What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Develop It Among Your Team

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Feb 15, 2022
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emotional intelligenceEmotionally intelligent people are higher-performing employees. Because they handle stress and communicate more effectively than counterparts with lower emotional intelligence (EI), they’re the kind of people you want in your workplace.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Also sometimes referred to as the emotional quotient, or EQ, EI has been part of the business community’s vernacular since psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer first defined the term in 1990. The two published a landmark paper that year describing EI as a “subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own emotions and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s own thinking and actions.”

Elaborating on the subject in 1997, the researchers added that EI comprises the ability to:

  • Perceive accurately, appraise and express emotions;
  • Access and generate feelings when they facilitate thought;
  • Understand emotions and emotional knowledge; and
  • Regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

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That was two years after another psychologist, Daniel Goleman, popularized the phrase in his 1995 best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence. Goleman identified five core competencies that lead to high EI and drive excellent leadership performance:

  1. Self-Awareness (recognizing your own emotions);

  2. Self-Regulation (controlling your reactions);

  3. Social Skills (accurately reading other people’s body language and nonverbal cues, being trustworthy and a good conversationalist);

  4. Empathy (considering how someone else feels); and

  5. Internal Motivation (possessing initiative, passion, optimism and time-management skills).

It boils down to being able to recognize and implement effective ways to solve problems or manage challenges – which is not by shouting, shaming or shutting down. At work, managers and team members who employ more caring approaches and consider other people’s feelings are better at their jobs because they’re better at human interaction. They communicate clearly and politely and more easily “fit in” with groups.

These traits characterize high performers. Because most of us depend on or collaborate with other people to get our work done, the better we communicate and connect with colleagues and bosses, the easier it is to be successful on the job.

RELATED: How an Employee Relations Strategy Supports Your Company's Culture >>

How To Develop Your Team’s Emotional Intelligence

According to Goleman, anyone can learn and apply EI principles – and improve with practice. To cultivate EI among your team members:

  1. Lead By Example

EI has the most impact in the workplace when it starts at the top. Managers and supervisors should model high EI behaviors so that everyone in the organization has good examples to follow. Emotionally intelligent leaders are better able to resolve conflict, motivate employees, improve productivity and consciously coach team members to develop emotional intelligence.

A good first step in mastering EI skills is to honestly and objectively evaluate your own emotional intelligence – as well as that of your team members. Free online tools can help, and everyone should practice the following behaviors when interacting with co-workers:

    • Be a good listener. Focus on the other person, and carefully read both verbal and non-verbal cues during a conversation. Strive to ensure people feel “heard.”
    • Show genuine interest and curiosity in others.
    • Always try to find common ground – something you both agree on.
    • Share information about yourself; be open.
    • Find and point out a common purpose.
    • Learn from times when your communication style has created confusion or negative reactions.
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  1. Foster Productive Relationships

When you excel at social competence and relationship management – or “people skills,” like the ones listed above – you convey that you care about your team as individuals. Those actions applied consistently with your team and between team members contribute to strong workplace relationships that endure and lead to better business outcomes.

One of the best ways to relate to other people is to find similarities with them. Discovering ways we’re alike increases our empathy. Team-building exercises, social activities and shared projects create opportunities for team members to get to know colleagues better, especially on a more personal level.

When you and your team understand what co-workers are going through personally – for example, if someone is overwhelmed at home – everyone can provide support and, as needed, make accommodations that optimize professional performance. Without this information, colleagues might not act with as much empathy as they otherwise would. That can lead to employees who feel underappreciated and frustrated, creating missed targets, lower productivity, inefficiencies and turnover.

  1. Address Stress

Unhealthy stress can translate to absenteeism. It also causes poor communication that results in mistakes and misunderstanding, which can create even more stress that pushes emotional intelligence – and all the good that goes with it – to the background.

Managers can help their teams reduce stress in the workplace by encouraging them to:

    • Deal with problems before they escalate. Don’t ignore red flags or avoid tough conversations.
    • Pause before speaking. Don’t react without thinking first.
    • Share opinions and vent appropriately. Managers should provide settings for this to happen regularly. Remember that different personality types will require different options. For example, introverts who are uncomfortable speaking up in group settings might be more open to sharing opinions one-on-one.
    • Acknowledge stressful situations. Doing so can – in and of itself – improve everyone’s outlook.
  1. Encourage the Feedback Loop

Open lines of emotionally intelligent communication are at the core of every successful relationship and company. Two-way feedback – manager-to-employee, employee-to-manager and team member-to-team member – is the best way to prompt idea sharing that could benefit the company.

Managers should model and create opportunities for team members to consistently give emotionally intelligent feedback, which lowers the odds a recipient will become defensive. It also teaches employees to accept constructive criticism and take pride in their accomplishments – both of which contribute to greater EI competencies.

RELATED: 7 Ways To Ease Work-at-Home Employees' Stress >>

Higher EI produces better performance and more success. Employees who trust their colleagues and managers to consistently interact with emotional intelligence are motivated to work together effectively and excel at their jobs. They also often tend to treat customers better, stay at your company longer and contribute more creative ideas to the organization.

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