything will go wrong. This is why really smart people sometimes fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes.

What to do about it: Before signing a contract or agreeing to tackle something new, pause for a bit. Let the excitement wear off a little before making any major decisions.

Write down a list of the potential benefits as well as the risks. Seeing the potential pros and cons in front of you can help you balance your emotions with logic — which is key to making the best choice.

2. Negotiating when you're sad

Why it's a bad idea: Research shows you'll likely settle for a bad deal when you're sad. You might think you can't handle rejection when you're already feeling down. So rather than make a counteroffer or negotiate for what you want, you'll be more likely to agree to something that favors the other side.

What to do about it: If you can delay negotiating until you're feeling better, do it. If you have to negotiate when you're feeling down, write down the deal you hope to reach before you talk to the other party. Remind yourself that your brain may try to convince you to take something less than you're worth, simply because you're feeling bad.

3. Taking risks when you're angry or embarrassed

Why it's a bad idea: Researchers have found that intense emotions, like anger and embarrassment, increase the chances of taking high-risk, low pay-off choices. That's because intense uncomfortable emotions impair your self-regulation skills, making you more likely to be impulsive. It can lead to a vicious cycle — if those risks don't pay off, your uncomfortable emotions are likely to intensify.

What to do about it: When you're upset, engage in an activity that calms you down or lifts you up before diving into self-defeating behavior. Go for a walk to cool off before sending that email or reach out to someone to talk about a mistake you made before quitting a project.

4. Playing it safe when you're anxious

Why it's a bad idea: Studies show we're really bad at compartmentalizing our anxiety. If you're anxious about something in your personal life, there's a good chance it'll spill over into your professional life. For example, if you're worried about a family member's health, you might decline an invitation from your boss to tackle a new venture  — even though your anxiety is completely unrelated to the task you're being presented.  

What to do about it: When you're feeling anxious, name it. Simply putting a name to your emotions can go a long way toward taking the sting out of them. Then, remind yourself why you feel anxious (if you know) and consider whether it has anything to do with the opportunity in front of you. Separating your anxious feelings from the task-at-hand can help you make a more rational decision.

Self-awareness is key to emotional success

Becoming more aware of your emotions is the key to preventing emotional mistakes — and recovering from the ones you've already made. Check in with yourself a few times to see how you're feeling. Labeling that emotion and being aware of how it may affect your decisions can go a long way toward helping you feel and do your best.

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