Psychology Today explains that emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence is generally said to include a few key areas:
emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions;
the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and
the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.
For business leaders — where the stakes are high — having emotional intelligence can spell the difference between effectively driving growth or loss. After all, who’s more likely to succeed – a leader who shouts at his team when she or he is under stress or a leader who can calmly assess the situation?
When applied in a business setting, high EQ helps you communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict — a process during which you build stronger relationships, turn intention into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most.
Key Elements of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
According to American psychologist Daniel Goleman, who helped popularize emotional intelligence, there are five foundational components of emotional intelligence — all of which are essential for better performance in the workplace:
Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances. When you can put self-management into practice, you display an ability to redirect disruptive moods and impulses, reframe your feelings with positivity and align them with activity.
Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the values and impressions you leave on others. and have self-confidence. When you’re self-aware, you often appear confident and receptive to constructive criticism.
Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization. These social skills are necessary to guide people effectively in a specific direction and influence them in any particular way.
Motivation – You work with passion and exude optimism. There is intrinsic energy to continue improving oneself and the business. With motivation, there is a sense of accomplishment, and reaching goals is enjoyed for the sake of the achievement.
Empathy & relationship management – You have insight into the emotional state of others. You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict. In business, if you’re empathy, you’re sensitive to cross-cultural differences and are more inclined to retain top talent and help people develop professionally.
Why Emotional Intelligence is Important
So let’s get down to business. It’s widely known that intellectual ability or your intelligence quotient (IQ) isn’t enough on its own to achieve success in life or in business. It’s also well-known that emotional intelligence is a key element of effective leadership. The ability to be perceptively in tune with yourself and your emotions, as well as having sound situational awareness can be a powerful tool for leading teams — at the organizational, business unit, or functional levels.
EQ is directly related to your communication — it’s how you both internally and externally possess, express, and impact others. There have been a number of studies on the complex topic of nonverbal communication with varying results. However, most experts agree that 70 to 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal. In fact, this study showed that effective communication is 7% the words we say and 93% tone and body language.
How do these findings translate in business? Well, think about your employees. One of the most common factors leading to retention issues is communication deficiencies, which often leads to the creation of disengagement, doubt, and mistrust.
Misunderstandings and a lack of, or poorly regulated, communication are usually the basis of problems between most people at work. Failing to communicate effectively as a leader can cause frustration, bitterness, and confusion among employees — while effective communication can eliminate obstacles and encourage stronger workplace relationships. When employees know their role within a company and understand how they contribute to the overall direction and vision, there is a sense of value and accomplishment. Good communication results in alignment and a shared sense of purpose.
Some of the most successful CEOs are well-adjusted leaders who know how to harness their emotional intelligence as a way to bring out the best in others. There’s a fairly well-known story out there about American business executive, chemical engineer, and writer Jack Welch, that’s worth a re-tell.
In his mid-twenties, Welch was the manufacturing head of a pilot plant focused on producing a new plastic. He was sitting in his office across from the plant when he heard a huge explosion. He looked out his window and saw nothing but smoke…the roof destroyed and shattered glass everywhere. Incredibly, no one was hurt.
He was called to New York to explain what had happened to the higher ups and says (in a podcast) that this drive was the longest ride of his life.
Mentally prepared for the worst, he thought he was going to get fired. But instead of being raked over the coals, Welch says the executive — a chemical engineer and former MIT professor — calmly asked him what had happened and if he knew how to fix it.
“He took the Socratic Method with me and did an incredible job of engaging me in learning about what I did wrong in the process. I learned to never kick anybody when they’re down. No one would ever say that I was soft by any means. But they would never say that I beat on anybody when they were down.”
Welch would eventually go on to become chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. Instead of firing Welch, the executive was empathetic, turning an expensive mistake into both a lesson for Welch and an opportunity to innovate. In the end, the failed project resulted in a better product than GE’s more risk-averse competitors.
Benefits of Emotional Intelligence at Work
When there is low EQ in the workplace, people tend to not take responsibility for mistakes. It’s harder for people to work together as a team. When communicating, people are either passive or aggressive and not assertive. Another noticeable characteristic of weak emotional intelligence at work is an inability to accept constructive criticism.
However, with high EQ, particularly for employers, they solve problems better and make suitable decisions. People with high emotional intelligence tend to keep a level head under pressure, display greater empathy and listen, reflect and react appropriately to the opinions of others.
Strong self-management means you can adapt effectively to situations as they change. You don’t hold anything in or bottle up your emotions, but at the same time, you don’t react impulsively. The benefit of emotional intelligence at work is that you can express feelings appropriately in constructive ways. Combined with excellent social skills, teams often find themselves working together with more cohesion and better communication.
With empathy, you’re not only acknowledging how others feel, which values their feelings, but you’re also recognizing your own reactions to expressions of emotion. Emotional insight reveals dynamics between employees and management. Empathy allows you to see how those power dynamics affect interactions and behaviors within those relationships.
Emotional intelligence is also essential to conflict management in the workplace. The benefit of emotional intelligence in situations of conflict is that you can often establish a middle ground in disagreements. By paying attention to how others respond to one another, you can help people feel heard, which in turn, will help them be more willing to compromise.
All of these critical EQ components must tie together and work in harmony if leaders and teams want to develop higher EQ — the sum of all these efforts is what helps create better company cultures.
How to Strengthen Your Emotional Intelligence Skills
It takes time to build emotional intelligence, but here are a few tried and true tips to continue strengthening your EQ muscles.
Know your values – Do you have a clear idea of where you absolutely will not compromise? Do you know what values are most important to you?
Hold yourself accountable – Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and to face the consequences, whatever they are. You’ll probably sleep better at night, and you’ll quickly earn the respect of those around you.
Practice being calm – The next time you’re in a challenging situation, be very aware of how you act. Do you relieve your stress by shouting at someone else? Practice deep-breathing exercises to calm yourself.
Keep a journal – Journaling helps you improve your self-awareness. If you spend just a few minutes each day writing down your thoughts, this can move you to a higher degree of self-awareness.
Slow down – When you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down to examine why. Remember, no matter what the situation, you can always choose how you react to it.
Learn conflict resolution – Leaders must know how to resolve conflicts between their team members, customers, or vendors. Learning conflict resolution skills is vital if you want to succeed.
Learn how to praise others – As a leader, you can inspire the loyalty of your team simply by giving praise when it’s earned. Learning how to praise others is a fine art, but well worth the effort.
Re-examine why you’re doing your job – It’s easy to forget what you really love about your career. So, take some time to remember why you wanted this job. If you’re unhappy in your role and you’re struggling to remember why you wanted it, try the Five Whys technique to find the root of the problem.
Be hopeful – Motivated leaders are usually optimistic. Adopting this perspective puts you into a growth mindset.
Find the good — Every time you face a challenge, or even a failure, try to find at least one good thing about the situation. It might be something small, like a new contact, or something with long-term effects, like an important lesson learned.
Put yourself in someone else’s position – It’s easy to support your own point of view. But take the time to look at situations from other people’s perspectives.
Pay attention to body language – Remember that this is 93% of communication. Perhaps when you listen to someone, you cross your arms, move your feet back and forth, or bite your lip. This body language tells others how you really feel about a situation, and the message you’re giving isn’t positive. Learning to read body language can be a real asset in a leadership role, because you’ll be better able to determine how someone truly feels. This gives you the opportunity to respond appropriately.
Want more tips and long-term EQ strategies…check out Tony Robbins’ six steps to developing emotional intelligence.
Finally, it’s important to know where you stand on all of this — to take stock of your own behaviors, motivators, and work energizers. Using a quick psychometric self-assessment, you can uncover the why, how and what of your work. When you couple that with an EQ-based communication tool, you’re supporting your entire team by infusing actionable EQ insights into their daily communication workflows — enabling better collaboration on the spot.
At the end of the day, as accountable business and people leaders, we have the responsibility to work on our own personal and professional development alongside our talent and teams. Emotional intelligence is a powerful tool — critical for exceeding goals, improving work relationships, and creating a healthy, productive workplace and organizational culture — let us help you leverage and harness it!