Improving your People Skills with Emotional Intelligence
12 May 2022 3 mins read By Andrea Amato

Emotional intelligence (EQ) unlike intelligence quotient (IQ) refers to one’s ability to recognise and understand emotions in themselves and others. EQ assists in decision-making, communication, and problem-solving in everyday life. Research indicates five main components of EQ, namely: self-awareness, self-regulation, intrinsic (internal) motivation, empathy, and social skills. From this list, it becomes increasingly more apparent how these can be applied in the workplace. 

EQ is a research phenomenon stemming from the 1990s, however only recently has it been acknowledged for workplace settings. Daniel Goleman, one leading researcher in the field, popularly stated that components such as motivation, self-regulation, etc, “Separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average.”, (Goleman, 2012). He goes on to explain the increasing importance of EQ in leaders and executives who act as role-models, where employees observe and integrate how they manage their emotions and communication skills. 

Goleman caught the attention of HR professionals and business leaders, who scouted current research on the topic to influence jobs in Malta or elsewhere. What they found were answers to important occupational questions: how EQ interacts with stress management, job performance and satisfaction. Goleman criticised IQ, in that it wasn’t enough for leaders to succeed in the workplace, but a combination of IQ and EQ made a leader stand apart from the rest. Although Goleman’s focus surrounded leadership qualities, his poignant remarks are not limited to higher working professionals. Maintaining job satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, and motivation, are imperative for success in any employee. 


Supporting EQ in Research 


Research attesting to EQ’s role in components such as job satisfaction and performance has grasped the attention of organisations. EQ is negatively correlated to burnout and positively correlated to job satisfaction (Lee, 2017) and the higher the EQ, the higher the reported job satisfaction of employees (Tagoe & Quarshie, 2017). As a result of repeated studies in different workplace contexts and industries, researchers are able to apply similar hypotheses to further strengthen EQ as a whole.  

In addition to increased job satisfaction, EQ shares a positive relationship with job performance as well. Hosseinian et al. (2008) constructed an EQ intervention for employees that resulted in increased job performance and increased performance reviews from management. Another study found EQ to significantly increase job performance, especially from the components relating to recognising emotions in ourselves and others (Pekaar et al., 2017). The above illustrates the numerous studies applied in different workplace contexts, leaving EQ a skill worth learning. 


Recognising EQ in the Workplace 


The abundance of research surrounding EQ has left employers to appreciate its value in the workplace. One survey found that 75% of hiring managers valued EQ over IQ in employees, widely recognising how EQ improves communication, management, and relationships with colleagues. It is also a skill researchers believe and have shown can be trained, leaving EQ a worthy skill to invest in on-site or remote jobs.

Understanding the many advantages of EQ in theory is well and good, but it dawns the question in how it plays about in practice. One setting can be the meeting room, where at times, conversations are unproductive, and many people are talking on top of each other. If there’s an employee who is disruptive and isn’t listening to their colleagues, this character would be understood to have low EQ. On the other hand, if another employee in the room is attentively listening, doesn’t speak over others, and helps maintain a productive conversation, is one believed to have a high EQ. 

Additionally, every EQ component tells a beneficial narrative for a workplace context. Employees who can understand and recognise emotions in others will communicate more effectively, leading to better team alignment to meet business goals. Individuals with higher EQ would be able to facilitate change in the workplace better, as they can manage the stress that may accompany it. These positive attributes translate to other colleagues as well, providing influential role-models across teams. 


Limitations of EQ 


While there aren’t many reported disadvantages, limitations to EQ in the workplace do exist. Like many psychological theories, EQ follows the nature-nurture narrative whereby it is in part influenced by genetics, meaning not everyone is able to learn and successfully integrate high EQ in their working lives.  

A speculative concern is that EQ can be manipulated to an employee’s advantage, where for instance an individual displaying high EQ can play on other’s emotions. In this way, EQ can be deceiving and trick subordinates and more senior executives. That being said, such limitations do not outweigh the advantages, and mainly serve to account for understanding EQ holistically and critically.  


Applications of EQ 


Understanding and recognising EQ in the workplace leads to further effective mechanisms to apply the theory practically. Although the way this can be done is varied, two notable interventions will be outlined in this article: EQ for leaders and project managers.


EQ and leadership 


One of the most effective means to apply EQ is in leadership and management, largely due to their influence on subordinates and the organisational culture as a whole. Leaders are the ones who often guide employees as role-models, transferring their knowledge and skill sets across teams and their jobs. Leaders with high EQ are: 

  • Effective communicators, able to outline workplace goals and have them understood by others more efficiently, 
  • Serve as inspiring individuals who instil and practice workplace values, 
  • Appropriately respond to workplace instability and are able to manage stressful situations supportively, and 
  • Are able to manage their emotions on a day-to-day basis. 

All these points contribute to a workplace culture that is strong and supportive. Leaders with higher EQ will recognise its importance in everyday working contexts, and are the same individuals willing to invest in training sessions or workshops for employees.  


EQ and project management 


Project managers lead particular assignments that underlie many tasks and are responsible for successfully delegating a team until project completion. EQ is important in this role because: 

  • Project managers should be able to understand and recognise emotions in others, in order to attend to team members where appropriate, 
  • As a leader, be able to manage their own emotions to better manage a team and their on-site or remote jobs, 
  • Understand and recognise the complexities of problems that arise in projects to effectively solve these, and 
  • Be an active motivator to team’s and aid successful project completion.  

Similar to leaders, project manager’s influence a team throughout assignments, and how they apply EQ can positively affect team members as they navigate a project.  


Final thoughts 


Although EQ is a topic frequently discussed since the 1990s, it has only recently become a conversation starter among workplace professionals. This is due to its myriad application across different workplace sectors, supported by bountiful research to improve employee qualities. In learning how EQ influences leadership and project managers and understanding their similarities, attests to a specific theory that can be applied for many occupations. It appears that despite the widespread knowledge on IQ, EQ remains a valuable skill for all organisations to consider.  

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