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Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

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For a long time, many of us believed that our emotions and our logical thoughts are two completely separate entities. They controlled different arenas of our lives, and rarely crossed over. It’s still a fairly common misconception.

However, we’re learning that they are far more connected than we used to believe. While we can develop our cognitive prowess through logic, problem-solving, or memorizing facts and figures, we can also grow our emotional capacity for empathy and understanding.

When it comes to our work lives, emotional intelligence is a crucial soft skill that improves job satisfaction, workplace relationships, and even company success.

Most importantly, it’s a skill that can be developed.

In this article, we cover:

  • How to define (and measure) emotional intelligence

  • How EI affects companies, salaries, and job satisfaction

  • How to create a better work environment through EI

  • Ways to improve your emotional intelligence skill set

What Exactly is Emotional Intelligence?

This “emotional capacity” is called emotional intelligence. You sometimes see it referred to as simply “EI,” and in some cases, “emotional quotient” or “EQ”.

How we respond emotionally to events is just as important as devising the next steps. Understanding other people is just as important as business and performance goals.

Emotional intelligence is critical to not only achieving your goals, but helping your employees achieve theirs.

Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Most people are familiar with IQ tests, which measure a person’s intelligence quotient. But did you know you can also take a test for your emotional quotient? EQ testing is growing in popularity, and it may tell us more about how people work than traditional intelligence measurements can. Tests are often on a scale from 1-100, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of emotional intelligence.

However, all tests have their limits. Just like IQ tests, EQ tests aren’t a perfect indicator of emotional intelligence. The best measurement of emotional intelligence is comprehensive, and it usually includes real-life feedback from others.

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What Does Emotional Intelligence Look Like?

The way we interact with the people in life depends on so many factors—how are you feeling today? What is your relationship with this person? What are you asking of them? What are they asking of you?

Three essential EQ skill sets can help apply these questions:

  • Empathy: The ability to understand the feelings of others

  • Self-Awareness: Consciousness of emotions, reactions, and how others may perceive them

  • Social Skills: Verbal and non-verbal communication tools based in empathy and self-awareness Someone who is emotionally intelligent can navigate almost any social or workplace scenario (and many more) more effectively by using these skills.


Showing empathy doesn’t just mean putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to feel their feelings. It also means you apply your own experience to understand why someone is acting or reacting in a certain way. By showing that you can relate, you open up the door to better communication and problem-solving.

For example, most managers started out in lower-level positions. When communicating with a direct report, an empathetic manager may ask:

  • Did I do what I’m asking an employee to do when I was in that position?

  • Are there tools I could have used to do a better job?

An empathetic employer might consider questions like these:

  • Could I live off the wages I’m offering?

  • If my home life was affecting my work, what’s the most effective way my employer could react?

Employees are not cogs in the wheel to make the business run. They are unique individuals with experiences that can help their company when treated as such. Using empathy can increase their productivity and overall workplace happiness.

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It’s hard to relate to others without some introspection. Consider how you are reacting, and take inventory of your emotions from time to time. How are these emotions controlling your reactions?

Understand your own strengths and weaknesses—not just emotionally, but in regards to any soft skill. Do you communicate effectively and with compassion? Can you self-regulate effectively?

Being in touch with your own emotions directly translates into better interactions with other people.

Social Skills

Growing up, we learn how to react in a variety of social situations (or we’re supposed to, at any rate). Empathy plays a huge part in this, but so does knowing what the appropriate reaction is in certain situations around specific people.

Workplace relationships require a unique set of skills, etiquette guidelines, and boundaries.

Sometimes, resisting our natural reactions can benefit us. This is especially true in a professional setting. For instance, when something upsets you, shooting off an emotionally-heated email might feel right in the moment. But it will usually benefit you and your coworkers to fully craft it and save it as a draft for a few days instead. Choosing this second option takes a handful of time-developed social skills.

Another example is knowing when and how to respond to others. When someone tells you about a problem, are they looking for constructive criticism, problem solving, or just the metaphorical sympathetic shoulder?

Good social skills don’t guarantee great workplace relationships, but they do ensure better interactions.

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Why Does Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace Matter?

Plain and simple: emotional intelligence is proven to have a measurable impact on business success.

Every relationship and social interaction requires some level of emotional intelligence. The office (or whatever your work environment may be) may require even more. You don’t necessarily choose your coworkers, but you need to get along with them in order to accomplish daily work objectives.

Improving professional relationships comes with personal benefits, too. We spend an incredible amount of our time at work, so making it as cohesive and welcoming as possible is extremely important. Employers are responsible for a healthy workplace environment, but employees at every level can promote communication and collaboration.

Emotional Intelligence Directly Correlates to Success and Salary

The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that those with higher emotional intelligence have higher job satisfaction and lower turnover intentions.

UC Berekley found that emotional intelligence was one of the best indicators of productivity and salary.

It all comes down to a simple fact: humans perform better when they’re happy. A supportive environment and a team led by people with high emotional intelligence contribute to a work climate where people are more inclined to produce good work. Emotionally-intelligent managers and bosses are also more likely to compensate employees fairly.

Employers and Employees Value EQ More Than IQ

Most of us don’t want to work for someone with no expertise in their field. However, UC Berkeley also found that employees are becoming more and more likely to value emotional intelligence over IQ in the workplace.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

If you think your workplace EQ skills are less than perfect, here’s the good news: it’s possible to work on them and see measurable results.

Introspection and observation can go a long way when improving emotional intelligence. Be mindful of those around you, but also pay close attention to your feelings.


Self-regulation doesn’t involve denying your emotions, but rather how quickly can you “come down” and tie your emotions to logical action. Work on ways to restore calm so that you can respond appropriately to adversity.

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Learn How to Give (And Accept) Constructive Feedback

Most of us don’t actually enjoy hearing what we’re doing wrong. Keep in mind that true constructive feedback only makes us better. Self-regulation plays a major part in responding well when you receive it.

If you’re in a position to give feedback, make sure it is always constructive. Someone with high emotional intelligence will give suggestions for improvement, and communicate these suggestions thoughtfully and compassionately.

Ready to Go Further at Work?

Every step towards improving emotional intelligence can have a massive impact—whether you’re a business owner, manager, or entry-level employee at your first job. No matter where you work or where you’re at in your career, positive interactions can slingshot you into a brighter future.

If you're looking for more ways to improve, or tips to take back to your coworkers, check out our course on Emotional Intelligence. In just a month, you can have the tools to create a better climate at your workplace.

The Regional Economic Development Center at Yavapai College offers courses, training and resources for workers and employers alike. After you ace the course on emotional intelligence, see what else we can do for you.

Home LinkThe REDC is a Division of Yavapai College.Go to yc.edu

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