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Emotional intelligence in the workplace: what it is and why it’s important

July 18, 2023
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This generation is different. In the past couple of decades, the world of work has changed unrecognisably. We no longer clock in at 9am and out at 5pm. Offices are spaces for employees to communicate and socialise just as much as they are for work. And some of us have even given up the office and work fully remotely! Not to mention having employees all across the globe. This has meant that people have to be ready for change and for different kinds of pressures at work.

In this new universe, the traditionally important elements that constituted a good hire, good work culture, and even a good workplace altogether, are being pushed aside by others. Of course, an employee has to know how to do their job. That’s the threshold they need to pass to be considered in the first place. But it’s just that — a threshold. It’s not what recruiters are really looking for when they marry a job with a candidate. Suddenly, soft skills are more important than ever. And at their head: emotional intelligence.

So what is it? And why should you invest in it, both in hiring and outside of it?

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capacity of an individual to recognise, contextualise, understand, and contend with emotions. This is a two-way street — it’s about both comprehending your own emotions, and the emotions of others. It is often measured using the Emotional Quotient (EQ). This is different from rational intelligence, or IQ, which focuses on facts and logical reasoning.

The concept was inspired by Dr Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, but was popularised in 1995 by psychologist and science journalist, Daniel Goleman. According to him, there are a few main aspects of emotional intelligence:

  • Knowing what you are feeling
  • Being able to handle feelings without being overwhelmed
  • Being capable of motivating yourself to get a job done, be creative, and perform to your fullest potential
  • Sensing what others are feeling and handling these relationships effectively

In other words, emotional intelligence is a group of skills, traits, and competencies that help someone manage their emotional responses. Some of the traits that have been associated with high EI by Goleman are self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills.

Further reading: Can ChatGPT replace human work?

What is emotional intelligence in the workplace?

Much like IQ, EI is a term that can help understand people both in and outside of work. When it comes to the workplace, though, emotional intelligence is a particularly key question. If you have low EI, you might lack the tools to interact with others in an effective manner. At home, it may cause some issues with a partner, family member, or a friend. At work, however, it may impact the company’s bottom line.

Any role that involves working with other people, performing under stress, or dealing with overwhelming emotions, would require some level of emotional intelligence. As you can tell, this includes most jobs!

Examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace

As a rule of thumb, people with high EI will be able to make better decisions, solve problems quickly, keep cool under pressure, and resolve conflicts, while those with low EI have passive or aggressive (or passive-aggressive) communication styles, be an ineffective team player, and act overly critical and negative.

To help you understand the concept better, and especially, how it relates to the workplace, we found these examples useful:

Example 1:

You’re in a work meeting and your colleague is speaking.

  • High EI: Listens carefully and attentively, doesn’t interrupt anyone, provides their opinion after the other person finished speaking with constructive feedback.
  • Low EI: Acts disinterested, makes sounds or expressions that could be interpreted as rude, interrupts their colleague every few seconds, highlights negative elements.
Example 2:

Your colleague looks visibly upset.

  • High EI: Approaches calmly and personally, asks about their feelings, offers compassion and support.
  • Low EI: Ignores them or makes comments or jokes about them. 
Example 3:

You’ve made a mistake that’s costing your team time, money, and effort.

  • High EI: Takes responsibility, apologises, explains the situation calmly and transparently, lays out a plan on how it won’t happen again, and offers to help if there’s anything they can do, works hard to make up for the mistake.
  • Low EI: Plays the victim, complains about extra time, blames everyone else, acts defensively when confronted, and doesn’t put extra effort into correcting the error.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

As you can probably tell by now, emotional intelligence is exceptionally important in the workplace. In fact, a survey of hiring managers found that almost 3 in 4 valued an employee’s EQ more than their IQ. But why is that?

1. Improved performance

Remember that bottom line from before? Well, it’s back. EI is an indicator of excellent performance far beyond IQ, according to research. This isn’t just a detached fact — one study is claiming that people with high EI make an average of $29,000 per year more than people with low EQs. They found that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary! If you want to quantify it further, EI has a 58% impact on job performance, and 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence.

2. Superior management

Beyond better business performance across the board, your management will specifically benefit from the incorporation of EI into your hiring and development strategies. Gone are the days when your employees were ‘yes men’ — now, workers, and especially young ones, expect their leaders to prove they are ‘worthy’ of following. This is a prime reason for why EI is so important to managers. More than ever, they now need to highlight their flexibility, adaptability, responsiveness, and understanding, if they want to win over any team member. As you can guess, all of these are enhanced with high emotional intelligence.

3. More motivation

Motivating your workforce can be hard, especially if you’re in a productivity slump. As one of the five key components of emotional intelligence, motivation comes hand-in-hand with investing in EI. And with 87% of Millennials saying they are motivated by the emotional intelligence of their leaders to help the company succeed, it can be a make-or-break factor in your success as a business.

4. Enhanced communication

Emotional intelligence is almost synonymous in popular culture with communication. Being able to empathise with others, understand how they must be feeling, and interact with them based on these realisations, makes for a much more effective process. In the workplace, communication is key — not only do you need to socialise with colleagues, but you’d also fail to do your job without properly communicating with coworkers, managers, stakeholders, and even customers. Investing in EI, you’d be able to enjoy its positive impact on communication.

5. Better decisions

We all know that in business, communication is important — but it doesn’t end there. Once you’ve received information, you also need the capability of understanding, analysing and then performing based on this data. Decision-making is one of the most important traits of an employee, and especially a manager. But did you know that leaders with empathy, one of the core competencies in EI, perform over 40% better when it comes to engagement, decision-making, and coaching? In other words, investing in EI might be a hard decision, but it would make the next batch of decisions easier to make.

Investing in emotional intelligence is not easy. If you want to learn more about the concept and how to incorporate it better into your business, book a demo with us today.

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