Why Emotional Intelligence Is More Important Than Ever

A previous version of the article was published in February 2019.

There’s a lot of buzz these days around emotional intelligence, often referred to as “EQ.” In fact, the World Economic Forum has ranked emotional intelligence as one of the top 10 most important workplace skills workers will need for success. In recent years, it has grown to be regarded as a crucial ingredient of great leadership.

There are many definitions of emotional intelligence floating around. But in brief, it’s the ability to be aware of, control, and express your emotions, as well as navigate interpersonal relationships with good judgment and empathy.

It’s easy to see why professional success today depends on EQ. Emotional intelligence is directly related to resilience – our ability to engage with challenges, sustain performance, rebound quickly from adversity, and learn and grow from our experiences. When you’ve developed EQ, you can cope with stressful conditions, maintain a positive outlook and are less likely to burn out.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman – one of the most prolific writers on emotional intelligence – breaks it down into four competency buckets: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Within each bucket, “learned competencies” make up those four larger competencies. Drill down into relationship management, for example, and you find core competencies of teamwork, conflict management, and influence, among others.

Interestingly, Goleman discovered these competencies by studying high performers. When he looked at what set top leaders apart, the skills that made the difference were those within emotional intelligence. In other words, EQ isn’t just a nice-to-have for high performance; it’s the distinguishing factor.

The Benefits of Improving Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Like many other characteristics that define high performance and leadership qualities, some individuals display a higher level of emotional intelligence than others. However, just because some individuals seem to naturally possess a high level of emotional intelligence does not mean that it is an innate trait that cannot be learned or developed over time. Similar to how you can develop skills to be a stronger leader, anyone can increase their EQ.

No two people experience the same emotions. As a result, employees respond to situations in different ways. Furthermore, we often attempt to mask our emotions, making it even more difficult for others to understand how we’re feeling. The ability to perceive and manage emotions can be difficult.

Yet, EQ skills can improve communication in the workplace, build stronger teams, and lead companies to increased success. People with average or low emotional intelligence can do just as well as naturally high EQ by learning specific skills.

Human emotions are integral to the workplace, making emotional intelligence one of employees’ most important soft skills. Emotional intelligence training in the workplace provides these essential benefits.

Create a Positive Environment

Our emotions dictate how we work with others and respond to stress. If employees aren’t attuned to their emotional responses and the feelings of those around them, collaboration and innovation can be limited. Emotionally intelligent team members know how their emotions affect their work performance and interactions with others.

Emotional intelligence training can help team members develop core skills of self-awareness, empathy, and self-regulation. As a result, employees are more likely to recognize negative emotions and biases and regulate those emotions to manage interactions better. This creates an environment where team members have a higher regard for different viewpoints and can develop a more inclusive workplace where everyone is encouraged to speak up.

Improve Communication

Transparency and accountability are pillars of trust that influence effective communication. Emotionally intelligent team members have a higher self-awareness that helps them capitalize on strengths and recognize weaknesses. When team members are open to asking for help and willing to admit mistakes, inner-team communications are improved, presenting opportunities for efficient problem-solving and collaboration to work through difficult challenges.

By providing team members with the tools to develop authentic communication skills, EQ training can help create an environment where everyone feels heard and respected. Emotionally intelligent team members collaborate on new ideas, learn from mistakes, and recognize valuable input from their peers.

Utilize Constructive Criticism for Improvement

Criticism is often seen in a negative light. However, with the right mindset and presentation, constructive criticism can be a valuable tool that helps teams grow and improve collaboration. Constructive feedback requires transparent communication between those giving and receiving it and highlights strengths and weaknesses.

Productive conflict is an open exchange through which different ideas and conflicts are impartially heard. Such communications provide a learning culture to assist personal development and team success. EQ training can help individual team members learn how to overcome personal feelings about criticism, use the feedback positively, and take actions that lead to improvement.

Increase Employee Engagement

Gallup research shows that nearly 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. Employee viewpoints about what leads to a satisfying work experience are changing.

In the past, job satisfaction was frequently linked to pay rates, duties, annual reviews, and the boss’ behavior. Today, satisfaction is more closely linked to an employee’s purpose at work, learning and development, ongoing communication, and how work fits into their life purpose and goals.

Emotional intelligence training for employees and company leaders/managers can help individuals build self-awareness and communication skills to more effectively communicate the why behind the work. Inclusive teams encourage interaction and use failures as learning tools. As a result, employees are more likely to be heavily involved and enthusiastic about participating in collaborative work projects that drive the organization forward.

Expand Social Awareness

Listening is an essential part of effective communication. Yet, a busy workplace rarely fosters the ability to slow down and accurately pick up on the nuances of important conversations.

To sharpen your EQ skills, consider taking time out to listen more deeply to what others are saying. Social awareness is our ability to accurately pick up on other people’s emotions and understand what is going on with them. To achieve this, it’s vital to avoid anticipating what someone will say next and avoid phrasing a potential answer in our head while someone is speaking.

When a listener becomes socially aware, they can focus on words, tone, body language, hesitations, and eye contact to learn how others feel. When all team members learn to listen effectively, they are truly heard, and the resulting communications become more effective.

Improve Leadership Skills

Strong leaders inspire employees to take actions that align with the company’s goals. Trust is broken when employees feel like leadership goals are to improve the company, no matter how their actions affect employees.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are more likely to develop the skills of servant leadership. These leaders prioritize the needs of employees to develop highly effective and successful teams.

By cultivating emotional intelligence, leaders can focus on empathy, trust, and respect to build effective communication channels that help employees excel in their positions. Emotionally intelligent leaders set inspiring examples, employ accountability, and frequently ask for feedback. As a result, employees develop a genuine connection and gain motivation to help promote organizational success.

Deliver Better Customer Service

Developing emotional awareness in the workplace goes beyond collaborating with colleagues and team members. The same skills that improve communication among team members can be used to improve communication with customers. Customer service reps with high EQ are more likely to be self-aware during an interaction and clearly understand the customer’s emotional state.

Emotional intelligence training teaches employees the science behind how the mind reacts to stress. As a result, individuals can learn to better control their reactions to strong emotions. Emotionally intelligent employees show empathy about the problems customers have and can more effectively solve their problems.

Improve Team Dynamics

Every team member has different strengths, weaknesses, and areas of expertise. These differences are displayed in the team dynamics across daily interactions. Diverse teams in which teams have varied strengths and interests are often highly innovative and successful. However, poor communication between team members can lead to toxic team dynamics that inhibit performance.

When team members strive to improve emotional intelligence, they can build trust to hold one another accountable and work toward collective goals. Emotionally intelligent team members support each other, ask for help, practice open communication, and utilize constructive criticism for improvement. Such team dynamics lead to improved collaboration and innovation.

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The Performance Connection

The value of emotional intelligence seems to jump dramatically with increased job complexity. (Indeed, Goleman found that CEOs get hired for their business expertise and intelligence and fired for lack of EQ – specifically, social awareness). Research also found that those with high EQ are 127 times more productive than those with low EQ and EQ is responsible for a hefty 58% of job performance. And when professionals with similar technical skills and intelligence are compared, EQ accounts for 90% of what gets people promoted within an organization.

EQ is especially interesting when we think about teams. After all, social settings – like at work – are the most potent triggers of emotions in homo sapiens. Skills like sensing others’ development needs, resolving disagreements, and collaborating on shared goals help teams strengthen the connections that drive their performance. Individuals with high EQ build strong, connected teams and deliver exceptional results.

Rate and Improve Your Own Emotional Intelligence

OK, so you recognize how crucial high emotional intelligence is to your career success. Now you need to get a sense of how yours stacks up and what you can do to strengthen it.

For a quick, 15-minute assessment that includes helpful follow-up suggestions, we like this one from Mind Tools. You can also get a sense of whether your EQ needs your immediate (and possibly urgent) attention by considering the following questions:

Do you…

  • Find yourself getting into many arguments?
  • Often feel that others are overly sensitive?
  • Struggle to understand others’ points of view?
  • Experience emotional outbursts?
  • Disengage/leave when you’re in an emotionally charged environment?

If you respond yes to any of the above, prioritize sharpening your EQ. Building your self-awareness, the bedrock of EQ, is a great place to start. (We’ve got some tips for you here.)

High Emotional Intelligence in Three Easy Questions

Want a simple tactic for better EQ, one you can use as soon as you finish reading this article? We like one Justin Bariso, author of “EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence,” passed along from the comedian Craig Ferguson. Ferguson’s advice is to ask yourself three simple questions before saying anything:

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Is there a need for this to be said by me?
  • Does this need to be said by me now?

This advice works because it forces you to create space between a stimulus and your response. This is one of the core tenets of mindfulness and a powerful tool for self-management. It takes intention – particularly in a world wired for lightning-fast response – to pause, but doing so gives you the chance to question and correct any knee-jerk emotional reactions.

Discuss Training Ideas for Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

In the past, emotions were seen as a hindrance to productivity and professionalism in the workplace. Yet, we all have emotions and can’t leave them at the door when we come to work. Emotional intelligence requires work, but the results are well worth the effort. Improving emotional intelligence among team members can improve communication, decrease stress, build trust, and develop an inclusive environment.

Discuss these ideas to kick off your emotional intelligence training.


Mindfulness is at the root of emotional intelligence. Under most circumstances, strong emotions can cause us to react in ways we generally wouldn’t and sometimes in ways that lead to regret. By consciously paying attention to your emotions, physical reactions, thoughts, and environment, you can control how you react to different emotions.

Meditation helps you develop self-awareness of your state of mind, mood, and emotions. By practicing meditation, you can recognize triggers and the sensations you feel when faced with specific emotions. Meditation allows you to train the mind to let go of negative emotions without getting caught up in them.

When team members practice meditation, they can bring the skills they develop to interactions in the workplace. The ability to recognize negative emotions can help employees gain control over negative thinking and the related actions they typically take in response. This increased self-awareness can also help employees tune into the emotions of other team members.


To improve, it’s important to clearly understand your starting point. You can develop a baseline to measure progress moving forward by assessing employees’ emotional intelligence skills.

When employees take a simple self-assessment test like the example provided above, they can reflect on their scores and seek tools and techniques for improvement. When improved emotional intelligence is a team or company-wide effort, use group activities to help employees improve together.

Skill Development

Emotional intelligence is a skill that requires consistent attention and practice. Self-reflection and attentive listening are skills acquired through effort rather than something that comes naturally. Promote collaboration between colleagues and teams to help employees develop the skills that lead to higher levels of empathy and trust.

Awareness of Body Language/Eye Contact

Effective listening is one of the most crucial features of emotional intelligence. To build strong connections, employees should be able to go beyond everyday listening to actively pick up on the nuances of communication (like body language and eye contact). By developing company training that incorporates social awareness into communication skills, employees are more likely to achieve improved levels of emotional awareness.

Developing Emotional Intelligence to Build Stronger, More Resilient Teams

For many people, practicing emotional intelligence can be a humbling experience and a difficult journey. No one likes to think they aren’t emotionally intelligent. However, the road to emotional intelligence can lead to decreased stress, increased happiness, and a greater understanding of others in and out of the workplace.

As you travel to higher EQ, take heart: emotional intelligence seems to rise naturally as we age. So there’s good reason to believe that you can achieve better, more satisfying relationships – and greater career success – as the years roll by.

Do you want to learn more about emotional intelligence in the workplace and how leaders can use personality assessments to encourage productivity? Learn more in a demo.