The Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service

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Humankind: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The role of technology within an organization may not immediately bring “emotional intelligence” to mind; but in reality, navigating processes, diverse personalities, and logistical challenges all require extraordinary people skills.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capacity to recognize, understand, and manage emotions. It requires healthy doses of self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management. As someone who loves to turn ideas into action, I like to think of emotional intelligence as empathy in action.

In the spirit of self-awareness, I’ll be the first to admit—emotional intelligence is not always natural for me. When my passion propels me forward, practicing empathy in action means remembering to put People first along the way. Our beloved Colleen (President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, the CCB Institute’s namesake, and the queen of emotional intelligence!) provides a roadmap for this:

“Follow the Golden Rule; learn from your mistakes; take the initiative; and listen to your heart.”

I love how Colleen highlights learning from our mistakes. We won’t always get empathy in action right—I know I don’t. But we can grow in emotional intelligence, offering ourselves and others empathy.  

Following Colleen’s lead, these strategies help me practice empathy in action:


      • Listen with love: As an external processor, I listen best when I take notes to stay focused on the person speaking. Then, I can ask follow-up questions or summarize what someone said to ensure they feel heard and understood.  

      • Embrace vulnerability: Even the most technical projects benefit from vulnerability! As Colleen says, be brave enough to take initiative. Breaking the ice to ask questions or say “I need help” gives others permission to do the same. 

      • Welcome feedback: Welcoming feedback helps me know where I need to grow. Asking open-ended questions starting with “what” or “how” gives others space to share… “How did I make you feel in that meeting?” “What could I do better as your Leader?” 

    At Southwest, one of our values is “don’t take yourself too seriously.” Empathy in action isn’t about being perfect; it’s about having the courage to lead with Heart. When practicing emotional intelligence, remember what matters most—your People.


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    Lauren Woods

    Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer

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