Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important In The Workplace?

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Last updated: January 25th, 2024

the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace

Last updated: January 25th, 2024

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Increased emotional intelligence in the workplace gives your business an edge. Job satisfaction and team performance are downstream from emotional intelligence skills, which are, in turn, downstream from self-awareness and self-regulation. Today we’ll talk about all three.

Your workplace is made up of human beings with complex feelings who depend on each other and resolve conflict daily. A team with strong emotional intelligence:

  • Helps each team member feel valued.
  • Promotes greater psychological safety.
  • Instils a sense of belonging.

Emotional intelligence and self-awareness don’t come naturally to everyone. But new research shows that it can be taught and learned.  

In this guide, I’ll explore what happens when there’s a lack of workplace emotional intelligence and provide strategies for building a positive work environment.

(Related: 100 Sincere Thank You Message Ideas).

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI), sometimes referred to as emotional quotient (EQ), refers to how well a person can perceive, express and influence the emotions of others and themselves.

People with high emotional intelligence are self-aware and adaptable. They are more likely to:

  • See how others’ behaviours and feelings are linked.
  • Show consideration and care.
  • Skillfully control their own responses in stressful moments.
  • Empathise and build deep relationships.
  • Focus on driving outcomes than proving a point.

Did You Know?

The concept of emotional intelligence was first developed in 1990 by Peter Salovey and John D Mayer. It’s since become a common tool for evaluating people’s potential as managers and leaders.

5 Pillars Of Emotional Intelligence In The Workplace.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman is a leading proponent of emotional intelligence, its importance in career development and in building better workplaces.

Goleman has been working to define emotional intelligence since 1995, while business leaders have been using his 5-pillar framework to improve the job performance of employees and curb office politics.

workplace emotional intelligence

His EI elements cover: 

  • Self-awareness: Your ability to understand your own emotions and triggers.
  • Self-regulation: Your ability to deal effectively with emotions and hold yourself accountable.
  • Motivation: Whether you’re driven by a ‘why’ leading to sustained motivation.
  • Empathy: Your ability to read and interpret other people’s emotions.
  • Social skills: How well you communicate, build positive relationships and handle conflict.

How Is Emotional Intelligence Measured?

Studies confirm that emotional intelligence and empathy are closely linked. 

It’s not a simple metric to quantify, but credible ability-based tests have been developed, such as:

While an analysis of research in 2020 found there may be a correlation between being gifted and being emotionally intelligent — a high IQ does not automatically mean a person will have a high EQ.

I’m sure you’ve met people who are clever but also tactless or and emotionally reactive.

(Related: Psychometric Testing For Managers & Executives).

How Does Emotional Intelligence Impact Workplaces?

Emotional intelligence predicts career success, with data confirming that employees who can understand and regulate their own emotions are also more engaged, motivated, and experience greater levels of job satisfaction.

They are more likely to approach workplace conflict with compassion, solve problems using constructive criticism and value a positive work culture.

Examples of how emotional intelligence drives success:

How to Raise Emotional Intelligence Levels At Work. 

Employees who are emotionally tuned to their team and organisation’s needs create a win-win environment.

1. Manage People How They Want To Be Managed.

It’s easy to become wrapped up in workplace stress and start relating to others in unproductive ways.

People vary in their communication style and approach to conflict. Falling back on your defaults without considering how they make colleagues feel can reduce job satisfaction and stifle productivity.

For example: 

Dominant PersonalitiesSupportive Personalities
Tend to be direct and results-oriented, but can be too hasty and fail to provide enough detail.Are more indirect and interested in working with a team but can be too politically correct and avoid difficult conversations.

Use your self-awareness to frame your messaging in a way that will make it more likely to be received and drive the outcomes you intend.


Low emotional intelligence makes working with different personality types considerably more difficult. This applies whether you are a manager or not.

2. Demonstrate & Reward EI.

Managers with high emotional intelligence also prompt their subordinates to be emotionally intelligent.

Much behaviour theory is based on the idea that you model the behaviour you expect to see from those around you.

After all, ‘actions speak louder than words.’  We recommend that you: 

  • Work on your own EI skills first by examining your own emotions and taking time to practise techniques to lead with self-regulation and empathy.
  • Identify each team member’s EI competencies so you can lean into their strengths, work on their weaknesses, and deliver more tailored coaching. This can be achieved through skills-based tests and observation.
  • Design and deliver reward and recognition programs that encourage improved social skills, active listening and emotional awareness.
  • Encourage feedback and implement mechanisms to show feedback has been heard and acted on. For instance, if you use one-on-one check-ins to give employees an avenue to voice honest concerns and emotions, be prepared to acknowledge these feelings and help people address the underlying issues. 

3. Offer EI-Focused Development Opportunities.

People can learn to be more self-aware given the chance. Dedicated time away from day-to-day tasks to address weaknesses appropriately can pay off long-term through a more cooperative and self-assured employee. 

Offer targeted training and development opportunities with EI in mind. This could include specific EI training or courses on: 

  • Being a better listener.
  • Improving interpersonal communication skills.
  • Resolving conflict effectively.
  • Improving executive presence.
  • Managing emotional stress.

 Ensure you follow up with employees during performance conversations about how they’re applying these skills.

4. Hire For High Levels Of Self Awareness & EI.

When adding headcount, ensure that your hiring process takes candidates’ emotional intelligence into account.

Regardless of skill and experience, it’s destructive to bring in people that will disrupt your team’s balance through poor self-regulation and social skills.

Follow these dos and don’ts of recruiting for emotional intelligence:

Use skills-based measures of emotional intelligence as a screening tool.Rely on personality tests and self-reported skills to measure social awareness and emotional intelligence (they are prone to bias).
Assess emotional intelligence during the interview stage by using behavioural interviewing techniques that highlight a person’s self-awareness and ability to handle emotional situations.Follow an unstructured interview process that only focuses on technical competencies, or only asks hypothetical questions about what the candidate ‘might do’.
Speak to a person’s referees and ask questions about their emotional intelligence strengths and weaknesses. Probe deeper for examples.Avoid contacting references or failing to ask for examples of how the candidate treats people.

Interview questions that probe for high emotional intelligence:

  • Tell me about a time you thought your boss had made the wrong decision, which would have serious consequences for a client. How did you deal with it, and what happened?”
  • Think of an occasion where your work was criticised for not meeting the required standard. How did you react, and what was the result?”
  • What have you done in the past when you’ve faced an obstacle you can’t overcome on your own? What did you learn from the experience?”
  • Describe how you’ve built rapport with a colleague or client to achieve a good outcome?”

Raise Your Emotional Intelligence To Be A Better Leader.

Emotional intelligence matters more in leadership roles because you need to self-regulate and capably manage the emotions of your team to drive strong performance. 

There are steps you can take right now. Here are three ways you can easily begin cultivating higher emotional intelligence.

1. Ask For Feedback And Listen.

Paying attention to your own emotions is one facet of self-awareness, but we don’t always see ourselves accurately. Get some perspective by:

  • Asking trusted peers or mentors to provide honest feedback on where your negative emotions sometimes get the better of you.
  • Asking your subordinates about how you could improve the way you set goals, respond to issues and recognise accomplishments.

2. Stay Calm, Open And Accountable.

Regulating negative and positive emotions is part of becoming more emotionally intelligent in the workplace. 

That doesn’t mean pushing down emotions — it means dealing with them effectively, so you don’t affect others, lose focus or make poor knee-jerk decisions.

 It’s also a critical component of being mature enough to hold yourself accountable and act ethically.

Take the time to examine your initial response and put yourself in another person’s shoes. This will help you respond in line with your values, and in an emotionally intelligent way – even when the stress is high.


Some psychologists argue the inability to self-regulate, which often results in numbing or aggressive behaviours, is one of the greatest dangers of our current world.

Instead of avoiding conflict, “flying off the handle”, or laying blame in moments of threat, you can: 

  • Take 1-3 deep breaths and feel your feet on the floor.
  • Acknowledge how you are feeling with 2-3 words and allow that feeling to exist.
  • Hold compassion for yourself and seek to understand where that feeling is coming from.
  • Ask yourself, what can your feelings teach you? 
  • Genuinely feel for other people’s circumstances and be curious about their behaviour.
  • Embrace a positive attitude, consider what you can do to improve the situation?
  • Take ownership and favour action in your approach to difficult decisions or conversations. 

3. Exercise Your Social Skills.

Emotionally intelligent individuals tend to be people people. They like being in the company of others, and have prioritised sharpening their social skills.

Superior social skills make you stand out.

Everyone likes being around individuals who are respectful and gracious, confident and magnetic, warm and authentic.

The best way to strengthen these attributes is to put your social skills to work:

  • Seek out conversations and aim to make meaningful connections. Aim to uncover people’s intrinsic motivations. What makes them tick?
  • Strive to communicate for its own sake, and pay close attention to how it’s received.
  • Share feedback openly and generously (e.g., voicing genuine praise for others).
  • Don’t shy away from uncomfortable or contentious exchanges, speak up respectfully.

When you become more self-aware and sensitive to others’ feelings, you’ll see that each person has an intrinsic motivation that shapes their behaviour.

This can be fascinating to observe, and helps you develop deep and healthy relationships in and outside the workplace.

Expert Tip.

Practise active listening (which involves showing attention, asking questions, and providing feedback) in and outside of the workplace to strengthen your relationships.

How Emotionally Intelligent Bosses Respond To Stress.

Here’s a simple template for using self-management and exemplary social skills to initiate a difficult conversation:

  • Define the specific situation that is creating conflict.
  • Explain how the other person’s behaviour makes you feel and why.
  • Propose a solution or resolution and confirm they’re onboard.

Example 1: An employee is regularly unprepared for meetings:

  • When you don’t show up ready to contribute to our meeting…”
  • I feel frustrated because we can’t progress the project…”
  • Can I ask you to reschedule meetings if you don’t have updates to share? Does that work for you?”

Example 2: An employee goes over your head to complain:

  • When you emailed the CEO about the problem you’re having…”
  • I felt disrespected and disappointed, because it’s my responsibility to handle that and I’m always open to hearing from you…”
  • Can we agree you’ll reach out to me first in future? Is that OK?”

Boost Satisfaction In The Workplace With Emotional Intelligence.

Cultivating strong emotional intelligence skills is critical for workplace success.

Emotionally intelligent people can bring their whole selves to work, safely express themselves, take and receive constructive criticism, regulate their own emotions and derive a strong sense of job satisfaction at the end of each workday. 

Workplaces are for humans — and humans are emotional and social creatures.

Enhance emotional intelligence by practising daily in small ways. Start by becoming more curious about why people behave in specific ways, getting to know your emotional triggers and practising patience.

After a period of undoing and relearning (which can be uncomfortable), you’ll experience more worthwhile interactions in your personal life, create a stronger team, and build a successful organisation with emotional intelligence at its core.


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