Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Why EQ is the new IQ

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

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Many assume that intelligence quotient, a.k.a our IQ, is the most credible measure of success. But recent research has revealed one’s emotional intelligence stands as a better predictor of workplace performance (1). Yes, you heard it right, you don’t need to be the smartest Joe at work to thrive professionally.

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? And why are corporations placing so much emphasis on it? Furthermore, how do we nurture it in the workplace? Well, we’re here to answer your questions.

What Emotional Intelligence is and Why It’s Important

What Emotional Intelligence is and Why It’s Important

Source: Pexels

Goleman’s five elements of emotional intelligence

The term emotional intelligence was created by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer (2). It was later defined in psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, as the ability to understand and manage our own emotions (3).

Goldman also detailed the five core elements of emotional intelligence:

1) Self-awareness

Understanding your emotions is a critical aspect of emotional intelligence. Beyond that is also being aware of how these emotions translate into behaviors that affect others.

2) Self-regulation

Regulating your emotions doesn’t mean shoving your feelings down. Rather, it’s about finding an appropriate method, time, and place to express them.

3) Intrinsic motivation

Emotionally intelligent people are rarely motivated by things beyond external rewards like money and fame. Instead, they seek inner growth and prioritize being present with their day-to-day experiences.

4) Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand how others are feeling. It involves being in tune with the emotional states of others and then responding appropriately. For example, an emotionally intelligent person can quickly sense when someone is feeling down, and they know to respond with care and concern.

5) Good communication skills

Emotionally intelligent people swiftly adapt to changes in daily interactions and relationships. In the workplace, practice active listening, practice the right verbal and nonverbal cues, and exude empathetic leadership.

Research on emotional intelligence in the workplace

Dr. Travis Bradberry, the award-winning coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, found that people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time (4). This anomaly threw a massive punch into what we had always assumed was the source of success—IQ. Years of research now agree that emotional intelligence is the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest (5). But how do we cultivate the ability to help others through tense situations? How do we tactfully untangle disagreements, and define solutions that everyone can endorse?

How to Build Emotional Intelligence at Work

How to Build Emotional Intelligence at Work

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Emotional intelligence can be learned. So, here are some ways to cultivate it within your organization that will help you and your teammates be happier and more successful:

1) Understand your emotional patterns

Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day and notice how your emotions drive your decisions. Through this awareness, you develop valuable insights that can aid your interpersonal skills. This includes understanding how you communicate with others so that you can better handle conflict and enhance positive impact.

2) Cultivate social awareness and empathy

Social awareness is our ability to accurately pick up on the emotions of others. Whereas empathy means putting yourself in the shoes of others to better understand their position.

According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s important to achieve resonance with others, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye (6). And through social awareness and empathy, you build deeper connections, especially when you’re dealing with someone who’s challenging to work with.

3) Listen to understand

Do you listen to speak, or to understand.

Emotionally intelligent people prioritize the latter. Think Oprah Winfrey, her superpower is building trust through active listening. She doesn’t need an elaborate list of questions. Rather, she listens to understand, and allows the conversation to flow seamlessly from her interviewee’s response.

4) Develop emotional resilience

Resilient employees are good at "rolling with the punches" and adapting to workplace adversities. For example, we can learn to process criticism positively. Rather than feeling defensive, address the difficult emotions felt and how to improve upon the feedback. When appropriate, calmly communicate with the other person to clear up any misunderstandings.

It also helps to take a step away from work to engage in hobbies or exercise. This can help you stay cool-headed when work gets crazy.

5) Manage conflict effectively

Workplace conflict is inevitable. However, emotional intelligence helps us to effectively deal with conflict and generate positive outcomes.

If you’ve hurt someone's feelings, apologize directly. Most people tend to forgive and forget when you’ve taken accountability. But if the blame is on someone else, confront them calmly. Allow them to reflect on their actions, and suggest solutions both parties can work towards.


As organizations ramp up the speed to match market conditions, tension and conflict are naturally at an all-time high. Hence, emotional intelligence, more than IQ, becomes the antidote to ensuring employees’ success and happiness. So, let’s make a collective effort to better understand our own emotions, empathize with others, and cultivate a supportive culture where everyone feels safe to thrive.

Read other Workplace Well-being Related Resources:    

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  1. Emotional Intelligence | Psychology Today

  2. Emotional Intelligence - Peter Salovey, John D. Mayer, 1990

  3. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

  4. Why You Need Emotional Intelligence to Succeed | Inc.com

  5. Emotional Intelligence as a Predictor of Academic and/or Professional Success - PMC

  6. How to Develop Empathy for Someone Who Annoys You

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