Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, or emotional-intelligence quotient, the shorthand for which is EI or EQ respectively, plays a significant role in the recruitment and success of employees across all industries. Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ offered, “a new way of thinking about the ingredients of life success”. It argued that excellence was not based purely on intellectual capacity, but that high levels of self-awareness, empathy and confidence, that is, high levels of emotional intelligence, played a significant role in the success and potential of leaders and employees around the world. So how do you ensure you possess this critical skill? Here’s our advice on how to improve your emotional intelligence. 

What is emotional intelligence?

While hard to settle on a singular definition, emotional intelligence is a way of talking about our ability to relate and engage well with others. It’s a combination of our interpersonal, communication and interpretive skills. Distinct from intelligence quotient or IQ, which assesses cognitive abilities like memory and problem-solving speed, emotional intelligence is about understanding and regulating the emotions of ourselves and others. It is seen as particularly valuable to senior leadership roles and successful, respected leaders tend to possess emotional intelligence in spades.

There are considered to be two types of emotional intelligence, both of which are important to the success of individuals and businesses more broadly:

  1. Self EQ: This refers to the ability to understand and work with our own emotions. Self EQ includes knowing the range of emotions we experience, what their triggers are, managing them and the strategies we use to motivate ourselves. Self EQ includes self-awareness, self-regulation and self-motivation.
  2. Other EQ: This is the ability to recognise other people’s emotions, express genuine empathy and manage relationships. It includes social awareness, social skills, leadership and conflict management.

Why is it valuable?

The ability to understand and regulate your own emotions helps you stay calm under pressure, and staying calm means making rational and considered decisions. Once in possession of a high level of emotional intelligence, you lead and assist colleagues in being balanced and effective as well. This builds confidence in teams, and boosts morale generally. This presence of security and reason is also essential for crisis management and conflict resolution, and a key ability sought in leaders, no matter what industry they work in.
While technical skills and program proficiencies are important in the workplace, emotional intelligence detects emotion and drives compassion, elements that are at the heart of understanding employee motivation and how to cultivate it. 

How to improve emotional intelligence

If you’re worried that your emotional intelligence is lacking, or want to strengthen it further, the good news is, it can be learned and improved, and there are several ways to do so. Here are three trusted methods:

  • Look and listen
    So much of emotional intelligence is about understanding how other people feel in different professional or workplace situations, so it pays to spend time simply watching and listening to improve your emotional intelligence in the workplace. What conversations happen between employees when performance reviews are announced? Does body language give anything away about how staff manage in stressful periods? Being attentive and responsive to both the obvious and subtler signs that employees express will help you understand their patterns and triggers, and be able to offer consolation, support or advice as the situation demands. 
  • Take it from the best
    Who in your team or department has great emotional intelligence? Look for colleagues who are compassionate and trusted by others, or managers who lead engaged, happy teams. If you’re looking to improve your emotional intelligence, learning from others is one of the best ways to do so. It is after all, about understanding the emotions of people and how to respond to and support them appropriately.  
  • Find a course
    Just as you’d enrol in a course to become more fluent in Excel or undertake coding classes to strengthen your ability as a web developer, you can participate in formal learning to improve your emotional intelligence. Whether online, in person or through your organisation, if you prefer structured learning and want to know more about emotional intelligence in the workplace, look into the wide range of courses and training available.

Emotional intelligence is something employees in all industries should seek to possess and improve on throughout their career. While not often requested specifically in job ads and role descriptions, consider it an essential skill for every role you apply for, particularly as you develop and seek positions in management or senior leadership teams.