Emotional Intelligence in Business

Emotional… intelligence? Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction in terms? Wasn’t Mr. Spock’s cold emotional detachment what made the famous Vulcan so effective? Still, most people’s favorite boss is not the one with the most technical aptitude. It was the manager who made them feel most appreciated in the workplace. In other words, they remember the boss with the highest level of emotional intelligence. How you apply your emotional intelligence in business will be directly indicative of how well your teams perform. We give some emotional intelligence examples in business to begin thinking about how best to incorporate this skill.

While logical thinking may be a highly valued skill, it cannot alone overcome the sometimes irrational impulses and desires of everyday people. This is where emotional intelligence or EI / EQ (your “emotional quotient”) comes in. Mastering this more intangible side of the management equation can in fact be more important to maintaining success than any other single factor.

So, what is emotional intelligence in business and how can it be cultivated? How much does it really matter?

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Emotional Intelligence Defined

In his seminal 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Be Better than IQ, Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as:

“…the ability to identify, assess, and control one’s own emotions, the emotions of others, and those of groups.”

It builds upon the work of two psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey. Goleman’s analysis would prove to forever disrupt the prevailing paradigm which dictated that classical intelligence, most commonly represented by the intelligence quotient (IQ), was the preeminent dictator of success.

According to Psychology Today, there are three primary skills which comprise emotional intelligence:

  1. Emotional awareness – the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions
  2. Harnessing emotions – applying identified emotions to productive tasks such as thinking and problem solving
  3. Managing emotions – regulating one’s own emotions and helping others to do the same

At a high level, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of your and other’s emotions when making decisions. It’s useful at home, in school, and at work. A high EQ first requires understanding one’s own emotional state from a dispassionate position. This allows you to approach decision-making without letting your or others’ personal biases unnecessarily influence you.

What Is Emotional Intelligence In Business?

Emotional intelligence in business is not fundamentally different from emotional intelligence anywhere else. But there are lots of definitions, so to kick off a discussion of the application of emotional intelligence to business, lets share a more business focused definition.

Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President of TalentSmart, says that emotional intelligence consists of four core skills. These determine how we navigate through various business situations. He says that each of the four skills can be organized under a broader “competency”. Let’s look at a couple of those competencies.


The first competency is “personal competence” and that is all about your self-awareness and self-management skills. The focus here is inward on how you manage your own emotions and decision-making process. A high degree of personal competence might mean you can identify the situations that make you nervous (i.e., doing an interview, making a presentation, etc.).

The second competency is “social competence”. This skill area concerns how aware you are of others and how you manage relationships. A high degree of social competence might mean you can recognize when other people are getting frustrated. Or you can recognize when a group is not gelling very well.

Taken together, personal competence and social competence define what it means to be emotionally intelligent. This developable skill can be most beneficial in helping to defuse negative situations. A honed EQ can make an empathetic manager more aware of when a team member is suffering from emotional challenges. They can then harnessing those emotions in a productive fashion. This helps him to manage the impulses and decisions that might otherwise be generated because of emotional stress. The simple process of noticing you are getting frustrated and deciding not to make a charged point in a meeting because you know you are frustrated is a good example of emotional intelligence in business.

How Does Emotional Intelligence Compare To IQ Or Your Personality?

We all have a sense of what is meant by IQ. The concept of IQ concerns itself with your ability to understand, logic, reason, and learn. This is a topic beyond the scope of this article, but many researchers have taken issue over the past 20 years with the notion that IQ is a completely fixed trait. It’s disputed that IQ a) doesn’t change, and b) is a primary determinant of academic and professional success. But, let’s just say it’s generally understood that IQ is an important factor to be considered when evaluating why people succeed or fail.

Then, consider your personality. Are you naturally outgoing or shy? Hardworking or lazy? Friendly or aloof? Relaxed or charged? Your IQ and your personality can certainly help explain your level of success in various types of endeavors.

Is Your Emotional Intelligence More Important Than IQ Or Personality Traits?

The point is not that EQ is more important than IQ or your personality, but that it is an additional, unique, and extremely important part of the picture, as depicted here in this Entrepreneur article. How you perform in school and at work is a function of the decisions you make and how you engage with others, and your IQ, personality, and emotional intelligence all play a critical role.

What is very important to consider, however, is that while there may be some steps you can take to improve your IQ or adjust your personality, these things are harder to change. It is your EQ that is most malleable. Although some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, you can develop high emotional intelligence even if you aren’t born with it. The vast majority of people are more driven by emotion than logic. We have a term for those who aren’t – sociopaths – talk about an unmanageable team! To encourage growth within your team of non-sociopaths, it is important to embody high EQ behavior yourself.

The Importance Of Emotional Intelligence In Business

TalentSmart tested emotional intelligence alongside 25+ other important workplace skills, and found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance. This highlights the importance of emotional intelligence in business. It explained that almost 60% of success in many different jobs is determined primarily by EQ.

Perhaps you would imagine that IQ would be more important in business. In general, thinking fast and coming up with unique solutions to tough problems seems to be aided by having a high IQ. But really, consider most business problems such as needing to develop an effective marketing campaign or figuring out how to distribute a product given a power outage at a key plant. Solving problems such as these does not typically require a PhD in Rocket Science. Instead, it requires motivating people, getting the right information out of the right people, building alignment, and communicating in ways that resonate with those that have to go forward and execute a plan. The importance of emotional intelligence in business really can’t be understated.

What Are Some Emotional Intelligence Examples In Business?

Here are a list of skills and activities that can be impacted by emotional intelligence. They include some brief commentary on how to use emotional intelligence to become better at performing the skill or doing the activity. Emotional intelligence examples in business are really not that difficult to start including in your own role.

  1. Time Management

    • Those who know when they are more or less productive, and monitor themselves accordingly, tend to be more productive.
  2. Presentation Skills

    • Many people get nervous or anxious when it’s time to present. Objectively noting your anxiety can, by itself, help you calm down and deliver a more poised presentation. The emotionally intelligence person is better at managing their anxiety and stress during presentations or during the interview process.
  3. Assertiveness

    • There are times when you need to land a point in a meeting. Some of us are good at making our point known, and others are more reserved. Knowing your natural predisposition, and then changing your approach accordingly is a great example of high emotional intelligence in action.
  4. Empathy

    • This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s a core element of emotional intelligence and is relevant in a variety of business situations. Are you negotiating a contract with a customer? Or taking part in an interview? Are you part of a group, trying to get everyone’s opinion incorporating into the final recommendation? In all of these situations and more, being empathetic is critical. To get to the best outcome, it’s almost always helpful to be able to understand the other parties in the situation and what they are feeling, thinking, and being influenced by. The key to building this skill is simple enough; just focus on putting yourself in other’s shoes and trying to understand why they are acting as they are. Do this repeatedly in social and professional situations and you’ll naturally start to get better at it.
  5. Teamwork

    • Engaging in effective teamwork is perhaps the primary area where emotional intelligence can be valuable. From managing yourself so that you know when and how to make a point, from having the empathy to understand your colleague’s point of view, high emotional intelligence leads to more effective teams.

How Do You Build Emotional Intelligence Over Time?

Put succinctly, emotional intelligence, like all skills, is developed through practice.

As you repeatedly practice behaving in emotionally intelligent ways, your brain builds neurological pathways that create habits. Over time, you’ll find yourself reacting to various situations with more emotional intelligence without having to consciously evaluate the situation. Emotional intelligence is a skill, and one of the keys to skill development is feedback. If you don’t have a coach or mentor with whom you feel comfortable discussing emotional intelligence, you can provide yourself with feedback by conducting “postmortems”. Reflect on how a meeting or conversation went through the lens of emotional intelligence, and simply take note of what worked and what didn’t.


Emotional Intelligence in business is a skill that is increasing in value. Possibly even more important than IQ, your emotional intelligence can predict positive performance. The good news is that even more than IQ, your EQ can be developed through practice and intentionality. Look no further than the emotional intelligence examples in business given above. The best managers and leaders practice these skill and incorporate them into their management styles, creating high performing teams and stellar outcomes.

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