What is Emotional Intelligence

A woman has her hand on a man's shoulder in a comforting way.

Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence as “ the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.”

The term emotional intelligence was created by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer in their article “Emotional Intelligence” in the journal Imagination, Cognition, and Personality in 1990. 

The Science Behind Emotional Intelligence

It’s generally agreed that emotions occur in three parts: subjective experiences, physiological responses, and behavioral responses. Let’s imagine the following workplace scenario:

  1. John is embarrassed by something Mia says in a meeting (a subjective experience)
  2. John blushes (a physiological response)
  3. John abruptly leaves the meeting (a behavioral response)

In this scenario, John abruptly leaving the room could be counterproductive to the business goals of the meeting and to John’s colleague’s perceptions of John.  

Now let’s play this out using the concepts of emotional intelligence.

Mia says something in a meeting that embarrasses John.  John understands that he is particularly sensitive about the subject and works to manage the emotion.  While he still blushes, he takes a deep breath and decides to remain in the meeting.

Mia is scanning the people in the meeting and picking up on subtle reactions to what she has said.  She notices that John blushes.  She makes a note to talk with John privately and to apologize if she has embarrassed or offended him.

As you can see, being aware of and managing your own and others’ emotions can have a profound impact on relationships and outcomes at work.

The Research Behind Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

There is a large and growing amount of evidence pointing to the correlation between emotional intelligence and successful business outcomes.  One of the most respected researchers on this subject is Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman. In his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman cites research indicating that Emotional Quotient (Emotional Intelligence) counts for twice as much as the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and technical skills combined when determining who will be successful in business.

The authors of the 2004 Harvard Business Review article What Makes a Leader, reported that 80% of competencies that differentiate top performers from others relate to Emotional Intelligence. Further, a 2015 study by Harvard Business Review found a strong link between empathetic leaders and financial performance

A 2001 study published in the J. International Business and Entrepreneurship Development revealed a positive and significant impact of managers’ emotional intelligence on employees’ performance. 

A 2022 study found that all the dimensions of Emotional Intelligence were positively and significantly correlated with the final-year students’ employability.

Finally, in a 2007 meta-analysis, Elfenbein et al. found that Emotional Recognition Accuracy predicted a modest but significant and consistent rise in workplace effectiveness.

Is Emotional Intelligence Important to Employers?

Given the research above, it should be no surprise that career sites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Career Builder have all reported that Emotional Intelligence is one of the top soft skills in demand by employers today. Earning a certificate in Emotional Intelligence can certainly boost the likelihood of your resume being considered by employers or improve your chances of promotion.  As importantly, becoming more emotionally intelligent can impact your performance at work and many other interpersonal relationships.

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