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How to Use Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Topics: Retention

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the BambooHR blog.

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

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Setting Examples of Emotional Intelligence at Work

The advantages of emotional intelligence at work are many and the organizations that tap into the power 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 turn off their emotions when they go to work—nor should they!

The key 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, 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. Consider this rule-of-thumb:

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 further explore 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.

Remember what we said about the ineffectiveness of using threats to get employees to follow? This is especially true when it comes to changing employees’ emotional habits. Emotions are stubborn, 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.

When you gain support on an emotional level, stay at that level. If you return to giving commands after appealing to employee emotions, then the emotional groundwork you’ve invested in comes across as manipulation instead of caring. Part of true emotional intelligence involves being genuine, and a genuine example of emotional intelligence is much more inspiring than words alone.

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., organization, department, team, and individual) that can be attached to one of the five emotional intelligence pillars.

Here are 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
  • 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 with practice everyone will get used to it. Steady goal-setting and follow-up to match can lead to greater emotional intelligence.


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 everyone will succeed.

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