Last updated: 08.04.21

What is emotional intelligence?

Dictionary definition:

(n) the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

(Oxford Dictionary)

Emotional intelligence, often known as EI or EQ, is an awareness and understanding of emotions – both of oneself and of others. It has become a buzz term in the workplace of late because the benefits it brings to the workplace are really starting to be recognised.

The five characteristics of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who carried out ground-breaking research into emotional intelligence, concluded that there were five characteristics of emotional intelligence:


Self-awareness is the ability to recognise your own emotions, reactions and their causes, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.


Self-regulation, which links nicely to self-awareness, is the ability to control how you react. People who can’t self-regulate often lash out or make impulsive comments or decisions that they can regret later. Therefore, self-regulation helps people avoid reactions or situations like those.


Motivation includes traits such as drive, focus, taking initiative, and commitment. People who have these characteristics often lead by example and are considered inspiring.


Empathic people can gauge the emotions of others, recognise how they feel, and will try and understand things from others’ points of views.

Social skills

People who are emotionally intelligent often have excellent social skills, which mean they are often found to be approachable and are great at communicating, interacting, listening, and collaborating.

So, within a business or organisation, who absolutely needs to have emotional intelligence? Without a doubt, the leaders and managers.

What makes a good leader?

The leaders and managers in a company are an essential part in the creation of the company culture. As part of their role will involve managing, whether that is one person or a team of twenty, emotional intelligence will play an important part in the success of their responsibilities. They need to have good communication skills, be able to coach and mentor, create a team culture, manage remote teams, listen effectively, influence, and negotiate. Yes, a leader needs knowledge, authority, strategic thinking and technical skill – but studies, such as Daniel Goleman’s work, are now illustrating why that isn’t enough. They need to lead themselves, others and the organisation.

Why emotional intelligence underpins good qualities in a leader

All the skills listed above rely on communication, and by understanding themselves and others, which is what comes with emotional intelligence, a leader will be able to thrive.

People with emotional intelligence demonstrate traits and actions such as: explaining how they feel, embracing change, recognising their own strengths and weaknesses and using them appropriately, letting go of mistakes, and being curious about people. They aren’t easily offended and you could say they have strength of character.

They will strive to understand their team by helping others to communicate, picking up on non-verbal cues and actively listening.

Actions like these can make the difference between a manager who shuts down a meeting because they don’t like what they’re hearing, and another who listens to feedback and acknowledges where they might be at fault – even if it might not be easy hearing! Or the difference between a manager who is in tune with their team’s emotions, and notices when someone is unusually quiet or subdued, and then reaches out to see if there is something wrong, and one who doesn’t notice at all.

If your leaders and managers have high levels of emotional intelligence and can really connect and understand their team, there is going to be better team engagement and better performance, which, in turn, is great for your organisation.

Why it’s important in the workplace

And that is why emotional intelligence is beneficial to the workplace. It underpins our work relationships entirely, which is vital because they are key to the running of the business, and how well they work can have an impact on projects, morale, or even the business’s success.

Overall, employees want to thrive, they want to do well, and they want to be part of a business where they are valued and their needs are recognised – and having leaders that are empathic and self-aware will be a step towards that. And if employees feel like that? They won’t be leaving in a hurry. Ultimately it can have a positive impact on your employee turnover.

How it can be developed

Luckily, emotional intelligence isn’t something a person either has or doesn’t have. It can be developed. Naturally, training can help here and is a great way to introduce the topic and gain knowledge about how we can improve or develop our emotional intelligence.

Why not have a look at our practical, bite-sized emotional intelligence course, which is a great introduction. It also acts as a great support to our range of leadership and management courses.