Emotional Intelligence: Definition and 5 Ways You Can Improve Yours!

emotional intelligence at work

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, also referred to as EI and EQ, refers to an individual’s ability to manage their emotions in a given situation and understand their feelings. Therefore, emotional intelligence is an understanding of oneself and how your emotions affect your environment and the people around you. An American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, contributed to the definition of emotional intelligence, its importance and the 5 traits associated with EI.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding your emotions and their effects in the workplace, your environment and the people around you can contribute to your success
  • According to Goleman, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill are five characteristics that contribute to an individual’s EI and determines their success
  • Identifying and improving your emotional intelligence will reflect in your workplace, in a leadership or management role, in your interpersonal relationships and at home

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace and in Leadership

A leader must possess emotional intelligence as they represent a larger group, brand or cause. Moreover, EI allows leaders to effectively control their emotions and stay in control when presented with challenging tasks in the workplace. A leader who attains emotional intelligence does not engage in reactive emotions. They detach from emotions to avoid negatively impacting their work environment. EI in the workplace is critical as it allows for individuals to have accountability and to carry out tasks with a ‘solution-focused’ approach.

Therefore, a successful leader will acquire both hard and soft skills, such as EI, to excel in the workplace, which further influences job satisfaction and academic performance.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Relationships

Additionally, building and maintaining strong, long-lasting interpersonal relationships heavily relies on an individual’s emotional intelligence. EI helps in setting boundaries within relationships and builds empathy in your relationships. You are likely to be more aware of the impacts and consequences of your emotions on others, which influences you to perceive situations from the other’s perspective.

What are the 5 Characteristics of Signs of Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence at work


An emotionally intelligent individual can distinguish how they feel, understand why they feel the way they do and know how they affect their surroundings. Self-awareness leads to identifying one’s strengths and weaknesses, an essential factor in leadership and career. Being aware of one’s strengths often equates to a strong sense of self and self-confidence. Identifying your weaknesses showcases opportunity and openness to self-improvement and self-evaluation.


Similarly, self-regulated individual is in control and can understand themselves and their reactions effectively. They are committed to accountability and do not engage with their irrational thoughts or irrational decisions.


Self-motivated individuals work consistently towards their end goals and are determined by their motivation. They can take the initiative and complete tasks in an action-oriented manner and possess an ‘inner drive’.


Furthermore, an empathetic person who understands various perspectives is able to ‘put themselves in others’ shoes’ in a given situation. Effective, empathetic leaders can feel the emotions of the group at large. Hence, empathy is a crucial trait as it allows for individual development, team development, constructive feedback and overall obtaining respect from your surroundings in the workplace and in a leadership role.

Social Skills

If you have developed adequate social skills, you can engage in open dialogue using verbal and non-verbal cues such as eye contact, body language, and active listening. In this way, you can manage and effectively resolve conflict. A leader who possesses this skill will likely set examples with their behaviour and social skills management.

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How Can You Tell if Someone is Emotionally Intelligent?

Thus, you can identify if one is emotionally intelligent by assessing if they can manage their emotions in frustrating situations or in stressful times in and out of the workplace. It is also determined their ability to effectively respond and detach from their emotions to deal with conflicts or disputes. An emotionally intelligent individual will acquire all five traits mentioned above, with an emphasis on self-awareness.

The Professional Leadership Institute provides training on Managing Underperformers in the Workplace and offers a free preview.

8 Ways to Develop/Improve Your Emotional Intelligence Today


Write down your thoughts on a daily basis to improve self-awareness and help understand your emotions. Once you understand your emotions, you can work on managing them.

Holding yourself accountable

In addition, accountability is identifying and understanding your own mistakes, admitting them and not blaming, deflecting or projecting onto others. To hold yourself accountable, think about your interactions with people and assess how you felt during them and after. Did you manage your emotions and project your thoughts in an effective manner? What could you do to improve the outcome next time?

Maintain an optimistic mindset

An individual who is hopeful and looking at the positive even when challenges and difficulties present themselves will help excel in emotional management, leadership and aid in one’s career. One way to maintain a positive outlook is to keep a gratitude journal.

Be aware of your stance

Identify where you stand in terms of leadership and your motivation. Take a Leadership Motivation Assessment to help distinguish where you stand.

Put yourself in someone else’s position

Look at another persons’ situation and try to understand their point of view in order to build emotional intelligence. Ask yourself, ‘What if I was in their shoes?’ ‘What would I be feeling?’ etc.

Identify and understand body language

Being able to read someone’s body language appropriately helps respond to the situation properly while being mindful. It also helps to understand your own body language as a leader.

Learn and practice conflict resolution skills

Understanding conflict resolution skills is essential in resolving disputes within teams, the workplace and your relationships. Assess your abilities and enhance them through practice.

Practice your communication skills

Improving communication skills is very important as a leader and contributes to EI. Practice your ability to get your message across, in order to resolve conflicts and become an effective leader.

What Causes Low Emotional Intelligence?

The first cause of low emotional intelligence is a person’s upbringing. An individual’s upbringing can affect their level of emotional intelligence and contribute to their low EQ score if their parents and their environment as a child lacked the five characteristic signs of EI mentioned above. Childhood trauma also contributes to low emotional intelligence due to the disruption of emotional processing during critical years of development.

The second cause is the lack of awareness of one-self and their positionality relative to their surroundings and how their emotions can negatively affect the environment and disrupt their workplace, career and relationships.

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