What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It the Buzz Phrase Every Employer is Talking About?18 April 2023 / By CharlotteGrainger Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on April 08, 2023
A psychologist was emphatically speaking about it on a reality TV show. No wait, it was in that LinkedIn post from a business leader. Or was it your manager who mentioned it in that team building seminar? It doesn’t matter how the words reached your ears, chances are, you’ve already heard of emotional intelligence.
But it’s not just the latest psychology buzz phrase. Almost three-quarters (71%) of employers say they value emotional intelligence or EQ more highly than regular intelligence or IQ when hiring and promoting employees.
And that makes it a high-value personality trait which could be the secret to unlocking your professional future.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Let’s kick things off with a quick definition. When speaking about emotional intelligence, experts use EI and EQ interchangeably. EI, of course, stands for emotional intelligence, while EQ is short for emotional quotient. Both are valid, but what do they actually mean?
“Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, while also understanding the impact they have on others,” explains Candace Kotkin-De Carvalho, Clinical Director at Absolute Awakenings.
But rather than being one dazzling trait, EI is a combination of several components, which we will delve into shortly. As Kotkin-De Carvalho puts it, “it is a set of skills that enables us to recognize our own feelings and those of others, discern between different emotions and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goals.”
Despite its sudden popularity in the media, emotional intelligence is not actually new. Researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey introduced the framework for emotional intelligence in 1990. In their publication, the duo defined it as a set of skills supporting the “accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one's life.”
Fast-forward to 1995, and psychologist Daniel Goleman published The New York Times best-seller Emotional Intelligence, thrusting the phrase into the collective consciousness. Almost three decades on, the trickle-down effect has worked its magic and emotional intelligence is widely used by experts, hiring managers, and everyone else in between.
The Inherent Value of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
“As more companies begin to recognize the importance of emotional intelligence, the term has become a buzzword in corporate environments and is an important factor for businesses looking for new hires,” says Dr. Harold Hong, a board-certified psychiatrist at New Waters Recovery, located in North Carolina. “It's often seen as a desirable trait for job applicants and those seeking career advancement.”
Put simply, emotional intelligence is a marketable trait. It means you understand other people’s emotions and can practice empathy. So, you can determine the most effective way to communicate and collaborate with others. Additionally, you have a clear understanding of your emotions and how to manage them. Since you’re more in-tune with your feelings, you can regulate yourself well and handle negative things, such as stress.
As Hong puts it, iIndividuals with higher levels of emotional intelligence are better equipped to work in a team setting, handle challenging conversations with colleagues, and manage stress in a healthy way.” With that in mind, it’s no wonder that employers value emotional intelligence, prioritizing it even over more traditional forms of intelligence.
The Four Primary Components of Emotional Intelligence
Now that you’re well-versed on how emotional intelligence can help your career, let’s take a look at its four core components, also called competencies. Here’s a quick breakdown:
How in touch are you with your feelings and how they impact you? “People with emotional intelligence know the emotions they experience,” explains Aura De Los Santos, clinical and educational psychologist. “They identify each of their emotions, what makes them manifest, and how it affects their body.”
This is a surprisingly elusive trait. While 95% of people think that they are self-aware, the Harvard Business Review reports that a mere 10-15% of people actually possess the trait. Self-awareness is vital when it comes to emotional intelligence. Before you can grasp other’s feelings, you need the insight and language to identify your own emotions.
It’s not just about looking at the internal — you need to be aware of the external too. And by that, we mean other people. “For coexistence to be harmonious, people with emotional intelligence have empathy, recognize and understand the needs of others, respect the limits that others have, and learn to have an objective look,” says De Los Santos.
We learn social awareness from childhood. It’s the ability to read other people’s body language, notice social cues, and even identify what different facial expressions mean. Nonverbal communication accounts for more than half of communication. Yes, it’s not just what someone says, it’s the way they say it. Plus, it’s also all of the other signals they are putting out there. If you’re socially aware, you’re reading those signals loud and clear.
● Self Management
When you’ve identified your emotions, how do you handle them? “Self-management includes managing stress through healthy coping mechanisms, exercising self-control to prevent impulsive actions, maintaining motivation in the face of setbacks, and cultivating a growth mindset,” says Annia Raja, a clinical psychologist based in Los Angeles.
We all develop our own emotional coping mechanisms — some healthy and others not so much — over the course of our lives. People who are able to self manage constructively have the right tools in place to overcome challenges. That might mean going for a run if you feel overwhelmed with work, getting the right amount of sleep, or daily journaling.
● Relationship Management
Finally, your emotional intelligence has a direct impact on how you interact with other people. “Relationship management involves understanding and managing relationships with other people,” says Hong. “This includes being able to effectively communicate and collaborate, establishing strong connections with others, and resolving conflicts.”
Social interactions are the bread and butter of daily life, so mastering them is key. That doesn’t mean that you have to get Machiavellian about it and try to manipulate people into doing your bidding. Instead, it’s all about having empathy, understanding their unique perspective, and working out how you can both get what you need out of each situation.
The Dangers of Lacking Emotional Intelligence
Emotional outbursts, angry text messages, and the silent treatment… Does that trifecta sound familiar? If so, you may be dealing with someone who lacks emotional intelligence.
That can lead to big problems in the workplace. “Misunderstandings and arguments will occur more frequently in the workplace,” says Hong. “Employees with low emotional intelligence may have difficulty recognizing their own emotions or those of others due to miscommunication and a lack of empathy and understanding for other people's feelings.”
Lacking emotional intelligence also means that people are more susceptible to the side effects of workplace pressures. “It can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression due to an inability to cope with challenging situations or emotions,” continues Hong. “In the workplace and when dealing with clients and customers, a lack of emotional intelligence can lead to misunderstandings and dissatisfactory customer service.”
If the alarm bells are ringing at the above description, you might know someone in your workplace with low emotional intelligence. Perhaps it’s you. Either way, there’s good news on the horizon. Like with many learned traits, there are ways you can enhance this one.
Expert Tips to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
“People can improve their emotional intelligence by understanding the four domains and developing habits that support these areas,” says Hong. “This can be done through self-reflection, mindfulness techniques, cognitive therapies, and other mental exercises.”
We could all become more emotionally intelligent. If you’re unsure of where to start with this self-development project, we’ve got you covered. While the following tips won’t make you an emotionally intelligent master overnight, they are certainly a good place to start.
1. Get in touch with your emotions
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to emotional intelligence is identifying your emotions and knowing your triggers. “Self-awareness can be improved through journaling, regular self-assessments, and honest conversations with friends and family,” says Hong.
Your emotional experience doesn’t have to be a mystery to you. Taking simple steps to understand why you feel the way you feel will make a huge difference. This approach is about investigating the root causes of your emotions and how you respond to them.
2. Recognize that you’re not a perfect person
Nobody is perfect. It’s important to acknowledge that you will make mistakes and not get defensive if you mess up. “As humans they will fail, but the difference is that these types of people recognize when they have made a mistake,” says De Los Santos. “Instead of justifying their faults, they are aware of what they have done wrong and try to remedy it.”
3. Practice active listening to understand others
Active listening means not only hearing what people tell you but taking the time to truly understand them. When you are speaking with someone, give them your full attention and try to put yourself in their shoes. What are they feeling and why is this important to them?
“By attentively listening to others and considering their feelings and experiences, you can work on better understanding and validating the emotions of those around them,” says Raja. This smart approach to conversations will help you strengthen your empathic skills.
4. Continuously learn and be open to change
Everyday is a school day, as the old saying goes. If you want to enhance your emotional intelligence, be open to learning about yourself and from those around you. According to Hong, this means “being in constant learning, where the person is aware of their emotions, thoughts, and actions; with an ability to put negative thoughts and behaviors aside, open to receiving help from others, and having an objective look at what surrounds them.”
Employers favor emotionally intelligent workers, and it’s clear to see why. Having an intricate knowledge of both their feelings and how other workers experience emotions is a major advantage. It can lead to greater success in the workplace, seamless collaboration, and a better overall environment.
To find out your score across all the facets of emotional intelligence, take our free, research-based test here. It will give you a good idea of where you’re excelling and what areas you could improve on. No matter how much emotional intelligence you currently have, you can harness the trait and build upon it using the approaches in our guide.