What is and why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

18/05/2023 | Santander Universidades

Emotional intelligence and leadership are two unquestionable skills that every good leader needs to master. Knowing how to read a situation and act accordingly, searching for the best way to address others, is vital when it comes to building high-performance environments and teams. 

In fact, emotional intelligence is becoming more and more important nowadays, and strong competition within the market requires that professionals not only have the necessary technical know-how, but also possess skills such as empathy, adaptability and resolution to better understand their team members, how to relate to them and identify their needs, thus achieving enhanced communications and greater productivity.

Do you want to know why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace and how it can impact day-to-day performance? Let us explain all.

What is emotional intelligence?

According to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and proponent of the concept of emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence consists of:

  • Emotional self-awareness or understanding our own emotions and how these influence us, for example, to better understand how and when is best for us to make decisions.
  • Emotional self-control or self-regulation, which allows us to reflect on our emotions and master them.
  • Self-motivation or channelling emotions into goals and objectives that motivate and benefit us.
  • Empathy in order to foster rapport in interpersonal relationships.
  • Interpersonal relationships or social skills, which can contribute to our personal well-being as well as having an impact on good performance at work.

Do you still wonder why emotional intelligence is important in the workplace? It's safe to say that emotional intelligence has become one of the most valued leadership characteristics in the 21st century, no matter the field or context. In fact, we can currently point to several CEOs and senior post-holders who demonstrate just how vital it is to possess this ability to lead successfully.

One example is Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, for whom the safety and well-being of all employees comes first. That's why he personally takes charge of every safety incident that arises in his factories, going to the site of the accident in person to check first-hand what might have gone wrong. He also gets involved when it comes to looking after employees who have suffered injuries.

Another excellent example of emotional intelligence at work is Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of Pepsi. Indra sent thank-you notes to the parents of her executives. This deed triggered widespread satisfaction and happiness among her employees, with some even declaring it the best thing to ever happen to them. Thanks to this and other gestures of gratitude, loyalty and humanity, Nooyi achieved an internal approval rating of 75%, while PepsiCo sales increased by as much as 80 % in the last 12 years. 


Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence isn’t about controlling our emotions, but rather knowing how to deal with situations in which uncontrollable emotions arise, using techniques and strategies that allow us to reflect and consider the best option moving forward. 

Daniel Goleman himself explains that, despite popular belief, intellectual intelligence (IQ) only accounts for 20% of a person's success. The other 80% is down to emotional intelligence (EI). Meanwhile, according to a study by Capgeminiproductivity can increase by up to 20% when team members harness emotional intelligence correctly. 

If we consider our own emotions, at any point in our daily routines we might experience various moods, including anger, rage, distrust, sadness, euphoria and helplessness etc, all stemming from relationships with others in the work environment. And that is the reason why emotional intelligence is important in the workplace.

In this sense, there are various techniques to help improve emotional intelligence and leadership at work:

  • Assertive communication: this allows you to transmit ideas with self-confidence and in a way that is clear, balanced and respectful of others.
  • Body language: analysing your own body language and that of others is a great way to understand what's happening on an emotional level.
  • Meditation: this helps to improve control over our emotions, and develop the ability to react appropriately and in moderation, rather than flying off the handle. 
  • Mood journal: writing a mood journal can be a highly effective and practical way of learning to recognise feelings and moods.
  • Active and sincere listening: this helps us to fully understand the emotions and concerns of others, as well as to improve interpersonal relationships.
  • Situation analysis: not judging yourself and instead analysing the situation from an objective point of view, as though it concerned someone else, gives you a different perspective that will help you to reach better conclusions.  

By deploying these or other techniques, such as mental rehearsal, thought regulation, or logical reasoning, we can really hone our emotional intelligence. In this way, we can build up experience that slowly integrates itself into every single one of our decisions, when reacting to both our own feelings and those of others. 

Emotional intelligence and leadership

Recent research has shown that there is a close relationship between emotional intelligence, leadership and job performance. Likewise, studies show that, in general, women tend to score higher in fields such as empathy, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility, as explained by the book Leadership. The power of emotional intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.

Indeed, Indra Nooyi stressed the importance of not neglecting the feelings of others as a basic element of good leadership, mentioning that "just because you are CEO, don't think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization".

Another great leader, Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, demonstrated her emotional intelligence and leadership skills in her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the measures she took, she decided to reduce her salary and that of her ministers by 20%. She was also keen to ensure that confinement was strictly complied with for the good of the citizens, and in a show of empathy and inspiration, revealed that she too was working from home.

This was not the first time that Jacinda Ardern had demonstrated her mastery of emotional intelligence techniques. In the wake of the terrorist attack the country suffered in 2019, Ardern put herself at the forefront of the situation by showing empathy with all those affected, at the same time clearly and resolutely condemning terrorist acts, without resorting to hatred or anger, inspiring the whole country to work together and get ahead

Meanwhile, the former New Zealand prime minister also shows her more personal side on Instagram, where she combines official messages with other posts related to her day-to-day activity, offering a more approachable and human perspective of her work.


Learn how to manage your emotional intelligence to lead your team

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace? Because it can increase team productivity and performance, as demonstrated by the examples seen above, in which the senior managers of large organisations apply emotional intelligence techniques to increase employee satisfaction. 

Female leadership has been at the forefront of this field in recent decades, bringing emotional intelligence into the business world and promoting very positive attitudes, which has revealed emotional intelligence to be a useful tool to create successful teams. 

In short, developing emotional intelligence skills, techniques and know-how is extremely important for both present and future leaders. Would you like to further improve your skills and get ahead in your career? Banco Santander is launching 125 Santander Scholarships | Negotiation Programme - LSE, at the hands of renowned experts from The London School of Economics and Political Science, with which you can improve your negotiation and leadership skills.

You will have access to an exclusive and 100% online training in which, at your own pace and over six weeks, you will have the chance to practice influencing and conflict resolution techniques to successfully steer your career towards leadership positions. You will also have the opportunity to share experiences and learn together with other future leaders around the globe. 

The course is delivered by top-tier experts and is free of cost to participants. And you don't need to have a degree or be a Banco Santander customer. Upon completion, you will receive a certificate from The London School of Economics and Political Science.


Want to be part of an extensive network of emerging leaders from all around the world? Sign up for Santander Scholarships | Negotiation Programme - LSE and give your career the boost it needs. And remember, never stop learning!

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