HR Insights 5 min

How to Use Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

October 1, 2018

Understanding what emotional intelligence is and why it’s so important in the workplace is crucial in today’s increasingly competitive world.

Dale Carnegie once said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.” People are by nature emotional creatures, but only the emotionally intelligent can recognize emotions—both their own and others—and work with them to reach the best possible outcome for everyone. Within the chamber of emotional intelligence lies opportunities to succeed personally and professionally.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotionally intelligent people are far more likely to succeed at work. Consider Daniel Goleman’s five pillars of emotional intelligence and how valuable these characteristics are in a professional:

  • Self-awareness – This is crucial in understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, and it’s particularly useful when receiving feedback.
  • Self-regulation – This is an important characteristic which makes a person capable of expressing themselves both openly and tactfully. Without it, emotional outbursts are more likely.
  • Motivation – Emotionally intelligent people need little extrinsic motivation because they take pride in accomplishing great things solely for the sake of personal fulfillment.
  • Empathy – This is the ability to understand how another person feels and experiences the world, especially when that perspective is very different from one’s own.  People are far more likely to follow somebody who shows genuine empathy, and genuine empathy is hard to replicate.
  • People skills – This is important when making friends, gaining trust, and building rapport with coworkers. All the professional skills in the world are sometimes not enough when somebody lacks basic people skills.

Reading through those five pillars, it’s easy to conclude that a person with high emotional intelligence is the ideal person to work with. But merely possessing a skill isn’t enough. It’s important to use emotional intelligence in the workplace to improve relationships and enhance performance. Let’s discuss three ways to do that.

How to Use Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The advantages of emotional intelligence at work are many and the organizations that can tap into the powers of emotional intelligence can set themselves apart from their competition.
These three strategies will set you on the right path.

Prioritize Emotional Intelligence

Contrary to what employees from previous generations may have believed, people can’t just turn off their emotions when they go to work—nor should they!

The key then for business leaders is to strip themselves of preconceived notions about what a boss is supposed to do and approach every situation with a perspective of emotional intelligence. Stomping your feet and yelling at employees to work harder may lead to improved short-term work results, but the long-term effects will almost certainly be disastrous.

Employees today don’t necessarily need their boss to be their best friend, but they want a relationship of trust and respect. If they don’t get it, they will leave for a manager who gives it to them. On the flip side, leaders who use emotional intelligence at work to improve relationships will find that their employees are more loyal and perform better. (Not to mention that emotional intelligence is connected to better mental and physical health.)

With this in mind, employers should look to hire and promote people who show signs of emotional intelligence in their day-to-day interactions, and they should try to help increase the emotional intelligence of their current employees (as we’ll discuss below).

However, a word of warning: research shows that a person with more emotional intelligence isn’t necessarily more helpful. In other words, when you consider somebody’s qualifications for a particular role, emotional intelligence is just one of many factors. A good rule-of-thumb might be Skill + Work Ethic + Emotional Intelligence = Successful Professional.

Cultivate a Culture That Encourages Emotional Intelligence

Like any skill, emotional intelligence takes practice. Therefore, organizations should create a culture where employees and managers alike can practice and perfect their emotional intelligence.

The first step is to show your employees that your organization cares. To piggyback off of Carnegie’s quote above, your people already understand the logic behind why you want them to perform well: individual success leads to organizational success. But what about their emotional wellbeing? Do your people know that you care about them as individuals, independent of work performance? Once they do, they’ll be more likely to follow you.

When you gain support on an emotional level, stay at that level.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Remember what we said about the ineffectiveness of stomping your feet to get employees to follow? This is especially true when it comes to matters of emotion. It can be hard to change how we handle situations emotionally, so you must first help your employees see the vision of why you’re asking them to stretch themselves before they’ll be willing to do so.

Set Goals to Increase Emotional Intelligence

After you’ve helped your people catch the vision, actively work to increase emotional intelligence among your workforce.

Stress the importance of actions like empathetic communication and open feedback, and then set goals at every level (e.g., organizational, department, team, and individual) that can be attached to one of the five emotional intelligence pillars.

Here some examples of what these goals could look like:

  • Identify your emotional triggers and discuss them with your teammates
  • Once a month, go to lunch with a coworker who you don’t know very well
  • Show a willingness to be more approachable by asking a teammate for feedback on a project
  • Don’t visit any social media sites during work for an entire month (social media ≠ increased emotional intelligence)
  • Avoid complaining no matter what for an entire week

After you’ve set the goals, encourage employees and managers to talk about them. It may seem awkward at first, especially if your people aren’t accustomed to open communication, but soon everyone will get used it with practice. Steady goal-setting and follow-up to match can lead to greater emotional intelligence.

Use Performance Management Software That Helps Track Goals


A lot of this advice is intuitive: Be aware of yourself and others, and treat people with respect. But like anything else, mastering emotional intelligence takes work; that’s where so many of us go astray. It’s hard to grow emotionally, so we avoid it. Just remember that practicing emotional intelligence begets more emotional intelligence (just like cognitive intelligence!). And the more emotional intelligence you and your people have, the more likely you all are to succeed.

Bryson Kearl

Bryson Kearl is a Copywriter for BambooHR. His role enables him to study HR's impact on organizations, and he is a diehard believer in the vital role HR plays in building company culture by making people the focus of all business efforts.