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How to Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

If you’ve heard a lot about emotional intelligence but you’re not sure what the hype is, or if you know what it is but doesn’t see how it really applies in the workplace, you’ve come to the right place. In this piece, we’ll define emotional intelligence in the context of the workplace, describe its components, explore its correlates in the workplace, and look at how to improve it for both individual employees (including yourself) and the organization as a whole. Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will not only enhance your ability to understand and work with your emotions but will also give you the tools to foster the emotional intelligence of your clients, students, or employees.

What is Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace? (Definition + Concept)

First, let’s get a baseline on what emotional intelligence is. Emotional intelligence (shortened to EI or EQ for emotional quotient) can be defined as:

“EQ refers to someone’s ability to perceive, understand and manage their own feelings and emotions”

(Chignell, 2018).

Further, there are five distinct components of EI:

  1. Self-awareness

  2. Self-regulation

  3. Internal (or intrinsic) motivation

  4. Empathy

  5. Social skills

From a glance at these components, it’s easy to see how EI applies in the workplace! Clearly workers with higher in self-regulation, intrinsic motivation, and social skills have a leg up on those with less. We’ll go over some of the reasons why this is so later in this piece.

Daniel Goleman on EI in the Workplace

EI was first defined and established as a construct in psychology back in the 1990s, but interest in it has grown exponentially since then-especially in its application in the workplace. Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman shares his view on why there is so much interest on EI/EQ in the workplace:

“The interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace stems from the widespread recognition that these abilities – self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill – separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average. This is especially true in roles like the professions and higher level executives, where everyone is about as smart as everyone else, and how people manage themselves and their relationships gives the best and edge.”

(Goleman, 2012).

Why is Developing EQ Important in the Workplace?

Emotional intelligence is a vital consideration in the workplace for many reasons, but there are two that really stick out:

  1. It is linked to higher job satisfaction for those with high EI/EQ as well as employees who work with or are managed by those with high EI/EQ.

  2. It is strongly associated with job performance.

A Look at Emotional Intelligence and Job Satisfaction

It’s well-known that emotional intelligence is related to job satisfaction. Employees who are high in EI/EQ also tend to be higher in job satisfaction, as many studies have shown:

  • Çekmecelioğlu and colleagues studied nearly 150 call center employees in Istanbul and found a significant positive relationship between EI/EQ and internal job satisfaction (2012).

  • Similarly, high EI/EQ (specifically high self-awareness) is negatively related to burnout and positively related to job satisfaction in people who work in the public sector (Lee, 2017).

  • Ghanian nurses who were higher in emotional intelligence also enjoyed higher job satisfaction (Tagoe & Quarshie, 2017).

How can Emotional Intelligence Improve Job Performance?

In addition to contributing to greater happiness and satisfaction in employees, higher emotional intelligence also contributes to better job performance.

  • Researchers found that emotional intelligence training boosted employee productivity and resulted in better evaluations from management (Hosseinian et al., 2008).

  • Teachers with higher emotional intelligence also generally perform better in their jobs (Mohamad & Jais, 2016).

  • A 2017 study by Pekaar and colleagues showed that emotional intelligence is significantly correlated with job performance, particularly the EI/EQ components of recognizing and managing the emotions of the self and others.

You might be thinking, “How does emotional intelligence have such an impact on job performance?” Through these seven traits and characteristics:

  1. Emotional stability (greater ability to manage their own emotions and tolerate stress)

  2. Conscientiousness (tendency to be diligent, hardworking, control impulses)

  3. Extraversion (personality trait that makes people more open and better at establishing relationships with others)

  4. Ability EI (individuals’ ability to perform emotion-related behaviors, like expressing emotions, empathizing with others, and combine emotion with reasoning)

  5. Cognitive ability (IQ; studies suggest there is at least some overlap between the IQ and EQ)

  6. General self-efficacy (confidence in the ability to cope with the demands of our job)

  7. Self-rated job performance (Bailey, 2015).


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