What Is Emotional Intelligence And Why Is It Important?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Emotional intelligence involves managing your emotions and recognising the emotions of those around you. This ability may help you have the proper social skills to handle different workplace situations successfully. Understanding what emotional intelligence is may help you build healthy relationships and maintain a positive work performance. In this article, we answer the question, "What is emotional intelligence?", explain why it's important, provide its characteristics and explain how you can improve your emotional intelligence.

Related: What Are Social Skills? (Definition, Examples and Tips)

What is emotional intelligence?

Knowing the answer to ,"What is emotional intelligence?" is important in recognising, understanding and managing your own emotions. Emotional intelligence involves understanding and influencing the emotions of others. You may use it to have an awareness of the emotions drive behaviours and impact others positively or negatively.

Emotional intelligence is a useful ability that allows you to better connect with others and ensure that you behave appropriately, despite any negative emotions that you may feel. You can develop this skill to ensure that you choose your behaviours, rather than allowing your emotions to control your actions. Taking time to hone and build on these skills can help you become better at building relationships and accomplishing shared tasks.

Related: How To Build Relationships at Work: A Step-by-Step Guide

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Emotional intelligence is important because it has an affect on numerous aspects of your professional and personal life. Using emotional intelligence to maintain appropriate and professional behaviour may help you better connect with others around you, like friends and colleagues. Here are some factors that emotional intelligence can impact:

  • Your work performance: Emotional intelligence may help you understand your emotions while working, and you may use it to ensure that you maintain professionalism and coordinate your schedule to fit your tasks. For instance, if you recognise that you're feeling unmotivated to complete your tasks, you may take more breaks throughout the day or reach out to colleagues for help.

  • Your work relationships: While collaborating with colleagues, you may use emotional intelligence to express your feelings by providing feedback respectfully or contributing your ideas effectively. You may also use understand your team member's emotions so that you can adapt your actions to help them feel comfortable, like if you offer support to your colleague that's feeling overwhelmed by their workload.

  • Your health: Understanding and managing your emotions may help you avoid potential health issues caused by high stress levels. You may better identify stressful feelings and resolve the issue or situation that may cause these emotions.

Related: How to Improve Work Performance: 16 Tips to Help You

5 characteristics of emotional intelligence

Here are the five elements of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness may help you to have a deeper understanding of your emotions. You may recognise your emotional triggers, like if working with numerous clients throughout the day often causes you to feel stress. You can also use self-awareness to know how your actions, behaviours and emotions impact individuals around you.

2. Self-regulation

Self-regulation allows you to manage and adapt your emotions to complete your tasks more effectively. For example, if you enter your workplace with negative feelings, you may regulate your emotions to maintain a polite and professional attitude. Doing so may have a powerful impact on others, which can create a healthy environment in your workplace. For example, if you regulate your emotions to maintain a positive attitude, you may create a pleasant work environment.

3. Motivation

Motivation involves the desire to activate a behaviour. It often enables you to complete a task or perform an action. Your motivation may waiver depending on your stress levels and work environment. You may use emotional intelligence to identify when you're not feeling motivated to maintain a positive work performance. This may enable you to complete the proper tasks to help you enhance your motivation, like setting short-term goals or finding ways to improve your environment.

Related: How to Increase Intrinsic Motivation (Plus Why it's Important)

4. Empathy

Empathy involves recognising the feelings of others. It's common to determine another individual's emotions by analysing their body language and tone while speaking. By identifying others' emotions, you may handle situations properly. For example, if you notice that a colleague is using open body language and a pleasant tone, you might gather that they are in a cheerful mood.

5. Social skills

Social skills involve the abilities that help you interact with those around you. Using emotional intelligence may help you understand the proper social interaction for the situation. Having social skills may allow you speak, listen and react appropriately when interacting with colleagues, which may create strong work relationships.

How to improve emotional intelligence

While it can take time and practise, you may improve each element of emotional intelligence. Here are four steps you can take to enhance these skills:

1. Practise awareness

Take time during the business week to pay special attention to the interactions around you, both yours and others. Listen to what others are telling you through their words, body language and facial expressions. Observing the way people use and react to emotion can help you fine-tune your own ability to empathise. Also, consider identifying your triggers that may cause negative emotions, so that you can better adapt your environment to allow for positive feelings.

Related: What Is Communication? (And Its Importance in the Workplace)

2. Look inward

While observing others and their interactions can be helpful, monitoring your own emotions and responses can also increase your emotional awareness. Consider how your own emotions influence your decisions and behaviours. For example, you might notice that when you're experiencing stress, you can be short-tempered with others. Or when you're feeling sad or disappointed, you might notice your shoulders slouch or your head points downward. Doing so may improve your self-regulation techniques and allow you to maintain a positive attitude while working, regardless of your feelings.

3. React and respond to others

Practise addressing and working with others based on the way you observe what they are feeling. A helpful method when deciding how you can react is to consider how you like prefer others to treat you in the same circumstances. It's important to keep in mind that know others don't always have the same reactions that you do in similar situations. For example, while you might enjoy talking about your emotions with others when you feel anxious or stressed, others might prefer to process their emotions alone. If you're unsure, ask them about their preference at that moment.

4. Learn from your previous social interactions

Try analysing your previous social interactions to find areas of improvement. If you find that you misinterpreted a certain emotion or the way you handled someone's feelings did not work well, learn from your mistakes and treat the situation differently in the future. Try not to view previous misinterpretations as mistakes and instead use them as opportunities to grow your social skills.

5. Listen for feedback

When improving your emotional intelligence, try listening to how others respond to you during conversations or in social situations. You might also ask for feedback on your emotional intelligence from your supervisor or a trusted colleague. This may help you gauge how well you understand others' emotions and identify any areas of improvement in your social skills. After hearing feedback, you can be mindful of improvements in future situations. For example, if a colleague mentions that you might consider improving your self-regulation abilities, you might try to be more mindful of your actions when you're feeling strong emotions.

Related: 10 Examples of Positive Feedback (With Tips for Giving It)

Example of emotional intelligence in the workplace

While we do use emotional intelligence in all areas of our lives, there are specific ways we use this skill at work with our colleagues, clients and managers. Here is an example of when you may use emotional intelligence to maintain a positive attitude in the workplace:

During a review of a recent project you put together, you receive professional criticism about certain ways that you may improve the project's plans. After the meeting, you feel upset and anxious since you planned completing the project soon. To practise emotional intelligence, you sit down and recognise the emotions you're feeling.

You notice that you're feeling unmotivated to make the changes that management requested. After processing your emotions, you realise that you were focusing on the negative because of the large amount of time and effort that you put into creating the project plans. To help you feel more motivated, you take a short break to relax, then you begin making the changes.

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