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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Professional Growth

Wooden blocks with faces of different emotions separated by a diagonal line; emotional intelligence concept

Emotional intelligence can be an advantage in many areas of your life, and work is no exception. We’ll explain the importance of emotional intelligence on helping you advance in your career and how to improve it in a professional context. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to a person’s capacity to understand the emotions of themselves and others and to use that information to interact positively and be productive. It’s sometimes called EQ (which is in contrast to IQ, which measures skills like reasoning and problem-solving). Some experts believe EQ is even more important than IQ in achieving success in life.

Various tests have been designed to measure emotional intelligence. Some provide statements that prompt you to agree or disagree, such as, “I find it easy to understand how others are feeling.” Other emotional intelligence tests are more objective, asking you to complete tasks that assess your skills in perceiving and managing emotions. 

When it comes to your career, emotional intelligence heavily influences how you interact with your colleagues, managers, employees, and clients. It impacts your ability to communicate, cooperate, negotiate, and more. 

EQ has a greater bearing on success in some roles, like HR and customer service. The more your job requires you to deal with people, the more important this type of intelligence is. 

Importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace

Team productivity

Employees with a high level of emotional intelligence can work together effectively, even when they have different work and communication styles. Emotionally intelligent people are able to balance their own preferences against those of others, engaging in a healthy level of give and take to accomplish shared goals. 

Positive culture

Emotional intelligence facilitates more meaningful connections, contributing to a stronger workplace culture. Team members strive to understand and empathize with each other’s needs, which produces a mutual sense of belonging. 

Reduced conflict

One defining characteristic of EQ is the ability to rise above your differences with others. When conflict arises, emotionally intelligent employees look for solutions rather than just trying to be right or having the last word. This is a healthy approach to conflict resolution which not only diffuses disputes in the moment but leads to less workplace conflict overall. 

All in all, companies that hire for and foster EQ have employees who are more productive, more engaged, and happier with their jobs than workplaces where EQ is not a priority.

Characteristics of emotional intelligence

Psychologist Daniel Goleman is one of the foremost thought leaders in the area of emotional intelligence. Building upon the work of earlier researchers, he characterizes EQ based on five core components.

1. Self-awareness 

The ability to understand your own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. 

Example: It’s normal for your blood pressure to rise and your heart to race when someone is making you angry. If you have high self-awareness, you can recognize these signs that you’re becoming upset and incorporate that knowledge into your thought process before making your next move. 

2. Self-regulation

The ability to manage your emotions and control your emotional response to situations. 

Example: Thinking before you speak. If you feel frustrated, as we described in characteristic #1, self-management might mean taking a breather to cool down before responding to the person you’re upset with. 

3. Motivation 

Having the feeling of “drive” that propels you to reach a goal. Motivation can be intrinsic, like the sense of fulfillment you experience from accomplishing a task, or extrinsic, like receiving a raise or promotion. 

Example: At work, the motivation component of EQ could be illustrated by seeing the big picture of what you’re working toward and staying positive even when the smaller tasks required to get there are tedious or challenging. 

4. Social awareness

The ability to sense how others feel about a situation–a.k.a. empathy.

Example: If you’ve ever been in a group setting where someone made a strange comment and suddenly the mood felt decidedly awkward, you’ve experienced social awareness. 

5. Social skills 

The ability to manage interactions in a way that benefits everyone.

Example: When the team disagrees about how to move forward on a project, you come up with an approach that incorporates the strongest elements of each of the competing plans.

For more information on these five components, check out his book on Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ!

Benefits of emotional intelligence for career growth

Stronger relationships

More often than not, your career advancement is defined by who you know. The people in your professional circle give you a head’s up about job openings, serve as references, provide valuable mentoring, and more. 

Strong emotional intelligence facilitates strong, mutually beneficial relationships so that when it comes time to make a career move, you have the right people in your corner, eager to help you advance.

Better interview performance

Emotional intelligence is a critical soft skill employers are looking for when hiring. During the interview process, hiring managers will ask strategic questions to help assess candidates in this area, and your answers will tell them a lot about what you might be like to have as a teammate.

Refining your EQ benefits you twofold: not only will you become a better communicator and team player, which you can reference in your interview answers, but you’ll become better at building rapport with interviewers, making you a more favorable candidate. 

More successful negotiations

Improving your EQ can give you the upper hand if you’re in a field where negotiations are commonplace, like sales or law. 

Even if you don’t need to negotiate as part of your job, you do need to do it when you’re job searching. Becoming a more emotionally intelligent person can help you secure better job offers and negotiate a higher salary, which pays off for your entire career. 

Need help improving your job offer negotiation skills? Check out our post on how to negotiate your salary!

Effective management skills

Having a high EQ makes you a better leader, which is important if you’re looking to move up the ranks to higher job titles and levels of responsibility.

Emotionally intelligent managers can anticipate their employees’ needs, enabling more effective feedback and coaching. They can position strategic goals to inspire their teams, producing better, faster results. 

Higher likelihood of success

Having a high EQ is definitively linked with greater professional success. Top performers consistently achieve high scores on tests for emotional intelligence. The impact of this professional success spills over into other areas of your life, like your financial stability and overall satisfaction. 

How to improve your emotional intelligence 

By now, it should be clear that it’s in your best interest to improve your emotional intelligence. Here are the best ways to do it. 

1. Recognize your emotions

Emotions are a normal part of life, but when we don’t have the tools to deal with them properly, they can cloud our judgment and negatively dictate our actions. This mainly happens when we focus on how we feel versus what’s happening physiologically.

Emotionally intelligent people can separate their thoughts from their feelings, which is a key skill for making more rational decisions. One powerful trick is to name the emotion you’re feeling and the trigger behind it, for example, “I’m feeling frustrated because Bob always steamrolls me in meetings.”

Recognizing your emotions in this way can help you see the situation more objectively rather than being overwhelmed by the need to act on what you’re feeling in the moment. When you get to the bottom of what’s making you feel a certain way, it’s also easier to identify effective solutions. 

Journaling, deep breathing, and even yoga can all help with this, too.

2. Practice being less reactive

We’re so programmed to respond to everything that happens to us–a coworker making a snide remark, a driver cutting us off in traffic, and so on–but not everything in life requires your response. In fact, the majority of things don’t.

You’ll conserve a lot of emotional energy and better manage your reactions when you practice observing situations rather than responding to them. This could mean sitting on the sidelines while your coworkers get into a political debate, listening to everyone else put in their two cents before jumping in to share your opinion, or just rolling your eyes instead of making a choice hand gesture to the jerk that’s tailgating you. 

3. Listen actively

Instead of waiting for your turn to chime in when another person is speaking, really focus on the other person. Listen to what they’re saying, but also pay attention to other cues, like their body language and tone of voice. You might be surprised how much you can pick up on when you’re actively listening versus thinking about what you’ll say next. 

4. Ask for feedback

It’s not easy to receive feedback, especially if it’s negative, but this is one of the best ways to understand how to improve the core EQ skills we mentioned earlier (and practice regulating your response to negative triggers, too!). 

Seek input from colleagues, bosses, and people you admire in your professional circle. Remember, many of these are the same people who will give you references if you’re applying for a new job, so you want them to have a positive image of you. They’ll be more invested in your success if you involve them in your personal development. 

5. Never stop learning

As with any skill, your emotional intelligence will improve as you practice it. Continuously strengthen your EQ by taking courses like Coursera’s Emotional and Social Intelligence, reading books and studies (The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People is a classic), and absorbing techniques from mentors and other leaders around you. 

By developing your emotional intelligence, you’ll be more likely to reach your full potential and be on a quicker path to achieving your professional goals.