While traits like persistence and self-discipline are key to getting ahead in the workplace, skills like EQ can often be overlooked.

Colleagues at work talking Share on Pinterest
Tom Werner/Getty Images

You’ve probably heard a lot about IQ throughout your life. Short for intelligence quotient, IQ is what’s used to measure a person’s ability to reason, and it is often connected with how intelligent a person is perceived to be.

Emotional intelligence (EQ), on the other hand, refers to a person’s ability to recognize, use, understand, and manage their emotions in a positive way.

People who display emotional intelligence may seem composed under pressure and can understand where other people are coming from in a situation.

When you think of someone with a high EQ, they may be that friend or co-worker who seems to empathize with other people effortlessly and keeps their own emotions in check during stressful situations.

While intelligence is generally regarded as the ability to learn new things and apply wisdom to problem-solving in life, EQ is the ability to understand yourself emotionally and apply your conclusions to the world around you.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman popularized the term “emotional intelligence” during the 1990s with his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”

In his book, Goleman outlines five key components of high EQ:

  • Self-awareness. Self-awareness relates to having an understanding of how you behave and react to situations and people and how those impact others in your life, while also understanding your own limitations.
  • Self-regulation. Managing your emotions and thinking before you react to situations, especially in difficult circumstances, is known as self-regulation.
  • Motivation. Motivation is the drive for self-growth and development.
  • Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand others’ feelings without judgement, even when a person is different from you.
  • Social skills. Having awareness of other people and how to communicate with them by listening, engaging, and making others feel welcome to talk to you are all social skills.

What are people with high emotional intelligence like?

Everyone’s personality is different, regardless of their EQ.

However, a person with high emotional intelligence may display the five characteristics listed by Goleman more than someone with a lower EQ.

A person with a high EQ might come across as more approachable and empathetic. They may seem calm and collected during stressful or emotional times. They might also have a drive to improve and better themselves.

People with higher EQs may listen to a person’s point of view, process it, and think before responding.

While traits like creativity and optimism are thought to be important keys to success, emotional intelligence may also be associated with many benefits that could help you get a leg up in life.

According to the World Economic Forum, emotional intelligence is one of the top 10 skills needed for professional success in 2020 and beyond.

People value “success” broadly and doesn’t always translate to how much money you make. However,there may be a connection between emotional intelligence and a higher salary.

It’s common for some workplaces to give employees personality tests to help determine what roles they might be best suited for. But personality tests don’t measure EQ.

Knowing the emotional intelligence of employees can help organizations understand, to some degree, how an employee might manage their emotions and stress, as well as interact with co-workers and clients.

A person’s emotional intelligence might provide insight into which tasks and responsibilities at work are appropriate for them.

For example, a person with high EQ in the workplace might:

  • understand co-workers, empathize with them, and know how to best interact with them
  • know how to adjust to meet deadlines
  • take criticism well and improve based on feedback
  • be open to making adjustments and improving the overall workplace

Emotional intelligence and leadership

Similarly to success, there are many positive traits that might be attributed to effective leadership, like clear communication and confidence. A high EQ may also be beneficial in leadership roles, especially when working with others or on teams.

For leaders and managers, EQ can be essential for:

  • understanding and communicating with co-workers
  • motivating employees and teammates
  • ensuring co-workers and employees are engaged and interested in the work

Emotional intelligence might come naturally to some people, but that isn’t always the case for every personality type.

There are many strategies that can help strengthen EQ. With work and self-awareness, cultivating a higher EQ may be possible.

You may have to try different things before you notice a change in yourself. For many people, a combination of several methods can be most effective in improving EQ.

When upsetting or stressful situations arise, pay attention and recognize the emotions you are feeling.

Be aware of how you typically react in emotional situations. No matter how upset you may be, it’s often helpful to wait before immediately reacting.

For instance, if a friend upsets you because they keep canceling plans you’ve made, pay attention to how the situation makes you feel before responding to them. If you are mad, let time pass before sending your friend a note letting them know how hurt you are.

You can ask loved ones, family, friends, or co-workers to help evaluate your emotional intelligence. You might ask them if you seem to have the following traits:

If they offer feedback, it may be beneficial to consider how you might improve your EQ.

Mindfulness, a habit of focusing on the moment rather than worrying about things that are far off or out of your control, may help with self-awareness and taking control of your emotional response.

Practicing mindfulness may also help reduce stress by keeping you grounded and better able to handle stressful or emotional situations.

Enhance your empathy

Becoming more empathetic by understanding diverse perspectives is a key facet of high EQ.

Listening to stories or consuming art and media made by people who have different life circumstances than yours can be very enriching for emotional intelligence.

Some ways to broaden your emotional horizons and build empathy might be:

  • reading articles or books
  • watching movies
  • listening to podcasts
  • appreciating art

EQ measures a person’s positive emotional response and ability to recognize and understand another’s emotions. While EQ may have been overlooked in the past, emotional intelligence is now commonly recognized as an important part of a person’s personality.

EQ can be beneficial in the workplace, especially when it comes to managing stress and working with others. High emotional intelligence may be particularly helpful for those in leadership roles who manage others.

If you feel like you may need to improve your EQ, know that you are not alone. Emotional intelligence doesn’t always come easily for every person or personality type, but cultivating higher EQ is possible.

Strategies like maintaining emotional self-awareness and enhancing empathy are a few ways you can achieve higher EQ.

Like most self-improvement strategies, you may have to try different things before you find what is most helpful for you. Often, trying multiple things together can be effective in improving EQ.

As you navigate where you stand with your own EQ, taking an emotional intelligence assessment test or reviewing an emotional and social competence inventory may be helpful before seeking support.