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What is emotional intelligence?

You’ve probably heard the term tossed around a lot over the years, but what exactly is emotional intelligence? Today, we’re going to take a quick look at what constitutes emotional intelligence and why it is essential in any workplace.

Defining emotional intelligence

First used in a 1964 paper by psychology professor Michael Beldoch, emotional intelligence refers to the ability of an individual to recognise and manage the emotions of themselves and those around them. The term is also referred to as emotional quotient, or EQ, and even emotional intelligence quotient (EIQ).

Emotional intelligence was popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman, who found that leadership and EQ were intrinsically linked. There are lots of different models that people have used to understand emotional intelligence; today, we’ll stick with Goleman. According to him, there are five key components to EQ:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Each of these is explored in depth below.

Components of emotional intelligence


Do you have a strong understanding of what your strengths and weaknesses are (and can look at these objectively)? More importantly, can you recognise your own emotions and how they can have an effect on you and the performance of your team?

If yes, congratulations. You have a strong self-awareness. Interestingly, while 95% of us believe that we are self-aware, only about 10–15% of people actually are.


We can’t control our impulses — or can we? People with a high EQ, while not necessarily in control of their emotions at all times, are better able to reign in reactions and turn these into responses that are more productive.


I’m sure we’ve all tossed the words ‘highly motivated’ around, especially when looking for work. However, people with high EQ are generally self-motivated and will pursue their goals with an unparalleled work ethic. Obstacles won’t deter these individuals — they know what they want and constantly strive towards it.

People with high EQ generally aren’t driven by money or material gain; instead, they focus on self-gratification and constantly seek to improve themselves.


Empathy is perhaps the strongest power in one’s arsenal. People with high EQs tend to be highly empathetic, meaning that they can easily put themselves in the shoes of their teammates — and, perhaps more importantly, clients. This allows a person to build authentic and productive relationships in the workplace, leading to a more cohesive environment, and understand the needs of the public and the people they are trying to service.

Social skills

Social skills allow one to manage their relationships and influence others, making this useful for those in leadership positions to cultivate their team. That being said, strong social skills come in handy for employees at all levels, from customer service reps to the IT department. Being able to effectively communicate and navigate the different relationships in one’s career is an invaluable tool.

How do I develop my EQ ?

Good news — just like any skill, EQ can be taught and learnt. There are a variety of programs out there designed to equip individuals or teams with the skills they need to bolster their EQ, so all you need to do is pick the one that is right for you.

Want to learn more about emotional intelligence? Our Communicating with EQ course is designed to help your team develop the essential EQ skills they need to communicate clearly and build a positive workplace culture.