Emotional intelligence: the key to workplace relationships

Emotional intelligence: the key to workplace relationships

“Soft skills”, “social intelligence” and “empathy”: these are the human qualities that most people rate high on the list of emotional intelligence (EI). As the rules of work undergo major changes, professional success is no longer determined by qualifications and skills alone. Likewise, talking about high IQs is outdated. A high EQ, or emotional quotient, however, is solid currency in today’s job market. Professional success now depends much more on your ability to manage emotions. And as Pixar’s Inside Out so brilliantly illustrates, every human emotion has a part to play.


Welcome to the Jungle digs deeper into the concept of EI by highlighting ten signs of a lack of emotional intelligence at work and effective ways of raising social awareness.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotions as a way to boost performance

“In a time with no guarantees of job security, when the very concept of a ‘job’ is rapidly being replaced by ‘portable skills’, these are prime qualities that make and keep us employable.” Daniel Goleman— Emotional Intelligence.

Since the work of psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in the 1990s introduced emotional intelligence, it has become one of the most sought-after business skills. This particular intelligence, though, has little to do with what we learn in school and exceeds the intellectual aptitude and technical expertise needed for work.

At the same time, EI is essential to your overall wellbeing. It enables people to recognise, understand and control their emotions, while dealing with those of others, as a way to guide their actions. In the workplace, these skills help to ensure emotional health and balanced relationships.

For Howard Gardner, the American psychologist who founded the theory of multiple intelligences, a high EI helps us do the following:

  • Better negotiate solutions.
  • Act as a mediator.
  • Prevent and resolve conflict.

It’s an invaluable tool for navigating the workplace. Where IQ was once the marker, defined according to logical reasoning, EI is now the key player when it comes to work relationships.

Emotional Intelligence: 5 key skills

“No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader. You just can’t ignore it.” Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electrics

In his book, Emotional Intelligence, American psychologist Daniel Goleman advocates the art of managing emotions, which redefines what it means to be smart.

According to Goleman, there are five basic ingredients or skills to master:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Emotional control.
  • Self-motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Handling relationships.

What’s more, they don’t always go hand-in-hand: someone who is empathic might struggle with anger management.

Flexible intelligence

Whether it’s for a job interview, business decisions or personal matters, there are many tests out there for those who want to assess their emotional intelligence. That’s perfectly understandable given that 90% of top performers at work have a high EQ. However, there is evidence that EI doesn’t come naturally to everyone. A recent study suggested that genetics, along with upbringing and experience, plays a role in empathy. While more research remains to be done, this indicates that there is also room to manoeuvre when it comes to building emotional intelligence.

While IQ remains relatively stable once someone reaches adulthood, EQ can evolve over a lifetime thanks to neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to rewire itself when new skills and behaviours are learnt. Broadly speaking, the formation of new neural connections helps balance the rational and emotional brain, which is an integral part of how EI develops. When new behaviours are deliberately repeated, they become automatic and ingrained.

10 signs that you need to improve your workplace EI and how to make it happen

If any of the following scenarios sound familiar, you can easily boost your EI through behavioural adaptations.

  1. You often feel stressed out: Repressed emotions lead to psychological strain, stress and anxiety, which can have a huge impact on the body. As a result, stress can make us more susceptible to serious mental health issues such as depression and addictive behaviours. Learn to identify your emotions and determine the function that each serves in your professional and personal wellbeing.

  2. You lack assertiveness: When it comes to EI, assertiveness and setting boundaries are just as important as good manners, empathy and compassion. Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. It’s about knowing how and when to say “no” and standing up for yourself in a positive way. Emotionally intelligent people keep their cool and avoid emotional outbursts. By defusing challenging situations and dealing with difficult individuals in this manner, they don’t make many enemies along the way. This is an invaluable approach in the workplace.

  3. You have a limited emotional vocabulary: As far as emotions are concerned, being more specific invites a deeper understanding on how best to approach a given situation. Instead of saying that you feel “bad” in general, dig a little deeper. Perhaps you’re anxious about a client meeting, hesitant to ask for a deadline extension or sad that a respected colleague is leaving the company.

  4. You’re quick to pass judgment and rarely change your mind: People who jump to conclusions depend heavily on what supports their point of view at the expense of all contrary arguments. This is a slippery slope for managers and bosses, since their ideas define the whole team’s strategy. Take your time when forming opinions and take a look at the bigger picture by carefully considering possible obstacles and outcomes.

  5. You don’t know your triggers: When up against challenging individuals or situations, everyone has their emotional Achilles’ heel. Instead of letting emotional outbursts take over at work, try to identify strengths and weaknesses. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to avoid your workplace triggers or achieve some distance from them.

  6. You don’t own up to your mistakes: This one is a balancing act. It’s often hard to analyse the situation without overlooking your mistakes. But doing so means you’ll find it easier to adapt your behaviour and set yourself up for future success.

  7. You’re thin-skinned: Building self-confidence, open-mindedness and a thicker skin are all essential if you want to take a step back and gain perspective.

  8. You’re a perfectionist: We all know that there is no such thing as perfect. Break the habit so this obsession doesn’t hold you back professionally. Being a conscientious, hard-working employee is more than enough.

  9. You’re always connected: The ability to put things into perspective is a sign of emotional intelligence. What’s more, it helps reduce stress. Avoid checking your inbox every five minutes and log off as much as possible when you’re not at work.

  10. You’re oblivious to your open-plan office colleagues and may not be the best judge of character: Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, try cultivating a curious mind. Curiosity is the key to empathy and open-mindedness. Most importantly, being a good reader of those around you and understanding what makes them tick is one of the key characteristics of emotional intelligence.

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

Regardless of what your own potential improvement areas may be, increasing emotional intelligence at work is a win-win situation for everyone.

Translated by Andrea Schwam

Photo: WTTJ

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Ingrid Dupichot

Freelance Content Writer

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