Does EQ Matter in the Workplace?

November 9, 2020

[This is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is available for purchase on Amazon.]

The burly, barrel-chested vice president of operations entered the meeting room and the mood quickly dropped from jovial to somber. Earlier in the week Jonathon had reprimanded two meeting attendees, lashed out at a third, and mocked another. His frequent use of sarcasm, although greeted encouragingly by one team member, made him hard to read. No one knew exactly what they were going to get in their interactions with Jonathon, but they were always on guard. Though he was respected due to his subject matter expertise and his executive position, Jonathon’s peers, direct-reports, and external vendors all found it difficult to work with him effectively.

Jonathon had little self-awareness, an inability to control his reactions, was unable to read or care about what others were feeling, and had lost the trust of those he worked with. Jonathon had very low emotional intelligence, and this was undermining his effectiveness and would ultimately jeopardize his career.

All humans are emotional beings, and emotions are not something you can ignore or leave at home when you go to work. Feeling emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love, surprise, disgust, and shame provides you with valuable information. As with any other data, your emotions can enable you to make better decisions in how you work and how you live.

The information emotions provide can be appreciated or discounted, but emotions cannot be ignored. When emotions are ignored, they can show up negatively within your behavior. These behaviors show up in your interactions with others where they can undermine your intentions and result in friction. Such behaviors could include overreacting to feedback or an offhand comment, “flying off the handle,” or becoming unhinged. You may be unable to control your anger, disappointment, or jealousy and have it show up as rage, defensiveness, or spite. Emotions can be revealed in less dramatic ways such as in passive-aggressive behavior, where the external expression is not consistent with the underlying emotion. Passive-aggressive behavior can result when you avoid responsibility or refuse to directly express your concerns or needs. Emotions can also be suppressed or not intentionally expressed, but this often leads to them leaking out in unintended and potentially consequential ways. Your emotions have great power to help or hurt you. The good news is that you can choose how to harness that power.

Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, a great deal of energy and excitement has been generated around understanding emotional intelligence. Individuals and organizations around the world have sought to learn and embrace ways of improving emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” It has also become a major component of many leadership development programs and an important part of executive coaching. In the workplace, it is critical to be aware of your emotions because they are revealed in your behavior. This behavior can either support or undermine your overall effectiveness.

Not long ago, 30 percent of all work was collaborative and 70 percent was the result of individual contributions. That has since been reversed as the majority of work now requires collaboration and effective interaction with other people. Even when jobs are conducted remotely, it has become increasingly common for them to be performed in teams. When such interaction is face-to-face, it’s critical that you are in touch with your emotions and are able to read the emotions of others. When the interaction is compromised because it is done via phone calls, video conferences, email, Slack messages, or text, it is even more critical that you are able to effectively connect because you are missing the essential nonverbal feedback of being in another person’s physical presence. And although some jobs require little interaction with other people, all of us will need to interact with others—even if it is only our direct supervisor. Managing that relationship effectively is extremely important. In most organizations, your advancement opportunities typically require not only working with others, but often supervising others as a manager or director. In fact, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you will be interacting with others rather than primarily staring at a spreadsheet or writing emails. Working effectively with others requires EQ.

Emotional intelligence is an excellent indicator of success in the workplace and is often used to identify team players and good leaders as well as people who are better suited to working alone. Increasingly, when it comes to gauging job candidates, companies are viewing emotional intelligence as an integral factor, once technical skills and work experience are considered.

Daniel Goleman makes a strong case for a direct link between emotional intelligence and workplace performance in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Goleman presents data showing that 67 percent of competencies deemed as essential for high performance within one’s work career are grounded in one’s emotional intelligence. In fact, one’s emotional intelligence is believed to matter nearly twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ, where high performance within one’s career is concerned. Perhaps not surprisingly, EQ was also found to be of the greatest advantage at the highest levels of leadership.

[Learn more about Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace.]