Why Emotional Intelligence Helps You Succeed at Work

As our gadgets get smarter (phones, watches, cars), the emotional component of intelligence remains uniquely human—and highly valuable. Increasingly, given the choice in candidates, shrewd hiring managers will favor a smart applicant with high emotional intelligence (EI) over an equally smart candidate who is emotionally clueless.

EI was first described in academic literature, and then popularized with a best-selling book, in the 1990s. EI firmly became part of the business lexicon in 1999 when an influential academic paper, The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence, documented how Air Force recruiters with high EI were three times as successful as others and that L’Oréal sales personnel with high EI each averaged $90,000 more in sales their first year compared with lower-EI salespersons.

Researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer defined emotional intelligence as “the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought.” EI is often confused with simply being nice or easy to get along with. But pleasant people with sympathetic personalities don’t necessarily meet the three primary criteria for high emotional intelligence:

1. Emotional awareness

People with high EI recognize with healthy detachment both their emotions and those of others. Because they can see a confrontation as “I’m getting angry and the person I am dealing with is getting angry’’ instead of “This person is stubborn and it’s making me angry,’’ they are far more likely to approach a conflict calmly (or avoid it in the first place). The person who sees his or her own anger as a valid response to dealing with somebody they can’t persuade is likely to blunder into one confrontation after another.

2. The ability to regulate emotions

 We can all think of the person we call to “talk us down” when our emotions are spinning us around unbearably. People with high EI are able to manage their own emotions and those of others. They know how to cheer up or calm down themselves as the situation requires, and they are able to cheer or calm another person—clearly a desirable trait in a co-worker or leader.

3. The ability to use emotions productively

Emotions powerfully drive action, perception and decision-making, but not always with positive results. People with high EI reverse that. They harness their emotions to take effective action. Instead of feeding a loop of anxiety-to-worry-to-sleeplessness, they see their anxiety as a cue to take a long walk, and then methodically analyze what is causing them anxiety. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can read their teams and constructively channel their enthusiasm or disappointment.

Even as technology takes over more of our workplace tasks, our ability to work well with each other remains significant. Don’t underestimate the value of emotional intelligence—especially if you’re in a leadership position.