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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Emotional Intelligence

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, express, and manage one’s emotions appropriately as well as recognize and understand the emotions of others. An individual’s level of emotional intelligence can be measured in a standardized test that generates an emotional quotient, or EQ (as opposed to IQ, which refers to cognitive intelligence). The concept of emotional intelligence as it pertains to the workplace was popularized by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, who published the book Emotional Intelligence in 1995.

The Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

Goleman identified five pillars that work together to form emotional intelligence. These pillars include:

  • Self-awareness: Self-awareness allows you to understand your own strengths, weaknesses, and emotions and how they affect others.

  • Self-regulation: Self-regulation is the ability to manage your impulses and emotions rather than lashing out or making rash decisions in the heat of the moment.

  • Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is what inspires you to do your best work beyond external factors like paychecks or promotions.

  • Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand how others feel and how to treat them based on their emotional reactions.

  • Social skills: Social skills help you make friends, build trust, and develop a rapport with other people.

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in the Workplace

Improving emotional intelligence can help people succeed both personally and professionally. In one survey, 71 percent of hiring managers said high emotional intelligence in a candidate is more important than high IQ. This is because those with high emotional intelligence are more likely to:

  • Remain calm under pressure

  • Resolve conflict effectively

  • Behave empathetically

  • Lead by example

  • Carefully consider business decisions

Emotional intelligence is especially important for leaders to master since so much of their job involves working with others. Goleman writes, “For leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.”

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Practicing emotional intelligence is a little more challenging than, say, practicing the piano. The related skills are more abstract and take time to develop. However, setting goals that focus on the pillars of emotional intelligence can help you make progress. Here are some example goals you could use:

  • Identify your emotional triggers and discuss them with your teammates

  • Once a month, go to lunch with a coworker whom you don’t know very well

  • Ask a teammate for honest feedback on a recent project

  • Avoid complaining for an entire week

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