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What is emotional intelligence? How does it help in the workplace? What’s the ROI of emotional intelligence for businesses? We answer it all (and more) here!

March 10, 2022
7 minutes to read

What is emotional intelligence (eq) – and how does it help at work?

Emotional Intelligence is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot – particularly when we’re talking about leadership, retention and hybrid or remote models of working.

At KinchLyons, we’ve been incorporating emotional intelligence into our coaching practice with international clients for years. Using MHS’ EQ-i 2.0 assessment, it’s one of many tools that we use to gain an insight into clients’ strengths and development areas, particularly around dimensions of leadership, including innovation, authenticity, insight and coaching.

But what actually is it? And how does it help at work?

Stay tuned to find out!

What is emotional intelligence?

Just like with ‘business psychology’, [when the business psychology post is live, link to it here] defining emotional intelligence isn’t a cut-and-dry situation. It’s a phrase that has grown immensely in both use and importance since it first appeared on the psychology scene way back in the 1960s – and there are now several definitions, each with its own nuance.

If we take a trip back to the 1990s, when emotional intelligence really started to gain traction, we see the inimitable Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as a person’s ability to manage his feelings, so that those feelings are expressed appropriately and effectively.

(If you want a really insightful dive into emotional intelligence, there’s no better place to start than with Goleman’s 1995 book, ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ’)

Unsurprisingly, most definitions of emotional intelligence refer to one’s emotions – but when it comes to its application in the arena of business psychology, we refer back to MHS’ definition of emotional intelligence as a broad, effective summary of the world of EI:

“Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.”

For our purposes, this definition of emotional intelligence covers all the bases – and, as you’ll see shortly, provides a foundation for the answer to how emotional intelligence can be harnessed for good in the workplace.

Why emotional intelligence matters in the workplace

Regardless of whether your workplace is traditional, hybrid or remote, every business relies on its people in order to see success.

Relationships between people are incredibly complex, we all know that. Romantic relationships, family relationships, friends, co-workers, your favourite barista – there’s a whole host of social relationships we’re required to develop and maintain if we want to be members of society.

And the workplace is one of the most intense areas where it can be make-or-break for relationships. We’re often put in stressful situations with people who we might not naturally choose to form personal relationships with – so being able to harness emotional intelligence to develop those bonds is a must!

Emotional intelligence is a proven key indicator of human performance and development – in fact, some estimates put the ROI of investment in emotional intelligence support and training as high as 1500%.

In the workplace, higher levels emotional intelligence generally mean:

  • Better communication with colleagues
  • The ability to build stronger and more meaningful relationships at work
  • Having more powerful coping strategies for when things get tough

And the big benefit of emotional intelligence in the workplace? Unlike many other elements of personality, it can be developed and strengthened fairly quickly and effectively.

As emotional intelligence is a set of skills, rather than a static personality trait, 1:1 coaching or group coaching can be focused on developing areas of emotional intelligence that individuals or teams struggle with. Whether it’s providing new coping mechanisms or improving team communication, developmental coaching for emotional intelligence can be incredibly powerful.

Using emotional intelligence in the workplace

With an ROI of 1500%, we bet you’re chomping at the bit to learn how to start harnessing the power of emotional intelligence in the workplace. So that’s what’s coming next…

We use MHS’ model of emotional intelligence, the EQ-i 2.0, to help clients and teams to build solid foundations for their workplace performance. And those foundations cover five core areas (which, if you remember from earlier, MHS incorporate into their definition of EI, too!):

  • Self-Perception
  • Self-Expression
  • Interpersonal
  • Decision Making
  • Stress Management

Hold on tight while we dive into how each of those foundations play out in the workplace – and how you can start to build greater emotional intelligence in your work.


Self-perception is, unsurprisingly, how you perceive yourself. More specifically, it’s about respecting yourself and being aware of your strengths and weaknesses. It’s about being willing to learn, develop and improve yourself, and being able to recognise how your emotions affect you and those around you.

High Self-Perception will likely mean that you feel pretty in-tune with yourself. You know what your strengths are, and you’re able to maximise them, and you know what your weaknesses are. You spend time working on improving those areas of weakness, as you know they have an impact on your happiness and the emotions of those around you too.

Low Self-Perception might mean that you have a tendency to feel inferior or less capable than your colleagues, which might cause a lack of motivation to push yourself to achieve more. You may struggle to see nuances in your emotions, which will limit your ability to identify their triggers, predict your emotional responses, and regulate their impact on others.

Strategies for developing Self-Perception

  • Start recording your emotions throughout the day – try to identify patterns and causes, so that you can begin to predict and harness your emotional responses
  • Keep your goals in view so that you can give yourself a motivational boost when you’re lacking in confidence
  • List out your strengths and improvement areas, then think about how you can utilise your strengths to improve the areas you struggle with


While Self-Perception is about the internal ability to handle and process emotions, Self-Expression is about what we do with those emotions. Self-Expression includes the ability to express emotions verbally and non-verbally, the ability to communicate feelings, beliefs and thoughts and defend your values in a socially acceptable way. It’s also the ability to be self-directed, allowing you to be free from emotional dependence on others.

High Self-Expression would likely mean you appear self-assured and independent. You’re probably able to detach yourself from the emotional responses of others and direct your emotions based on your own thoughts and feelings instead. You’re likely to not struggle with standing up for yourself and choosing actions that protect your emotional wellbeing.

Low Self-Expression means you often bottle things up inside, rather than letting people know how you feel. You might be perceived as emotionless, and you might end up causing yourself exhaustion, frustration and anger as you’re left dealing with unvoiced thoughts. You prefer direction, guidance and deference, rather than doing things your own way.

Strategies for developing Self-Expression

  • If you find yourself dwelling on a feeling but unable to express it, write it down. Brainstorm the positive and negative consequences of expressing yourself to others.
  • If you feel afraid of speaking out, note down the positive consequences that might happen if you did. Seeing these on paper will help you to rationalise the need to speak up.

Interpersonal Skills

This core foundation of emotional intelligence is all about relationships and your ability to develop and maintain mutually satisfying relationships with those around you. This requires empathy for the way others are feeling and how you can respond to those emotions and it requires an understanding of social responsibility, where you recognise the need to contribute to society and show a concern for the greater good.

High Interpersonal Skills will likely mean that you’re easily able to build positive relationships with people around you, particularly in the workplace. You are likely to have a good insight into the feelings and behaviours of others and you’re able to articulate that understanding so that others feel heard and supported. You’re likely to have the wider goals of the business in mind and you make decisions based on what’s best for everyone, not just you.

Low Interpersonal Skills means you may only feel comfortable developing relationships with people who are like you. You may feel uncomfortable or hesitant in new social situations and you may find it difficult to read other people’s emotions. Your emotions often get the better of you and you struggle to collaborate with others when it comes to wider issues, as you often see yourself as separate from societal or organisational issues.

Strategies for developing Interpersonal Skills

  • Make an effort to go out of your way to interact with someone you don’t need to interact with, e.g. someone from another team or department. Note down how the conversation goes and try to recognise how they feel about the conversation too.
  • Practice active listening as a way to get a better understanding of others’ thoughts, feelings and emotions.
  • Play a more active role in team situations. Try to think from the perspective of each member of the team and be creative about a solution that suits everyone’s needs.

Decision Making

This element of emotional intelligence revolves around the ability to solve problems without deferring to emotions at every opportunity. Effective Decision Making requires the ability to respond (rather than react), remain objective about situations even when emotions run high, and resist or delay impulses for the sake of the bigger picture.

High Decision Making means you’re likely to be the mediator in emotionally-intense situations. In a team, this means you’re able to see things from an objective perspective and help to find a solution that works for everyone. You’re also likely to have a high level of self-control, as you’re able to resist temptation and control your emotional impulses easily.

Low Decision Making will mean you often appear to make rash decisions, based on emotions rather than logic. You often fall victim to your own emotions and feel paralyzed when looking for a solution. Your emotions are likely to skew your perception of situations, and you find it difficult to translate your emotions into positive actions. You may sometimes be impulsive and experience strong rushes of emotion that dictate your behaviours.

Strategies for developing Decision Making

  • When you’re feeling a rush of emotions, take a pause before making any decisions. Note down what you’re feeling and how it relates to the problem you’re facing, and try to see things more objectively.
  • When you face a problem, break it down into smaller pieces rather than trying to tackle the whole thing at once. List things out as objectively as possible and tackle each part at a time to reduce the emotional burden you feel.
  • If you’re struggling to control your emotions with other people, don’t be afraid to tell people you need a break from the situation so that you can come back with a clearer head.

Stress Management

Workplaces are stressful things, we all know that! But when it comes to emotional intelligence, the ability to manage that stress and not let it control our emotions and our decision making is essential. Stress Management includes the ability to adapt your emotions, thoughts and behaviours to unfamiliar or unexpected situations as well as the ability to maintain a level of optimism, even when experiencing setbacks.

High Stress Management will mean you’re able to keep your cool in stressful situations. You’re able to recognise your emotions, but not let them control you, especially in situations that arise unexpectedly. You’re likely to be seen as the calm, logical one in moments of high-stress and you’re able to keep seeing the positives even in tough situations.

Low Stress Management likely means that you struggle to handle stress, perhaps retreating into yourself or experiencing emotional outbursts. You’re not as hopeful about the future as others are and you allow that to cloud your judgment, particularly in stressful situations. You tend to expect the worst and stress hinders your performance at work.

Strategies to develop Stress Management

  • Seek out unfamiliar (yet safe) situations that you can put yourself in. Note what makes you feel uncomfortable and then consider which of your strengths you can use to counter that discomfort.
  • Before trying to find a solution to a problem you’re facing, note down every positive you can think of that might be a result of the problem. Try to find the positives in the moments where you instinctively see the worst.
  • For dealing with high-stress moments, create a list of coping strategies you can implement. It might be taking 5-minutes to get some fresh air or jotting down how you’re feeling – whatever helps you to process the stress and return your emotions to a normal state before making any decisions.

Harnessing emotional intelligence for your business

Emotional Intelligence is a complex thing – but it is one of the most important factors in the success or failure of a business.

Particularly as we all try to get to grips with hybrid and remote models of working, having a team with strong emotional intelligence and the resources available for continuous development of their improvement areas will help your business to handle challenges that come your way.

If we’ve convinced you of the power of emotional intelligence in the workplace and you want to experience the ROI of emotional intelligence development for yourself, you’re in the right place!

At KinchLyons, we use the EQ-i 2.0 & EQ360 tools to assess and develop individual and team emotional intelligence for businesses across the world. Using positive psychology and coaching, we help individuals and teams to build stronger relationships, handle challenges more effectively, and, ultimately, become even greater assets for your business.

Drop us a line if you want to learn more about our talent services!

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