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What is emotional intelligence and why is it important in the workplace?

We explore what emotional intelligence means and why it plays such an important role within the workplace.

Three men talking to eachother at a table.

Emotions aren’t always what they seem – humans are complex beings with an array of emotions that can be hard to read. For example, someone displaying angry emotions could, in fact, be masking a great sadness. Having the ability to read these emotions and understand where they arise from is known as emotional intelligence. 

In this article, we will look at what emotional intelligence means and discuss its importance in the workplace. We’ll explore the skills needed to reach a high level of emotional intelligence, the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace, and delve into some examples.

What is emotional intelligence? 

Peter Salovey and John D Mayer coined the term’ emotional intelligence’ back in 1990. Emotional intelligence was then popularised by author and psychologist Daniel Goleman as a result of his book on the subject. 

So, what does EI mean? Emotional intelligence, or EI for short, is the ability to recognise and understand emotions. This is paired with harnessing, handling, and managing these emotions. Rather than just letting your emotions run wild, emotionally intelligent individuals can control their own emotions and comprehend the emotions of others.

It’s not uncommon to act on impulse or act in a way that we later regret. And whilst we cannot go back in time and change what we may have said or done, we can use emotional intelligence skills to shape how we see the situation. By applying these skills to certain tasks and controlling how we feel about them, we can use these skills to guide our thinking and action.

How can you measure your emotional intelligence? 

Whilst there is no set way to measure your EQ level, there are four ways that you can go about trying to gauge your emotional intelligence. These first three methods include self-reporting, other-reporting, and ability tests. 

The self-reporting method is where you answer questions about yourself on a scale of 1-5. Other-reporting is similar, but your colleagues are asked to answer the questions about you instead. Self-reporting isn’t the ideal way to measure your EQ as the answers will depend on your opinion of yourself rather than your true skill level. 

Ability reports are made up of questions that directly test your ability to identify and regulate emotions. This is opposed to the more opinion-based questions in the prior two. 

There are many EQ tests available online, but you should be cautious using these as not all of them are reliable indicators of your EQ. 

The fourth method and most popular way to measure your emotional intelligence is the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). This method comprises smaller sub-tests that measure the ability to identify, understand and manage emotions. 

Characteristics of emotional intelligence

What does emotional intelligence look like? There are five main characteristics of emotional intelligence outlined by Psychologist Daniel Goleman. The characteristics are as follows: 


This involves being able to identify your own emotions and acknowledge where your feelings stem from. An emotionally intelligent individual should recognise emotions and realise what triggered those emotions.  


You can self-regulate your emotions by taking a step back and thinking about why you are feeling a certain way. You can then evaluate how you want to address this. Understanding emotions and thinking logically about how you want to feel can result in much more positive feelings. 


The ability to empathise with others is a crucial part of becoming emotionally intelligent. To empathise with someone involves understanding the position that the other person is in. This way you can truly imagine their feelings and emotions. Those with strong empathy skills are able to see things from other perspectives and are able to be more inclusive and welcoming.


When you are able to regulate your emotions, you’ll find it much easier to motivate yourself to do things. Feeling more positive about outcomes can lead to feeling more motivated to carry out tasks. You’ll crave positive emotions and inner fulfilment as opposed to external rewards. 

This also applies to motivating others; emotionally intelligent individuals can help recognise other people’s emotions. They can do this by adjusting their own behaviours and responses to help guide them towards positive outcomes and goals.

Social skills 

To use your emotional intelligence to help others, you’ll need to have strong social skills. This involves communicating with others effectively and efficiently. You’ll need to voice your thoughts and help guide others, which is particularly important for those interested in leadership roles. 

To get started on building your social skills, explore our range of expert communication courses, including our Communication and Interpersonal Skills at Work course.

EQ vs IQ

Is the emotional quotient more important than the intellectual quotient? This is a common question asked in regard to emotional intelligence. Many people tend to dismiss EQ as being less important, but both aspects are, in fact, extremely important. Whilst IQ is a strong indicator of your capabilities and potential, EQ has a huge influence on success in many areas. 

High levels of EQ have been proven to correlate with high levels of career success, satisfaction, and relationship success. That being said, IQ still remains an important factor and has also been linked to similar outcomes. Having a high EQ can be the difference-maker when it comes to securing a job or promotion, especially if your competitors share similar IQ levels to yourself. 

Importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace

Emotional intelligence plays a huge role in many aspects of work. Those who have never heard of the term may question the validity of EQ. However, there is evidence that shows a direct correlation between emotional intelligence and many career-related aspects. Studies have proven the link between emotional intelligence and career success, job performance, and stronger mental health. 

It’s worth mentioning that emotional intelligence can be even more critical for certain roles in the workplace. Take human resources, for example – a role like this involves a lot of conflict resolution and addressing employee emotions. Management and leadership roles will also involve a lot of communication, motivating people, and allocating tasks, all of which would be improved with greater EQ levels. That being said, high levels of EQ will have a positive impact on any role.

Having a high level of emotional intelligence doesn’t just benefit you in a workplace setting – it can have a positive impact on many aspects of your life. Being able to understand and manage emotions can lead to an overall better outlook on life and leave you feeling more positive about yourself and situations. 

Benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace

So, we now know why emotional intelligence is such a great skill to have. But what are the benefits of having a high level of emotional intelligence in the workplace? 

Positive interactions

At work, you are likely to find yourself communicating with coworkers, supervisors, stakeholders, and potential customers. This leaves a lot of room for interactions where emotions are involved, and emotional intelligence can be the difference-maker in these interactions being positive. 

Creating connections

Tied in with positive interactions, emotional intelligence opens up opportunities to make strong connections. Understanding others and coming out of interactions with a more positive attitude can really increase your chances of making meaningful connections. This is great for networking, general interactions at work and also great for your personal life.

Motivating others 

Once you have a strong understanding of your own emotions and how to read and adjust the emotions of others, you’ll be in a position to motivate other people. You can help coworkers become more productive and be their best selves. This is particularly important for those looking for leadership positions as you’ll be in control of other members of staff and be responsible for guiding them. 

Career prospects

A high EQ is a desirable trait for employees to have, especially seeing as it correlates to job performance. It goes without saying that employers will seek those out who will perform better, so having a high level of emotional intelligence could potentially open doors to new roles and opportunities. 

Emotional intelligence skills

You may be wondering how to increase your emotional intelligence skills, so let’s look at some skills that emotionally intelligent individuals have. If you’re keen to increase your EQ, you can start by working on these skills.

Reading others emotions

Deciphering the words that are said isn’t the only way to read emotions when interacting with people. You could also consider their tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and general body language. You can start by asking more questions about how people are feeling and becoming more curious about how they started feeling the emotion that they’re currently feeling. 

It’s important to note that not everyone will communicate in the same way. Some individuals may have different ways of expressing their emotions and feelings, or primarily show emotions through vocal means. You should make an effort to be inclusive and understand emotions in different ways. 

For example, some neurodivergent individuals may not find it easy to read or express emotions through expressions and body language. In this case, you could ask more questions to gauge your coworkers’ emotions or use written methods of communication instead. It’s important to find a way of communication that both parties are comfortable with. 

Navigating high-pressure situations

You can use your understanding of emotions to manipulate high-pressure situations such as arguments or general conflict. With a strong understanding of how emotions occur and what they mean, you could introduce a fun or calming energy into a tense situation to diffuse it. This, again, is a very important skill for those looking to start a leadership role.

Be open

You can help increase your emotional intelligence by being more honest and open about your own emotions. This helps others around you by allowing them to think more about emotions. It can also help you to voice your own emotions and acknowledge them. Discussing emotions can also help build up a curiosity about emotions, which is another crucial step to becoming emotionally intelligent.

If you’d like to learn how to build your curiosity, check out our Innovative Leadership: Developing Curiosity course. 

Examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace 

What does emotional intelligence look like in the workplace? Let’s look at some examples of emotional intelligence at work:


One great example of emotional intelligence at work is receiving constructive criticism. This can be an extremely tricky experience for many people and often results in a quick response of negative emotions. Rather than reacting negatively, emotionally intelligent individuals will reflect on the situation and turn it into a positive outcome. 

If you’re able to use criticism constructively and take it as a learning experience, you’ll have the chance to better yourself and work towards your goals. 

Supporting coworkers

If a colleague is having a tough day – perhaps they’ve had some bad news or their workload is overwhelming – you can use your skills to help lessen their stress levels. Understanding their emotions and lending a helping hand to increase their positive emotions can lead to a happier workplace.

Empathy really comes into play here. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes will let you really engage with them and make a difference. This can be a great way to start communicating with diverse audiences, as you’ll begin to understand things from everyone’s perspective. 

Productivity at work

An environment where everyone is encouraged to think about their emotions rather than acting on impulse can boost productivity. Stronger relationships are built, people are motivated to work harder, and there is less likely to be conflict in the way of work. Studies have proven that those with stronger EQ levels have significantly higher numbers of sales in sales roles, so it’s easy to see how productivity can be boosted with emotional intelligence.

Final thoughts

Emotional intelligence is clearly an important aspect of thriving in the workplace – it’ll open up new opportunities and let you connect with others. Not to mention the increased levels of positivity and satisfaction you’ll be unlocking with the ability to manage your emotions. 

For those of you interested in developing your emotional intelligence, check out our Emotional Intelligence at work course. 

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