How to Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace (31 Tips + Activities)

05 DEC 2018


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If you follow this blog, you might have seen our recent piece on emotional intelligence. As you probably know, emotional intelligence is a big topic in a lot of areas, but perhaps none more so than the workplace.

If you’ve heard a lot about emotional intelligence but you’re not sure what the hype is, or if you know what it is but don’t see how it really applies in the workplace, you’ve come to the right place.

In this piece, we’ll define emotional intelligence in the context of the workplace, describe its components, explore its correlates in the workplace, and look at how to improve it for both individual employees (including yourself) and the organization as a whole.

This article contains:


What is Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace? (Definition + Concept)

First, let’s get a baseline on what emotional intelligence is. Emotional intelligence (shortened to EI or EQ for emotional quotient) can be defined as:

“EQ refers to someone’s ability to perceive, understand and manage their own feelings and emotions” (Chignell, 2018).

Further, there are five distinct components of EI:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Internal (or intrinsic) motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

From a glance at these components, it’s easy to see how EI applies in the workplace! Clearly workers with higher in self-regulation, intrinsic motivation, and social skills have a leg up on those with less. We’ll go over some of the reasons why this is so later in this piece.


Daniel Goleman on EI in the Workplace

EI was first defined and established as a construct in psychology back in the 1990s, but interest in it has grown exponentially since then-especially in its application in the workplace. Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman shares his view on why there is so much interest on EI/EQ in the workplace:

“The interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace stems from the widespread recognition that these abilities – self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill – separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average. This is especially true in roles like the professions and higher level executives, where everyone is about as smart as everyone else, and how people manage themselves and their relationships gives the best and edge.” (Goleman, 2012).


Why is Developing EQ Important in the Workplace?

Emotional intelligence is a vital consideration in the workplace for many reasons, but there are two that really stick out:

  1. It is linked to higher job satisfaction for those with high EI/EQ as well as employees who work with or are managed by those with high EI/EQ.
  2. It is strongly associated with job performance.


A Look at Emotional Intelligence and Job Satisfaction

It’s well-known that emotional intelligence is related to job satisfaction. Employees who are high in EI/EQ also tend to be higher in job satisfaction, as many studies have shown:


How can Emotional Intelligence Improve Job Performance?

In addition to contributing to greater happiness and satisfaction in employees, higher emotional intelligence also contributes to better job performance.


You might be thinking, “How does emotional intelligence have such an impact on job performance?” Through these seven traits and characteristics:

  1. Emotional stability (greater ability to manage their own emotions and tolerate stress)
  2. Conscientiousness (tendency to be diligent, hardworking, control impulses)
  3. Extraversion (personality trait that makes people more open and better at establishing relationships with others)
  4. Ability EI (individuals’ ability to perform emotion-related behaviors, like expressing emotions, empathizing with others, and combine emotion with reasoning)
  5. Cognitive ability (IQ; studies suggest there is at least some overlap between the IQ and EQ)
  6. General self-efficacy (confidence in the ability to cope with the demands of our job)
  7. Self-rated job performance (Bailey, 2015).


To get a better handle on understanding the importance of emotional intelligence, let’s move on to some examples.


7 Examples of High and Low EQ at Work

We know that high EI/EQ in the workplace is an advantage, but how do we know it when we see it? What does it look like?

Here are some good examples of high vs. low EI/EQ at work from emotional intelligence coach Ush Dhanak:

1. An Upset Employee Finds a Compassionate Ear

We all get moody sometimes, even at work. How a person deals with her coworkers or employees when they are having a bad day is a good indication about her EI/EQ level.

If she doesn’t even notice the moodiness, ignores the employee, exacerbates the bad mood, or criticizes the employee and tells them to “snap out of it,” she probably has low EI/EQ. If, on the other hand, she notices that something’s up, offers her employee compassion and understanding, and tries to cheer the employee up or distract them from their woes, that’s a great indicator that she has high EI/EQ.

2. People Listen to Each Other in Meetings

Unfortunately, not all meetings are positive and productive; sometimes meetings can devolve into everyone talking at once, no one offering any input at all, or-worst of all-shouting and heated arguments.

If an employee contributes to any of the above in a meeting, he is displaying low emotional intelligence. If he allows others to have their say, listens attentively and refrains from interrupting others, and gently but effectively keeps everyone on task, he is probably high in EI/EQ.

3. People Express Themselves Openly

A person who is comfortable speaking up about things that are important, and is just as comfortable listening to others talk about their own opinions, is showing high workplace EI/EQ. She is probably also adept at expressing her own emotions in an appropriate way and accepting of others who express their own emotions.

A person who keeps things bottled up or gets upset when others disagree with her at work is likely low in emotional intelligence. She might spar with her coworkers about their opinions or-conversely-expect everyone to simply keep all emotions and opinions to themselves.

4. Most Change Initiatives Work

If a workplace is generally high in emotional intelligence, it likely handles change well. Change initiatives are probably taken seriously and carried out in earnest.

On the flip side, workplaces with low emotional intelligence are resistant to change, fail to put in the effort necessary to make change initiatives succeed, or even actively sabotage them. Additionally, poorly though-out initiatives indicate that the management team is low in EI/EQ and does not understand how their proposed changes will affect their employees.

5. Flexibility

A workplace that offers flexibility and understanding of the complex, busy lives of organization members is one that is probably high in EI/EQ. Managers and executives who accept that people have differing needs and offer ways to work smarter are displaying a good sense of emotional intelligence.

Managers and executives who refuse to allow their employees flexibility and hold strictly to the way things have always been done (when there is no need to do so) are showing signs of low emotional intelligence.

6. People Have the Freedom to Be Creative

Similarly, workplaces that allow their employees the opportunity to be creative and innovative are high in EI/EQ. Giving people the chance to practice their creativity and think outside the box is not only a welcome gesture for employees, it’s also a smart move for the workplace.

Workplaces that make their employees stick to strict policies and procedures (again, when there is no need for such strictness) are low in EI/EQ. Not understanding the value of creativity and the need employees have to be imaginative and invested in their work is a hallmark of low EI/EQ.

7. People Meet Out of Work Time

Finally, a good sign of emotional intelligence in the workplace is when organization members meet outside of the workplace. Organizations where employees enjoy happy hours, having lunch together, or other social activities indicates that there is a high level of EI/EQ present.

Workplaces that don’t feature such strong bonds and those in which employees do not spend any non-working time together are likely low in EI/EQ. When people are emotionally intelligent, they tend to get along and see the value in investing their time and energy into workplace relationships, but people low in EI/EQ are generally not interested in building quality relationships with their peers (Dhanak, n.d.).


5 Benefits and Advantages of Using EQ in Business

If you’re not already convinced about the benefits of using EI/EQ in the workplace, here are a few more reasons you should pay attention to it!

  1. Motivation-high EI/EQ translates to better control of our motivation, and perhaps even more motivation for our coworkers!
  2. Common vision-those high in EI/EQ are able to more effectively understand and communicate with others, which makes it easier to develop and maintain a common team vision.
  3. Change-highly emotionally intelligent people can handle the stress, uncertainty, and anxiety that comes with working in business.
  4. Communication-clear communication is a telltale sign of emotional intelligence, and it contributes to better relationships, an easier time getting help from others, and more effective persuasion and influence of others.
  5. Leadership-self-leadership, leading others, influencing others-all of these are vital for those in business; more on this later (Elite World Hotels, 2018).


Are There Disadvantages and Limitations to Using EQ in the Workplace?

There are absolutely advantages to using EI/EQ in the workplace, as the examples and associations above show. So far, there are virtually no disadvantages to it.

However, there are some limitations-emotional intelligence can be enhanced, but as with other traits and skills, there is an upper limit to it that is likely determined at least in part by genetics. Not everyone can be a master of emotional intelligence.

In addition, there is some concern that too much emotional intelligence can encourage manipulation and other unethical or bad behavior. If unscrupulous employees have extremely high EI/EQ, they may be tempted to use their emotional intelligence to manipulate, deceive, and take advantage of their coworkers, subordinates, and perhaps even their management.

Generally, having excess EI/EQ is not something anyone should be too concerned about; it’s much more common to have too little than too much!


What Happens When There is a Lack of EQ in the Workplace?

Speaking of too little EI/EQ, you might be wondering what a lack of emotional intelligence in the workplace looks like. There are two main ways that a lack of EI/EQ can negatively impact the workplace:

  1. Communication
  2. Decision Making


How EQ Impacts Communication in the Workplace

A lack of EI/EQ can negatively impact communication in the workplace through several mechanisms:


It’s easy to see how these mechanisms impact overall communication and, through less effective communication, lower productivity and efficiency in the workplace.


How Emotional Intelligence Effects Decision Making in the Workplace

Similarly, EI/EQ can have a significant impact on decision-making in the workplace. When emotional intelligence is high, organization members can understand the cause and effect relationship between emotions and events and plan effectively (Côté & Yip, 2013).

When EI/EQ is low, organization members may experience “incidental emotions” surrounding decision-making. For example, anxiety is a common emotion involved in decision-making, especially for big decisions that will have a significant impact. Those low in EI/EQ may not understand the source of their anxiety or how to effectively manage it, leading to too much risk-taking, not enough risk-taking, or judgment clouded by bias (Côté & Yip, 2013).


How EQ Can be Used to Manage and Address Problems in the Workplace

So we know what a lack or surplus of EI/EQ can do to a workplace, but we still need to consider how emotional intelligence can actually be applied in the workplace.

There are many applications for EI/EQ at work, but there are three interesting areas where emotional intelligence interventions can be especially effective:


Leading with Emotional Intelligence in Management

Emotional intelligence is perhaps most effective and impactful when applied to leadership and management; higher EI/EQ in leadership has a funny way of starting a trickle-down effect of positivity and efficiency in an organization.

A leader who embodies and practices high EI/EQ can:

  1. Communicate their vision more effectively.
  2. Improve their persuasion and inspirational speaking abilities.
  3. Ensure appropriate responses to stressful and confusing situations at work.
  4. Manage their own emotions and the emotions of their employees (to an extent).


All of this leads directly (and indirectly) to a more efficient, effective, and productive workplace.

To learn more about emotional intelligence in leadership and management, see the EI/EQ training resources towards the end of this piece.

Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

Emotional intelligence is clearly important for leaders and managers, but don’t underestimate its importance in more peer-heavy projects and interactions. Project managers have good reason to pay attention to their EI/EQ levels, and improve them if possible.

To be successful, project managers must be able to…

  1. Perceive emotion: ability to recognize, attend to, and understand one’s own emotions and others’ emotions.
  2. Manage emotion: ability to effectively manage, control, and express emotions.
  3. Decision-making: ability to appropriately apply emotion to manage and solve problems.
  4. Achieve: the best motivation to achieve is inner or intrinsic motivation.
  5. Influence: ability to recognize, manage, and evoke emotions in others (Davey-Winter, n.d.).


As you might have guessed, higher emotional intelligence is characterized by these five abilities! High EI/EQ is a must-have for project managers!

To learn more about emotional intelligence in leadership and management, see the EI/EQ training resources towards the end of this piece.

Using Emotional Intelligence in Social Work

Emotional intelligence is especially important to apply in social work. Social workers have some of the most difficult situations, challenging interactions, and heavy emotional labor of all professions.

EI/EQ can be applied to improve one’s skills and abilities in five core social work tasks:

  1. Engagement of users/clients
  2. Assessment and observation
  3. Decision making
  4. Collaboration and cooperation
  5. Dealing with stress (Morrison, 2007)


Improvements in these five tasks will not only allow the social worker to work more effectively, but will also improve their clients’ experience and help the social worker feel more positive, fulfilled, and satisfied with their job (Morrison, 2007).


Workplace Training in Emotional Intelligence

Clearly, EI/EQ is worth spending some time on to understand and enhance. Luckily, there are ways to better understand and enhance our EI/EQ skills and abilities!

There are training courses and programs available for improving emotional intelligence in the workplace, some of which have impressive outcomes.

If you’re interested in learning more about the types of training out there and which one might be right for you, check out these resources:

Emotional Intelligence Matters Workshop

This workshop from the Careerstone Group is designed to help you and your organization learn how to improve their emotion recognition, emotion management, and social skills. It focuses on teaching participants to:

To learn more about this one-day training opportunity, click here.

Emotional Intelligence Courses from Skillsoft

If you’re a leader or aspiring leader and you are committed to enhancing your emotional intelligence, Skillsoft’s resources are a great place to start.

They offer courses in:

They also list some books and videos that you can use to work on increasing your EI/EQ on your own. Click here to learn more.


Can We Measure Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace?

Yes! Fortunately, there are many valid, reliable measures of emotional intelligence out there. Some are even geared towards teams and workplaces.

These two tools are some of the best measures available for getting a good indicator of EI/EQ in your workplace.

Multidimensional Emotional Intelligence Assessment – Workplace (MEIA-W)

This measure from Tett, Wang, and Fox (2006) takes only 20 minutes to complete and can provide you with a personality-based measure of the emotional intelligence of your workforce.

According to the experts, this measure is best for:


The MEIA-W is composed of 144 short items that assess 10 distinct facets of emotional intelligence:

To learn more about the MEIA-W, click here.

Work Group Emotional Intelligence Profile (WEIP)

This scale was developed by emotional intelligence researcher Adeyemo in 2008 and offers a measure of emotional intelligence in team members. It is a self-report measure containing 30 items rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Two scales (made up of their own subscales) comprise the WEIP:

1. Ability to Deal with Own Emotions

a. Ability to Recognize Own Emotions

b. Ability to Discuss Own Emotions

c. Ability to Manage Own Emotions

2. Ability to Deal with Others’ Emotions

a. Ability to Recognize Others’ Emotions

b. Ability to Manage Others’ Emotions

To learn more about this scale and how to use it, click here.


How to Implement Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

If you want to learn more about how to apply and enhance emotional intelligence in the workplace, this excellent guide from emotionalintelligence experts Cherniss, Goleman, Emmerling, Cowan, and Adler (1998) is what you need.

It describes best practices for implementing emotional intelligence training and overall culture in four phases:

  1. Preparation
  2. Training
  3. Transfer
  4. Evaluation

Phase One is where you should be:

Once you have your plans in place, Phase Two is where you start training. You should plan on:


Phase Three is all about transferring and maintaining the skills learned. Make sure you build in opportunities for:

Finally, Phase Four is focused on evaluating the change that has come about from training. In this phase, you should be:

Follow these guidelines to maximize your chances of spearheading a successful emotional intelligence training program in your organization. You can read the full report here.


18 Tips for Teaching and Applying EQ in the Workplace

Kendra Cherry at Very Well Mind has some great practical tips for boosting your own emotional intelligence and teaching your staff to boost their as well. She suggests:


There are also some good resources, worksheets, and handouts you can use to both enhance your EI/EQ and implement a more emotionally intelligent culture in your workplace. Check out this resource from Florida State University’s Institute for Family Violence Studies.

You can start on the first page by learning what emotional intelligence is and answering a mini self-assessment to see how emotionallyintelligent you are. There are only four simply questions:


Once you have a good idea of your own EI/EQ level, you can read about how to build up two components of emotional intelligence: personal competence and social competence. Personal competence can be built up through greater self-awareness and self-management, and social competence can be built up through improved social awareness and relationship management.

For each of these subcomponents, there is a worksheet or activity in the IFVS resource to help you work on it.


5 Emotional Intelligence Icebreakers for Team Building

Meeting new people can often be awkward and uncomfortable, but icebreakers help! If you’re looking for a way to get the EI/EQ flowing in a group of strangers or just hoping to loosen up your team before training, these five icebreakers can do the trick.

Emotional Intelligence Test

This test is not a carefully constructed and validated measure of emotional intelligence, but the questions are simple, it’s quick to complete, and it makes it easy for everyone to understand emotional intelligence-all of which makes it a great icebreaker activity!

It’s only 20 questions, and they’re all short and easy to understand. You’ll see questions like:




See below for the interpretation of your score based on range, directly from the editor





You have extremely high emotional intelligence. You are skilled at understanding, interpreting, and acting appropriately upon your emotionsand those of others. You deal effectively with emotional and social situations and conflicts, and express your feelings without hurting the feeling of others.


Although you score relatively high, you do have room for improvement. Watch the reactions of others to determine when you are using your emotional intelligence effectively and when you are not. Objectively looking at social and personal situations where emotions run high and analyzing your success will help you improve your already high emotionalintelligence even more.


You fall in the middle range when it comes to your emotional intelligence. Although you are responding appropriately in most situations, your still find yourself losing it sometimes. You also get impatient with others and are sometimes uncomfortable in emotional situations. Don’t worry. Our section on developing your emotional intelligence will help you reach a high level.


Your emotional intelligence is a bit low. You probably struggle to manage your emotions in high-pressure situations or when you get angry. You have some work to do to improve. Begin by trying to express your emotions after you are calm. Our section on developing your emotionalintelligence will help you a great deal.

Under 40

Your emotional intelligence is extremely low. You are probably experiencing anxiety and stress on a daily basis. Additionally, you are probably having difficulty in school or at work, not making the progress you wish to. Read carefully through our section on developing your emotional intelligence and follow our advice to improve your EI and have a happier, more meaningful and successful life.


Take this test with your team and see how you all do. If you feel comfortable, share out about your answers, your scores, and your impressions or insights.

Click here to see the test.


My Colored Hat

This easy and engaging game is a fun way to get participants thinking about emotional awareness. It is probably best suited for children and teens, but it could easily be scaled up in terms of maturity to work for an organization.

First, do your prep work; grab some colored paper and make some paper hats! Alternatively, you could simply buy paper hats of different colors. You should have at least four different colors of hats, and enough hats for each of your participant to wear one.

Next, decide which colors represent which emotions and share these with your participants.

For the activity itself, have each participant pick out a hat that represents how they are feeling or that they’d simply like to work with for the activity and tell them to stand in a circle wearing the hat. Now, have each participant do one of the following based on their hat:

  1. If their hat represents a positive emotion, have them share that emotion with the group, describe it, and give themselves permission to feel it and enjoy it.
  2. If their hat represents a negative emotion, have them acknowledge it but decide to put it aside (“bag” it or “bracket” it) for the moment. Once everyone has shared, remind them to take out that emotion and deal with it-whether that involves neutralizing it or replacing it with something positive.

To see this icebreaker at the source, click here.


The “I Am” Circle

This is a great icebreaker to help people figure out what they have in common.

Have your participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle should say something that’s true about themselves.

If it’s true for any of the other participants, then he or she must quickly switch places with the person in the middle (think musical chairs). Whoever doesn’t find a spot in the circle quick enough goes in the middle, and the cycle repeats.

Anita Hossain, the leader of First Round’s Knowledge program, notes that this activity usually starts off light, with people sharing things like, “I’m the youngest,” or “I have two kids.” However, it can get much deeper surprisingly quickly. Hossain says she’s heard things like, “I have impostor syndrome,” and “I grew up poor and have always felt less than.”

The movement from outside to inside is more than just to get the blood pumping; according to Hossain, it’s “kinetic” and promotes a sense of empathy among the participants.