What are the features of your ideal workplace? While free lunches, ping pong tables and early Friday finishes might first spring to mind, you may want to consider adding something far more intangible to your list. 

Research shows an excellent workplace culture is not built solely around perks and flexibility. It’s grounded in cultivating a highly emotionally intelligent workforce. In fact, organizations with high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) are 400% more likely to retain employees, 50% more likely to inspire their people and 40% more productive. 

Clearly, EQ is a critical driver not just for workplace success, but for a happy, fulfilled team. 

This begs the question: what does it really mean to have emotional intelligence in the workplace? And how can you improve your own and that of your colleagues, managers and subordinates? 

Let’s find out. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that help you to effectively regulate your moods and understand other people’s emotional states. While EQ is often described as one thing, it actually refers to a span of aptitudes, including your propensity to read other people’s facial expressions and your ability to calm yourself down when anxious.

At Truity, we’ve conducted in-depth research into emotional intelligence, leading us to create a test that calculates EQ based on five competencies. Here’s a quick overview of each.

  • Self-awareness: The ability to tune into your emotional experiences and understand what you’re feeling and why. People with good self-awareness appreciate their strengths and weaknesses, their values and their motivations. 
  • Other awareness: The skill of noticing and discerning other people’s moods, thoughts and feelings by interpreting non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions. People who excel at other awareness can often ‘read between the lines’ during conversations. 
  • Emotional control: The ability to regulate one’s moods and bounce back from negative feelings. Individuals with strong emotional control are adept at choosing their emotional response rather than letting their emotions control them. 
  • Empathy: The capacity to understand and relate to other people’s emotional experiences. People with high levels of empathy are compassionate and motivated to help the people around them. 
  • Wellbeing: An individual’s overall state of psychological health. A strong wellbeing score signifies a positive outlook on life, cherished relationships with friends and family and a sense of purpose. 

Why is EQ important in the workplace? 

From reading the above traits, you can begin to imagine the benefits of a high EQ workforce. If everyone was empathetic, positive and understood each other, going to work would be a walk in the park! And the research backs it up.

Studies show that EQ directly influences how employees interact with each other, manage stressful situations and handle conflict. EQ is essentially the basis for building mutual understanding, togetherness and psychological safety. 

When people feel seen, heard and understood - and can offer the same to those around them - companies thrive. Individuals are more likely to share their ideas, feel motivated and bring their best selves to work. 

Plus, EQ isn’t just a winner for boosting workplace belonging. It’s also a prime indicator of professional accomplishment. One study from the University of Berkeley, for example, found that EQ was four times better at predicting a person’s success than IQ, while another study found that people with high EQs earned, on average, $29,000 more than people with low ones.

What does high and low emotional intelligence look like in the workplace?

At this point, you’re probably wondering if you, your manager and your colleagues have high or low emotional intelligence. Here are some characteristics of EQ at both ends of the spectrum. 

Traits of People With High EQ

  • Are skilled at managing difficult situations and conflict successfully
  • Remain calm under pressure
  • Operate with integrity 
  • Are open to constructive criticism 
  • Have strong social skills - a team player! 
  • Show compassion towards themselves and others 
  • Foster a growth mindset, are eager to learn and committed to progress 

Traits of People With Low EQ

  • Are flustered and stressed under pressure 
  • Avoid taking responsibility for errors, and may point the finger at others 
  • Refuse to listen to feedback 
  • Play favorites with certain people
  • Are prone to emotional outbursts 
  • Are highly opinionated
  • Are insensitive to other people’s feelings 

If you’re lucky, you’ll find that the people in your workplace demonstrate the traits of high EQ rather than low. But this isn’t always the case. We’re human, after all, and we all have strengths and weaknesses. 

Moreover, our EQs can vary greatly depending on the day. Factors like tiredness, stress and even our hormones can dampen EQ - at least temporarily. 

But just as EQ can go down, it can also go up. You see, EQ isn’t a trait. Rather, it’s a skill. Anyone can learn it and improve, meaning there’s hope for companies everywhere. 

How to improve EQ in your workplace

Setting out to level up the EQ of your workplace is a worthy goal. If you, your colleagues and executives can harness the power of EQ, your people and your company are far more likely to flourish.

But boosting EQ isn’t like turning on a switch. It’s more akin to growing a muscle: it takes time, practice and resilience. Before turning your attention to the EQ of your colleagues, it’s wise first to look inward. After all, to help others demonstrate enhanced empathy and self-awareness, you must first have a thorough sense of your own emotional landscape. 

Here are four ways to get started: 

1. Get to know yourself

Tests like Truity’s emotional intelligence test are a quick and straightforward way to gauge an understanding of your EQ. Once you know the competencies you excel and struggle with, you can make conscious efforts towards improvement. There are plenty of books out there to help. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership are great places to start. 

2. Listen to understand

When you chat with your colleagues about a workplace issue, are you thinking of the next thing you will say or listening to understand? The latter - which involves trying to discern both the verbal and non-verbal messages being shared - is a surefire way to improve your EQ. 

3. Get better at giving and receiving feedback

Feedback is part and parcel of a successful workplace. When done well, it helps to enhance learning. However, feedback can also be a sore spot. Many of us take it personally, even when it’s constructive. With that in mind, you can enhance your EQ by becoming better at feedback. When you receive it, regulate your emotions so you don’t take any criticism personally. When you give it, be sincere and data-specific to get the best reaction out of the other person. 

4. Manage your triggers

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but it’s also one of the main reasons EQ temporarily depletes. So, get to know your stress triggers and reactions. That way, you can better regulate difficult emotions and stay calm under pressure at work.

Ready to take the next step towards boosting your EQ? Take our emotional intelligence test today.

Hannah Pisani
Hannah Pisani is a freelance writer based in London, England. A type 9 INFP, she is passionate about harnessing the power of personality theory to better understand herself and the people around her - and wants to help others do the same. When she's not writing articles, you'll find her composing songs at the piano, advocating for people with learning difficulties, or at the pub with friends and a bottle (or two) of rose.