Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

What is the Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace?

Does emotional intelligence have a part to play in workplace relationships? In handling job related issues? Absolutely!

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has been with us since the mid-1960s. Michael Beldoch (1964) is given the credit for coining the term; while Peter Salavoy and John Mayer (1997) went on to formulate a coherent theoretical framework of Emotional Intelligence and Daniel Goleman (1997) popularized Emotional Intelligence in leadership and the world of work.

Peter Savaloy and John Mayer (1997) initially defined Emotional Intelligence as;

The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, to understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth.”

Peter Savaloy and John Mayer (1997)

They later revised the definition twice firstly as;

“The capacity to reason about emotions and of emotions to enhance thinking. It includes the ability to accurately perceive emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”

Peter Savaloy and John Mayer

Finally, they revised it to;

The ability to monitor one’s own emotions and other people’s emotions, to discriminate and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior”

Peter Savaloy and John Mayer

For our purposes here, we will use Neil Nedley’s definition. Neil Nedley (2001) in his book, Depression: The Way Out defines Emotional Intelligence as,

“Knowing and understanding your emotions and the emotions of others, and responding to these emotions in a healthy way.”

Neil Nedley (2001)

Emotional Intelligence Abilities

Peter Savaloy and John Mayer came up with the Four Emotional Intelligence Abilities Model while Daniel Goleman coined the Five Emotional Intelligence Concepts. The Four EQ Abilities are:

  • Perceiving Emotions
  • Understanding Emotions
  • Using Emotions
  • Managing Emotions

Perceiving Emotions

The ability to perceive emotions in faces, pictures, voices, artifacts, in self and in others. This ability is a primal ability of EQ upon which all other EQ abilities build upon. In other words, one needs to be able to perceive emotions before they can understand emotions, use emotions and manage them.

Understanding Emotions

The ability to understand emotions of self and of others involves distinguish the varying emotions and accurately labeling the emotions.

Using Emotions

The ability to use emotions involves the ability to view emotions as informational resources to be employed to make sense of social environment, navigate it and develop appropriate adaptive behaviors.

Managing Emotions

Managing emotions involves harnessing both positive and negative emotions, without allowing the emotions to drive one’s behavior.

Daniel Goleman’s Five EQ Concepts are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social Skills
  • Empathy
  • Motivation

Let us try to align Salavoy and Mayer’s Model to Daniel Goleman’s Model.

Daniel Goleman’s ModelSalavoy and Mayer’s Model
Self-AwarenessPerceive Emotions
Self-RegulationManaging Emotions
Social SkillsUnderstanding Emotions   Using Emotions Managing Emotions
EmpathyUnderstanding Emotions
MotivationUsing Emotions

For our purposes, we will use the following five key Emotional Intelligence Competencies drawn out of the above EQ Models in our EQ application below.

  • Understanding own emotions
  • Managing own emotions
  • Understanding the emotions of others
  • Managing relationships with others
  • Motivating self for performance and success

Application of emotional intelligence in the workplace is based on research studies that established correlation between EQ and various attributes.

Positive correlation attributes

  • High self-perception
  • Enhanced personal satisfaction
  • High social skills
  • Pleasant personality
  • Negotiation skills
  • Empathy
  • High performance
  • High achievement
  • Success

Negative correlation attributes

  • Anti-social tendencies
  • Deviant behavior
  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Poor lifestyle choices
  • Depression
  • Low performance
  • Low achievement
  • Failure

The research studies have helped make a business case for application of emotional intelligence in the workplace. It also drove interest of the application of emotional intelligence in disciplines like learning, wellness and mental health education.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The competence of understanding own emotions can be applied in various situations for personal effectiveness. In understanding own emotions it is pertinent to acknowledge that thoughts affect emotions in a very profound way, which has a knock on effect on motivation and behavior. If we analyze our thought patterns we thus will be able to perceive our own emotions to increase self-awareness, and use the increased self-awareness for effective management of own emotions and relationship with others. For example if we perceive negative emotions in ourselves, we can manage them to avoid the negative impacts of such negative emotions on our motivation and drive; and harness perceived positive emotions to drive motivation for performance. Let us look at a practical work situation and apply EQ competencies in handling the situation.


An employee has key performance indicators with pressing targets and deadlines for end of term review. The employee can choose to view this as a practical problem or a challenging situation. If he takes the view of that the situation presents a practical problem, he will most likely proceed on the negative pathway, whereas if he views it as a challenge he will proceed on the positive trajectory.

Positive Response

The positive response will view the approaching end of term review as a challenge and an opportunity to prove skills and competence, and achieve performance targets and goals, thus a positive stressor. Such a view is energizing and hence fires up employee with motivation to perform. The motivation to perform will lead to adoption of effective coping strategies like problem solving approaches, development of action plans, strategy development, monitoring of performance, and the cooperation with others for task execution. All the responses chosen by the employee employ critical thinking skills, which further enhance frontal lobe functions, a critical requisite for successful task execution and achievement.

Negative Response

The negative pathway will take the approaching end of term review as a practical problem, and respond with worry, stress, anxiety and even resentment and anger, thus a negative stressor. To cope with the negative emotional responses the employee may adopt ineffective coping strategies, which compound the situation by creating secondary problems. Typical ineffective coping strategies are cognitive distortions, faulty emotional reasoning, and use of mental stimulants. All above strategies have a depressing effect on frontal lobe functions, which arrest critical thinking and motivational capacity. In this case, the employee made the end of term review into a problem, and created secondary problems by poor emotional responses and further compounded the situation by adopting ineffective coping mechanisms to handle poor emotional responses. The situation continues to snowball from one layer of problems to another layer of problems, creating a situation for performance failure.

Applied Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The employee is confronted with pressure to deliver on his key result areas and performance indicators. This is indeed a stressor, but in the first instance, the employee took it as a positive stressor, whereas in the second instance the employee took it as a negative one. A positive stressor energizes and motivates, while a negative one arrests task accomplishment.

An emotionally intelligent way to respond to a practical situation is to harness the stress and pressure as motivators to drive towards performance and success, without engaging in cognitive distortions of labeling the situation a practical problem when it is not one, and responding emotionally to the self-created problem with a secondary set of problems.

In the case were the practical situation presents a practical problem, an emotionally intelligent way to respond would entail acknowledging the problem without creating secondary problems by cognitive distortions and faulty emotional reasoning. 

Want to learn more on how to respond to practical situations in an emotionally intelligent way?

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