How Emotional Intelligence Can Be Key to Workplace Success

Businesswoman presenting to colleagues at a meetingWhile there are many benefits to having high intelligence, many managers, supervisors, and other workers—particularly those who work in businesses in which interpersonal relationships are key—have become keenly aware that workplace success may depend on their ability to use another invaluable personality trait: emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of emotional intelligence (EQ) was introduced by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in a landmark article in 1990. The idea was popularized in 1995 by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman after the release of his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ.

Emotional intelligence refers to the capacity to identify, evaluate, and manage emotions in one’s self as well as in other people. While some researchers believe this ability may be trained and developed, other experts suggest emotional intelligence is a trait a person must be born with.

Principles of Emotional Intelligence

A number of theories have emerged to explain the concept of emotional intelligence. Salovey and Mayer developed the ability model, which emphasizes a person’s capacity to understand and use emotional information in social contexts. Konstantin Vasily Petrides developed the trait model, which focuses on how people view their own emotional abilities, and Goleman developed the mixed model, which uses principles from both the ability and trait models.

Though each model has its distinguishing features, the underlying principles of the models are similar. According to Goleman, the key principles of emotional intelligence include:

  • Self-awareness – the ability to recognize personal emotions, emotional triggers, and limitations
  • Self-regulation – the ability to manage emotions so they do not have a negative effect
  • Motivation – an inner drive that comes from the personal joy experienced after an accomplishment
  • Empathy – the ability to recognize, understand, and experience the emotions of another person
  • Social skills – the ability to interact and negotiate with other individuals in order to find the best way to meet the needs of each person

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Many mental health experts believe emotional intelligence is a valuable asset in the workplace. In certain environments, employees with high levels of emotional intelligence may be better able to cooperate with others, manage work-related stress, solve conflicts within workplace relationships, and learn from previous interpersonal mistakes.

This may not mean high emotional intelligence is beneficial or necessary for all jobs. Studies show that while jobs that require large amounts of interpersonal interaction—for example, sales or real estate jobs—may benefit from workers who possess high emotional intelligence, the opposite is true for occupations that are generally more individualistic, such as a research scientist or an accountant.

In settings where people tend to work alone, people who possess high emotional intelligence may actually perform at a lower level than the average worker because they may be overly concerned about the emotions of other people.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

In certain environments, employees with high emotional intelligence may be better able to cooperate with others, manage work-related stress, solve conflicts that may arise within workplace relationships, and learn from previous interpersonal mistakes.Though emotional intelligence may not be necessary for every type of job, it can be a vital trait for most people in leadership positions. To be effective leaders in the workplace, managers, supervisors, and other authority figures must be able to function productively with people under their charge. A good leader is able to create the type of work environment where each person feels relevant and motivated to succeed.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence are able to use their social skills to foster rapport and trust with their employees. They tend to view their team members as individuals with unique abilities, backgrounds, and personalities, rather than as a uniform collective. Effective leaders seek to understand and connect emotionally with their staff—genuinely sharing in their joys as well as their concerns. The ability to build mutual trust and respect can become especially important if an unpopular decision is made within the business setting, but the managers need to keep their teams working efficiently.

Like all other types of relationships, work relationships may experience problems sooner or later. When conflict arises, leaders with high emotional intelligence may be better able to control their own impulses, view the situation from all perspectives, and seek mutually beneficial solutions. Effective leaders are transparent and are not afraid to admit when they are wrong. They are also more likely to try to improve work relationships.

Telltale Signs of Leaders with Low Emotional Intelligence

While leaders with high EQ are more likely to maximize the efforts and output of their employees, leaders with low EQ are more likely to have a negative impact on the productivity of their teams. Leaders with low EQ may display attitudes and behaviors such as:

  • Criticizing other people when they mistakes
  • Refusing to accept personal responsibility for errors
  • Always playing the role of the victim
  • Refusing to accept critical feedback
  • Using passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive styles of communication
  • Refusing to integrate with the team
  • Not being open to others’ opinions

Despite these issues, however, some experts believe emotional intelligence may be trained and developed.

The Potential Downsides of Emotional Intelligence

Though emotional intelligence is usually painted in a positive light and is often considered to be a valuable personality trait, a balanced view of the concept can be important. Emotional intelligence, like any other skill or talent, may be used positively or negatively depending on the intentions of the person wielding the ability.

As people with high EQ are better able to manage their own emotions and evaluate the emotions of others, they have the capacity to be more deceptive and manipulative than other people. Business leaders with high EQ and self-serving motives may toy with the emotions of their employees, using them to climb the corporate ladder with little regard for their workers’ long-term welfare.

Such leaders may also pretend to offer friendship and support, while secretly seeking to undermine the ambitions of team members who could become potential rivals. They may even expose their workers to public embarrassment, shame, or guilt in an effort to reach their own personal goals.

Those seeking to become effective leaders may do well to reflect on the importance of emotional intelligence. Leaders who are eager to hone specific aspects of their emotional intelligence may utilize self-help publications or seek the support of a qualified counselor, therapist, or coach.


  1. Craemer, M. (n.d.). Emotional intelligence is vital to workplace success. Retrieved from
  2. Deleon, M. (2015, May 8). The importance of emotional intelligence at work. Retrieved from
  3. Grant, A. (2014, January 2). The dark side of emotional intelligence. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  4. Llopis, G. (2012, September 24). 5 ways to lead with emotional intelligence—and boost productivity. Retrieved from
  5. Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • simon

    January 4th, 2016 at 8:48 AM

    Anyone can be super book smart but it makes no difference if they do understand how to play well with others

  • Emme

    January 4th, 2016 at 5:02 PM

    Work is not about making friends, I get that, but it is a lot more tolerable when you have friedns on your side instead of having everyone in the office hate you. That is what emotional intelligence can do. IT shows others that you are friendly, sympathetic, and that you have the makings of a good friend.

  • Warren

    January 5th, 2016 at 9:49 AM

    I have seen it happen many times in my office where you think that the most “intelligent” person is going to get the promotion but it ends up going to someone who is much better with the people skills. There are certain things that can always be learned but I do think that with being emotionally intelligent and knowing how to work through the kinks with people, that is something that some people either inherently have or they don’t. And the ones who have it? Those are the ones who I see being rewarded time and time again.

  • tyler

    January 8th, 2016 at 9:55 AM

    Those who understand the emotions of others as well as that of themselves are inevitably the stars.

  • Johnny

    January 9th, 2016 at 4:46 PM

    Sorry guys but I completely disagree with this. It doesn’t matter if you are good with people as long as you are smart and savvy when it comes to making business decisions.
    If you do that then you are always the one who is going to see success.
    These people? They won’t care that they are hurting feelings or stepping on toes, they will have other goals in mind and when it comes to success, those are the things that matter.

  • Rob

    January 10th, 2016 at 1:48 PM

    Johnny, if you define workplace success as simply making monetary profitable business decisions than I can’t argue with your position of disagreement. Personally though, I define workplace success like I do life success. Success to me is measured by the health of the relationships I have with those I come in contact with throughout my career/life journey. If one party is cheated at the expense another, than their relationship is unhealthy. Unhealthy relationships beget internal pain, stress, and unhappiness. Where these things are present success is hollow and unfounded. I am only interested in authentic success. Success that serves to benefit both parties at some level.

  • Robbiesyd

    September 17th, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    Rob – You have articulated that perfectly, well done! I totally agree… The era of success being a win-win and derived from conscious creating and awareness is upon us… If success comes at the expense of or detriment of another it is usually short-lived, one-dimensional and toxic.

  • Larry

    July 19th, 2019 at 2:48 AM

    Yes,Many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability..

  • Larry

    November 8th, 2019 at 1:46 AM

    EI is a widely recognized skill and on the basis of that, many companies hire the candidates. EI helps the individual in managing, understanding, communications, and problem-solving, and relationships within the workplace. It such a skill that can be improved with time and some practice. By hiring candidates, company assures that a stress-free environment is going to be maintained as these individuals can manage own and other emotions with great ease.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.