Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace - A Complete Guide | Thomas.co

Over the years we have come to understand that being smart gets you to the top - think of all of the films and all the stories you’ve heard about someone excelling in school and reaching the heights of success. But if you were to look more closely at these same stories and films you’d come to realise that many of these successes are in fact down to another magical ingredient; emotional intelligence. 

Being capable of understanding more than fluid reasoning or ‘how smart someone is’ is where emotional intelligence in the workplace has started to shine. Understanding how someone is feeling and having the ability to understand and perceive emotion has become a skill that great leaders, team superstars and CEOs have had to harness. 

In this guide we’re going to take a closer look at what emotional intelligence in the workplace is, the benefits, the five elements of emotional intelligence, the difference between EQ and IQ, examples of EI in the workplace, how you can improve on it and finally, some example questions and tests on emotional intelligence. 



What is emotional intelligence in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

Those with high EQ are also sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others. In the workplace, EQ makes for happy workers, productive teams, and unified companies. 

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others claim it's an inborn characteristic.

The Emotional Intelligence theories can be divided into three distinct models: the Ability Model, Mixed Model, and Trait Model.

The Ability model was developed by Peter Salovey of Yale University and John Mayer of University of New Hampshire.

  • Perceiving emotions: understanding nonverbal signs such as other people's body language or facial expressions (Salovey & Birnbaum).
  • Reasoning with Emotions: using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity (Salovey & Birnbaum).
  • Understanding Emotions: Interpreting emotions of others around you, being able to recognise people display emotions of anger when they might not be angry at you but rather the situation.
  • Managing Emotions: regulating emotions, responding appropriately and consistently.

The Mixed Model was developed by David Goleman. Goleman's model uses "The Five Components" to efficiently describe emotional intelligence.  We will look at this model in more detail later in the guide. 

  • Self-Awareness (confidence, recognition of feelings).
  • Self-Regulation (self-control, trustworthiness, adaptability).
  • Motivation (drive, commitment, initiative, optimism).
  • Empathy (understanding others feelings, diversity, political awareness).
  • Social Skills (leadership, conflict management, communication skills).

The Trait Model was developed by Konstantin Vasily Petrides. He defined the trait model as "a constellation of emotional self-perceptions located at the lower levels of personality."

  • Ones understanding and perception of their emotions.
  • The use of personality framework to investigate trait emotional intelligence.

The benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace

Why does emotional intelligence in the workplace matter? There have been many studies which have shown countless benefits of having EQ in the workplace but not only is it good for individuals it’s good for their organisations as well.

Some of the various benefits include:

  • People with high EQ earn more

Research has shown that people with high emotional intelligence can earn an average of up to $29,000 more annually than those who score low on EQ. In fact, for each percentage-point increase in EQ, it adds $1300 to an individual’s annual salary. Those with a high EQ are also more likely to be satisfied with their job and less likely to suffer from burnout.

  • High EQ boosts productivity

It doesn’t just benefit the individual, it can benefit teams as well. Especially in developing cohesiveness and in return boost productivity. To do so, a team can have just a few high EQ members to see a dynamic change in results. 

  • Higher EQ is associated with improved efficiency in the workplace

With better productivity comes, better efficiency in the workplace. Where team members have an understanding of where people are at emotionally in comparison to the workload and the objectives set out, much can be made to improve efficiency in the system. 

  • EQ enhances cohesion in the workplace

People who are more emotionally intelligent are better at communicating than others. They are open to sharing their ideas and listening to other people’s ideas as well. 

  • EQ enhances trust

Employees will be able to trust and rely on each other, handle their feelings in a professional manner, and work together to reach success. Managers who appreciate the emotions, needs, and concerns of others will enjoy better relationships with their staff.

  • EQ enables people to manage their emotions effectively

Emotional intelligence is about having a better understanding of one's own emotions. Knowing where there is a high or a lull is better for the individual concerned so that they can point it out and manage their time and workloads more effectively. 

  • EQ enhances impulse control

Knowing how you are emotionally behaving can curb impulse control and you can use your emotions to make constructive decisions about your behaviour. Whether or not you will react to something or whether or not you will engage in certain conversations which can lead to nothing or somewhere. 

  • EQ makes a better workplace environment

A workforce that is made up of emotionally intelligent employees helps reduce stress and boost morale in the workplace. The company culture also tends to be much stronger when the office is full of staff who respect and get along with one another.

  • High EQ is linked to higher job satisfaction

Emotional intelligence increases job satisfaction by developing feelings of emotional well-being, promoting higher self-esteem and positive moods, and decreasing negative affective emotions 

  • Higher EQ is negatively related to burn out 

Higher EQ means there is less likelihood someone will experience emotional burnout.

  • EQ boosts self awareness

People who are emotionally intelligent know their strengths and weaknesses. They can take feedback and use it to grow and improve as a person. Managers are used to dealing with people who become defensive when they receive constructive feedback, which can lead to frustration and get in the way of productivity. 

The Five Elements of Emotional Intelligence

As previously noted, the mixed model of EQ refers to 5 key aspects. As identified by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

Self awareness

The ability to understand one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, value drivers, and goals whilst recognising their potential impact on others. Self-awareness also involves using gut feelings in order to guide personal decisions.

Being able to understand where you are emotionally and how you best respond in these situations can inform a lot of your decision making and the subsequent results. You can make better judgements (or make no judgements at all) without all the facts whilst also being aware of those around you and the impact it can have. 

Self regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to control and adjust one’s emotions to create a more positive effect. 

When you deal with someone who isn’t in control of their emotional response in the workplace, it can be not only difficult but also a volatile situation. However, those with better self-regulation will base decisions on more factual information than pure emotion creating a better response to difficult situations. 


This is the drive and urge to do something well and to be motivated enough to achieve goals. 

Those who have a personal drive to improve and achieve, commitment to our goals, initiative, or readiness to act on opportunities, as well as optimism, and resilience can achieve more in the working day and understand that success takes time. They are driven to not only get it right but also by a reality of perseverance. 


This is the ability to identify and understand the feelings of others.

Not only is empathy generally an important life skill, empathy in the workplace is essential for team cohesion, unity, motivation and even being able to identify when someone needs help or is struggling. 

Social skills

This is the ability to manage relationships with others and move people in a specific direction. Strong social skills like effective communication and respect — enables people to listen, speak and resolve conflicts more effectively.

The difference between EQ and IQ

We started this guide identifying that there is a difference between IQ and EQ. Where many think that to be successful you need lots of IQ, in fact, you need to have elements of both, neither can be discounted but equally, they must be better understood. 

IQ or Intelligence Quotient is a standard score that shows how far above or below, his/her peer group an individual stands in mental ability. The peer group score is an IQ of 100. The IQ number is attained by giving the same test to huge numbers of people from all socio-economic strata of society and then taking the average. 

Coined in 1912 by psychologist William Stern, IQ was represented as a ratio of “mental age to chronological age x 100”. For example if someone was 10 years old and had the mental age of a 10 year old, their IQ would be 100. But if their mental age was for example, 13 rather than 10, their IQ would be 130. The same applies if their mental age was that of a 9 year old and so on. 

EQ on the other hand refers to a person's ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions. It is how you can control your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

Researcher Kendra Cherry identified, “that individuals with strong leadership potential also tend to be more emotionally intelligent, suggesting that a high EQ is an important quality for business leaders and managers to have.”

It was widely considered and believed that for people to succeed, you needed to have a high IQ. However, in terms of work, both adequate IQ and EQ are necessary for performance and effective communication. Outside of the workplace, though, it could be argued that EQ takes precedence over IQ in our relationships and social life.

What is becoming clearer to many researchers is that both are necessary, but their importance may vary depending on the particular situations we find ourselves in.

Examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace

What does an emotionally intelligent workforce look like? How do they really behave and what could you expect to have a team that is more emotionally intelligent? Here are some examples:

  • Improved listening skills
    • Don’t interrupt people in meetings
    • Provide considerate, constructive feedback
    • Provide compassionate support when needed
  • Open and honest communications
    • Welcoming honest feedback from all personnel
    • Providing the means to submit feedback without fear
    • Nurturing an atmosphere in which people can speak up without fear of rebuke or criticism
  • Able to cope with change
    • Not resistant to change
    • Readily able to adapt and be flexible
    • Finding positive aspects in challenging situations
  • Freedom to be creative
    • Workplaces that facilitate and foster creativity tend to have higher EQ.
    • They also experience the benefits of creative, ‘outside the box’ thinking.
  • Introduce stress relief into their day
    • Helps to build relationships with one another
    • Better compassion 

How to improve emotional intelligence in the workplace

Many researchers believe - and have been able to show - that emotional intelligence can be learned. So it is possible to develop and boost EQ in the workplace. Primarily, EQ is an individual development but there are some concrete methods that can be used to train individuals as teams to be overall better with their EQ. 

  • Training courses and workshops

There are a plethora of training courses and workshops that can be a good option for employers. This can provide employees all the tools to get started in learning different techniques and encouraging individuals to learn different methods of emotional intelligence. 

  • Group activities

There are a variety of group activities that can be used to develop and enhance EQ in the workplace. From gamification (card decks specifically to build knowledge) to scenarios being played out.  

Some of the subsequent suggestions might be used / discussed in this context. 

  • Reflecting on one’s emotions

Self-awareness is one of the pillars of EQ and it can be developed by means of reflection. Taking the time to better understand how you respond to situations, where these issues arise or what makes you happy/angry etc. 

Self awareness is the key to develop empathy and to develop a better understanding of who you are in a wider context. 

  • Developing observation skills

Being observant of one’s own feelings - in various situations - people are more able to control their behaviours and responses.

You will encounter moments which will test your social output, lack of control in some cases. Step back and observe any action you take to learn and develop better EQ for the future. 

  • Pause before acting

The “3 second rule” was designed to be more than when you dropped food on the floor. Being able to take a quick pause and understand what it is that could potentially trigger you or how you respond to someone is going to be an advantage. You want to be able to pause and momentarily consider an action before taking it to prevent reckless and impulsive decisions. 

The act of “mindful pauses” enhances emotional intelligence - over time, with practice.

  • Consider ‘Why’ people behave as they do

What are the reasons that someone is behaving the way they do? By taking the time to consider this behaviour - it could be personal or professional grievances - you are allowing yourself the opportunity to have a more advanced understanding of EQ in practical situations. 

Empathising with other people and the situations that they find themselves in is the perfect way to develop your EQ and consistent practice will open you up more to a greater understanding of its importance in both the workplace as well as in relationships you have outside of the office. 

  • Learn from criticisms

If one thing is universal it’s that children and adults can find it difficult to be told that what they’re doing is wrong. Criticism for many people can be a very difficult thing to endure and a bitter pill to swallow, especially in romantic relationships and workplace performance. 

However, criticism can be turned into a positive learning experience that’s good for EQ. Instead of taking umbrage with a situation, sit back and ask yourself the following question, “putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?”

It’s also equally important to recognise and discount invalid criticism. The only way you can do this is if you develop a greater tolerance to use any criticism as a learning tool. 

  • Practice EQ

The hardest part about EQ is now that you need to go and practice it. That’s right, take the tips provided along with other learnings from courses and even mentoring to develop a great sense of EQ for personal balance and beyond. Be patient, it can take time to make it start to be part of living life. 

Emotional intelligence tests & assessments

We know that you can measure IQ but what about measuring EQ? Is this possible? The answer is yes, it can be measured. 

Over the last few years, a number of different assessments have emerged to measure levels of EQ. Such tests generally fall into one of two types: self-report tests and ability tests.

Self-report tests are designed to assess the five characteristics of EQ as identified by psychologist Daniel Goleman: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. On such tests, respondents respond to questions or statements by rating their own behaviours. For example, on a statement such as "I often feel that I understand how others are feeling," a test-taker might describe the statement as disagree, somewhat disagree, agree, or strongly agree.

The other type of test is an ability test. Using the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) , an ability-based test measures the four branches of Mayer and Salovey's EI model. Test-takers perform tasks designed to assess their ability to perceive, identify, understand, and manage emotions. An ability test involves having people respond to situations and then assessing their skills. 

The Thomas Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue) is a self-report questionnaire. Individuals indicate their level of agreement on a 1-7 Likert scale (1 'disagree completely' to 7 'agree completely') with 153 unique items.

The TEIQue is registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS) after it was audited against the technical criteria established by the European Standing Committee on Tests and Testing, part of the European Federation of Psychologists' Associations.

Thomas offers a Free Emotional Intelligence Test to businesses to show how you can analyse the main traits to help develop an individual's emotional intelligence in specific situations.


When it comes to business success, it used to be widely accepted that IQ was the most important thing. However, research over the past four decades has shown that there is another trait which is equally important, and it’s how we treat others, ourselves and how we can best control our emotions. Emotional Intelligence, or EQ as it is better known is no longer a successful business secret. 

Studies have shown that those with high EQ makes for happy workers, productive teams, and unified companies. From being able to earn more, build trust or even just creating a better team environment, EQ is a superpower that businesses want and need to tap into. 

Thomas' emotional intelligence assessment, Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue), can help your business understand employees emotions and how they approach the emotions of others in the workplace.

Visit the webpage or speak to one of our team to find out more.