Apr 20, 2023

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in the Modern Workplace

What is emotional intelligence, why it matters in the modern workplace, and how to help employees improve emotional intelligence.

Soft skills are the number one priority for talent development in 2018, according to research by Linkedin.

Why is this so?

In the complex, technology-driven, constantly evolving world of business, workers are faced with myriad challenges. Additionally, a globalized workplace with increased diversity of race, nationality, gender, age and other factors means workers need skills to communicate and collaborate effectively just to get projects done.

According to the LinkedIn study, the soft skills most in demand include communication, collaboration, and leadership. And what makes someone a great communicator, collaborator, and leader?

If you reflect on your career, you’ll see that these people are likely to have a high degree of emotional intelligence or EQ. They listen well, connect with everyone on an emotional level, get their points across without offending anyone, respond to most situations calmly, and just know how to get the best out of people.

People that lack emotional intelligence, on the other hand, usually don’t listen well, provoke arguments, provide harsh criticism instead of constructive feedback, blame others for mistakes, and lack empathy. If they’re introverted, they might check out of emotionally charged situations and engage in passive-aggressive behavior.

To create a harmonious work environment, it’s essential to acknowledge and build emotional intelligence. The good news is that neuroplasticity means that everyone can learn to develop a higher degree of emotional intelligence. Let’s take a closer look.

How I got introduced to emotional intelligence

I got introduced to the concept of emotional intelligence when I picked up a book with the title, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”, during one of my weekend visits to a Barnes and Noble bookstore. This book by Daniel Goleman, an author and science journalist, was a New York Times bestseller and Goleman is one of today’s leading teachers on the topic.

Needless to say, learning about emotional intelligence has had a profoundly positive impact on my personal and professional life.

What is emotional intelligence?

Ever since Daniel Goleman’s book, "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ", was first published in 1995, studies have continued to prove the science of emotions and the benefits of emotional intelligence. Goleman identified four key domains of emotional intelligence and 12 competencies. The four key domains are:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to know your internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
  • Self-management: The ability to manage your internal states, impulses, and resources.
  • Social awareness: The ability to handle relationships with awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns (empathy).
  • Relationship management: The skill or adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others.

As you look at the list above, you’ll probably notice that you’re stronger in some domains than others, as well as note people who are strong in areas you might not be. Going further, looking over the 12 competencies in the chart from Harvard Business Review below offers further insight into areas for development.

[caption id="attachment_2751" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]

emotional intelligence domains and competencies


Understanding your key areas of strength and weakness in emotional intelligence creates greater self-awareness as well as empathy for others who may have different areas of strength and weakness.

There are various assessments for emotional intelligence. Goleman co-developed the ESCI-360 and others include the free EI Test from Global Leadership Foundation, the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 test, the MSCEIT and EQ-360, and a free Psychology Today test.

You may consider bringing testing to your organization in conjunction with training. But first, let’s look at how emotional intelligence (sometimes called EI or EQ) benefits your organization.

Organizational benefits of emotional intelligence

Who doesn’t want to work with colleagues who are self-aware, empathetic, gracious, and calm, cool, collected? People with high EQ work well in teams, adjust to change easier, manage conflicts better, and make better leaders.

Emotional intelligence is often a byproduct of mindfulness, but it has its rewards. A Google Scholar search for “benefits of emotional intelligence at work” uncovers more than 1.5 million results. Some of the benefits are:

  • Better communication:  The ability to manage your emotions and understand other people’s emotions is critical for effective communication. Emotionally intelligent employees are more considerate of the other party’s needs, adept at recognizing misunderstandings, patient when explaining things, and able to deliver the message without offending or provoking the other party.
  • More collaboration: Employees who are sensitive to each other’s needs will have an easier time working together to achieve organizational goals.
  • Creativity/innovation: Sensitivity to team dynamics fosters creativity as workers learn each others’ idiosyncrasies and play up to them. Innovations can come from increased empathy with customer/user needs.
  • Retention: Caring managers are more likely to recognize and reward employees, and those who feel cared for are more likely to stay.
  • Customer satisfaction: Employees with high emotional intelligence are more likely to solve customer problems satisfactorily. Those not on the front lines may be more likely to develop or modify products and processes that take into account/anticipate customer/user needs.
  • Culture/employee engagement: Leaders with high emotional intelligence have the power to inspire and influence everyone around them, setting a contagious emotionally positive atmosphere.
  • Fewer harassment incidents: It’s obvious that any kind of bullying or harassment stems from a lack of sensitivity and indifference to another’s emotional state. Going further, higher emotional intelligence by those who receive reports of harassment might result in problems being resolved sooner rather than later after multiple reports about the same harasser.
  • Profits: Several studies have shown that the higher collective emotional intelligence on teams and in leaders correlates to better business performance.

How to bring emotional intelligence to your company

Emotional intelligence is more than knowledge training; like mindfulness, it takes practice. Assessments are often part of the training that is provided over several days or weeks.

Attending an offsite workshop or booking an on-site with a group such as the Google-developed Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute is one option.

Another way to provide training is through self-paced online learning with LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, or other providers like Daniel Goleman’s online course. If the online training option is used, it’s a good idea to initiate group “watch parties” that allow time for discussion and practice of the techniques. You may also consider starting a book group that meets regularly to discuss one of the many books on EI.

As you integrate emotional intelligence into your organization, you can begin assessing soft skills in the hiring process as well. Behavioral questions and testing can uncover candidates’ strengths in emotional intelligence. As interviewers develop their own emotional intelligence, they’ll become stronger in spotting it in others.

Additional resources on emotional intelligence

Closing thoughts

How does reading this article make you feel? Excited? Intrigued? Overwhelmed? A range of emotions can arise when receiving new material. The journey to greater emotional intelligence can be invigorating with the realization of new possibilities.

Your relationships with your co-workers, managers, vendors, customers, and others will undoubtedly improve as you develop emotional intelligence. Imagine how awesome your workplace culture would be if everyone in your company becomes more emotionally intelligent!

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