Improving Emotional Intelligence: Reaping the Benefits of Investing in Yourself

If you’re a good listener, you probably recall hearing the term “emotional intelligence” being mentioned more frequently than it used to be. That’s because there is an increasing recognition that this so-called “soft skill” is fundamentally important in a broad range of professional and workplace settings. Not only that, gaining a deeper understanding of your emotional intelligence is also said to make you a happier person overall.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s start with the obvious question: What exactly is emotional intelligence?

Definitions of Emotional Intelligence

Though the concept may sound touchy-feely to some, emotional intelligence (also called EI or EQ) is well-grounded in psychology and neuroscience. In addition, it is touted as one of the top skills connected to business success. Here are several notable definitions:

“Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.” —

“Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others claim it’s an inborn characteristic.” —

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they’re telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. It also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively.” —

Early researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey described it in 1990 as: “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”

Author Daniel Goleman, whose 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence” triggered the term’s surge in popularity, credits Mayer and Savoy with offering “first formulation” of the concept. He contended that it was not cognitive intelligence that was instrumental for business success but emotional intelligence.

Related: 18 Essential Soft Skills You Need to Succeed in Business & Leadership Roles >>

Why Emotional Intelligence is Important

Emotional intelligence is often abbreviated as EQ for the purpose of contrasting it with our IQ, or intelligence quotient. Talking about people’s IQ has become shorthand for how smart they are, but you may be surprised to learn that some intelligent folks at and elsewhere believe that your EQ is often more important than your IQ.

That’s because possessing emotional intelligence is increasingly regarded as an essential quality when it comes to attaining career success and navigating business and life with greater ease, self-control and understanding.

There is certainly no shortage of headlines from leading business publications touting the value of emotional intelligence: 

Additionally, in its “Future of Jobs Report” the World Economic Forum cites emotional intelligence as one of its top in-demand skills today and forecasting ahead to 2022.

Four Key Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence

A New York Times science writer who was trained in psychology, Goleman identified what he believed were four key characteristics of emotionally intelligent people:

  1. Self-awareness: They are good at understanding their own emotions.
  2. Self-management: They are good at managing or regulating their emotions.
  3. Social awareness/empathy: They are empathetic to the emotions of other people.
  4. Social skills: They are good at handling other people’s emotions.

As the concept took hold in society and received further scrutiny, a fifth characteristic is often added to the mix — motivation. According to, people who are emotionally intelligent are motivated more by passion to fulfill their own inner needs and goals than by external rewards like fame, money, recognition and acclaim. In a business context, they tend to be action- and goal-oriented, committed and good at taking the initiative when faced with a task.

Based on these characteristics, you can begin to see why emotional intelligence is regarded as a potent quality to possess both in life and in business.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace cites a study finding that 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence and reports that people with a high EQ make more money — an average of $29,000 more per year than people with a low EQ. The article suggests that emotional intelligence positively impacts a broad range of essential business skills, including: 

  • Communication, presentation skills and teamwork
  • Assertiveness and decision-making
  • Tolerance of stress and tolerance of change
  • Accountability and flexibility
  • Time management and anger management

In terms of leadership, emotional intelligence is often connected with a heightened ability to innovate and creatively disrupt; and also to build engaged, fulfilled, high-performing teams by embracing qualities that include authenticity and integrity, vulnerability, mindfulness, courage and gratitude, to name a few.

So it is not surprising that if you go to LinkedIn and conduct a job search using the term “emotional intelligence,” you find thousands of high-profile jobs with well-known employers specifically looking for candidates who possess this sought-after quality.

A recent LinkedIn search resulted in a diverse and fascinating array of opportunities for those whose personal/professional qualifications include a high degree of emotional intelligence. Here are just a few:

  • FinTech Reporter for Investment News
  • Community Relations Partner at Tesla
  • Head of Content at the Food Revolution Network
  • VP, Design Strategist at Fidelity Investments
  • Manager, Employee Development at PayPal
  • People Operations Partner at Facebook
  • Vice President, Philanthropy at Defenders of Wildlife
  • Research Product Manager AVP at Barclays Investment Bank
  • Chief of Staff at the University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Diversity & Inclusion Leader at Salesforce
  • Senior Impact Officer at The Aspen Institute
  • Design Manager, Content Strategy at Mailchimp
  • Strategy Director at PepsiCo
  • Acquisition Integration Lead at Apple

Test Your Emotional Intelligence [EQ]

How emotionally intelligent are you?

There is not one universally accepted test that measures emotional intelligence. However, there are many self-reporting tests that approach this hard-to-quantify question from different angles. For example:

There are also more formal clinical-type tests that specifically assess abilities related to emotional intelligence. These include:

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Improving your EQ is also a hot topic in the media. Search “improve emotional intelligence” and Google serves you page after page of articles ranging from mainstream and business publications to psychology sources and self-help gurus. Here are just a few:

Another very insightful resource for improving your emotional intelligence comes in audiovisual format — a TEDx talk by Travis Bradberry, author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0.”

He recommends testing yourself to identify strengths and weaknesses (“for one person it may be social awareness, for another person it may be self-awareness”) and then presents the following “three silver bullets for increasing your EQ.”

  • Get your stress control. Bradberry explains that there is good stress and bad stress. This may remind some people of cholesterol, but here the active ingredient is a stress hormone called cortisol. Good stress is that which is intermittent and controlled; bad stress is more pervasive and uncontrolled.
  • Clean up your sleep hygiene. More sleep is ideal, but not always possible. “When you’re awake, toxic proteins build up in the neurons in your brain,” he says. Sleep helps neurons clean up the toxic proteins. His top tips are to avoid “taking things that help you sleep” and to cut down on evening time spent with devices that emit light into your face.
  • Get your caffeine intake under control. This is “the one that people really hate me for,” says Bradberry, who delivers a scientific look at the impact of caffeine.

When it comes to improving your emotional intelligence in the context of business and leadership, there are also formal courses that bring academic rigor and instructor-led coaching to the process.

For example, “Emotional Intelligence Development for Professionals,” offered online through the University of San Diego, engages students in a focused, multifaceted approach to boosting their EQ.

Featuring curriculum topics and tools that are helpful in personal and business applications, the course includes: 

  • Taking a personal values assessment and an emotional intelligence assessment to develop helpful, actionable insights
  • Writing exercises that explore EQ communication best practices
  • Outlining tangible steps to expand one’s ability to practice mindfulness
  • Creating a roadmap to help sustain the process of continuous growth.

The result is a greatly enhanced ability to integrate emotional intelligence into your life and work. And you may not be surprised to learn that one of the textbooks is Travis Bradberry’s “Emotional Intelligence 2.0.”