Emotional Intelligence at Work

Emotions, positive or negative, play a major role at work every minute of the day. When emotions are accurately perceived, understood, and harnessed, they can enhance a team’s ability to flourish. When emotions are ignored and mishandled, they can cause teams to spiral in a negative direction. 

Fortunately, organizations are increasingly acknowledging the powerful role that emotions play at work, and their ability to impact business outcomes on a grand scale.  

With the World Economic Forum ranking emotional intelligence, or EI, as one of the top skills needed to excel at work, and The McKinsey Group identifying the need for social and emotional skills to grow at a much faster pace than cognitive skills, emotional intelligence is increasingly viewed as a critical and strategic ability for the modern workforce.  

Emotional intelligence or EI has emerged as one of the most important qualities for personal and professional success. In the workplace, regardless of the occupation or industry, emotional intelligence is incredibly valuable. EI becomes particularly critical in roles that require building and maintaining positive interpersonal relationships or roles that require emotional resilience. In many cases, it can be the single skill that sets high performers apart from others with similar technical skills and knowledge. 


What is emotional intelligence, anyway? 

Emotional intelligence or EI is the ability to accurately identify, understand, and manage your own emotions, as well as those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people. They’re also adept at harnessing their emotions to help them solve problems effectively. In other words, EI is about using emotions, and our knowledge and understanding of emotions, in an intelligent way to enhance our thought, behaviors, and interpersonal effectiveness.  

In practical terms, people with well-developed emotional intelligence can create and manage relationships more effectively. They can work well with others, regulate their emotions appropriately, understand how others are feeling, and influence and inspire people. Many researchers have found strong links between EI and important organizational behaviors including leadership, performance on the job, organizational citizenship, commitment, and teamwork. 

What does high emotional intelligence look like in the real world? Sometimes it’s a manager sensing the low mood in a weekly team meeting before anyone has said a word. It’s your friend, matching your joy and excitement when you share great news. It’s the customer service representative who really understands the perspective of an upset customer and is working hard to resolve their complaint. All these behaviors require an accurate emotional reading of the situation, sound knowledge of the emotions involved, and the use of this information to solve problems and inform decisions.  

Emotional intelligence also influences the quality of interpersonal relationships. It can improve the experience of stress, pressure, and conflict, and enhance decision-making. Studies have also shown that it increases positive attitudes towards work and enhances altruistic feelings, while people with lower EI demonstrate a poorer ability to cope with stressors at work and may be less resilient. 


Where does emotional intelligence matter most? 

While EI is relevant for a wide range of occupations, industries, and job levels, it is most important for roles that require people to develop and maintain positive interpersonal relationships or in occupations where emotional labor is central to the work role. In the workplace, emotional labor refers to jobs that require managing feelings and emotions to maintain a job or a relationship. These emotionally demanding jobs can include leadership and management roles, customer service and sales roles, and caregiving and frontline occupations such as law enforcement and emergency management services. 


The tangible benefits of emotional intelligence 

Studies outlined provide clear evidence that higher levels of emotional intelligence in leaders, sales and customer service reps, frontline employees and caregivers, or anyone whose job involves interacting with people – increases individual and organizational effectiveness.  

In the workplace, emotional intelligence helps us connect and collaborate with others, communicate effectively, make decisions, and manage stress and conflict. It enables people to understand emotions and to use them productively to engage, influence and inspire others.  

People with high EI are often described as self-aware, strong communicators, empathetic and resilient. They understand and recognize the emotions that drive behaviors, and use that understanding to generate positive outcomes. Emotional intelligence can be the single skill that sets high performers apart from others with similar technical skills and knowledge.  

The following case studies demonstrate the impact organizations can experience by using EI assessments to hire emotionally intelligent people, from increasing candidate diversity and job performance, to improving job acceptance rates and sales performance. 


Emotify Helps Companies Hire Well-Rounded Team Players  

+ Displays acts of kindness  

+ Do more than what is expected  

+ React appropriately to crises  

+ Maintain composure under pressure 

View Case Study 


Financial Institution Improves Recruitment Outcomes with Emotify 

 + Increased job acceptance rates 

View Case Study 


Digital Marketing Agency Predicts Call Center Sales Rep Success, Using Emotify and Cognify 

+ Increased number of effective calls  

+ Higher sales conversions 

View Case Study 


A model of emotional intelligence  

The term emotional intelligence was first coined in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey, and their work in this area has been foundational to modern EI theory and research. It was later popularized by Dan Goleman when he released his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence.  

At Criteria, our research into the concept of EI aligns with modern theory and research and is based on the Cascading Model of Emotional Intelligence that suggests a progressive sequence, starting from perceiving emotion, followed by emotional understanding and emotional regulation and management. 

Perceiving Emotions 

Perceiving emotions is about being able to quickly and accurately identify emotions. This is often referring to the ability to read facial expressions correctly, but it also incorporates things such as body language and tone of voice. The manager who notices the low mood of the team might see subtle signs of tension, observe low energy levels, and take cues from body language to infer how the group may be feeling. The accurate perception of emotions underpins an appropriate response, which is why it’s an important first step in many interpersonal interactions.

  • Can you pick up on subtle cues from others?  

  • Can you identify your own emotions?  

  • Can you discriminate between genuine and inauthentic emotions? 

Understanding Emotions 

Understanding emotions is about comprehending emotional language and knowing how emotions change over time and combine to form more complex emotions. It’s being able to predict what comes next based on a current emotional state. The customer service rep who knows that a customer will likely go from frustration to anger if their serious complaint is not acknowledged and addressed appropriately understands and can empathize with their customer. Having a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of emotions, their causes, and consequences, means we can formulate an effective approach to a person or situation.  

  • Can you understand different, possibly contradictory blends of emotions?  

  • Do you understand ‘chains’ of emotions, such as how someone can be disappointed and then transition to anger?  

  • Do you understand the causes and consequences of different emotions? 

Managing Emotions 

Managing emotions is about handling your own and others’ emotions effectively. It’s being able to regulate emotions and respond appropriately as well as responding to the emotions of others to promote one’s own and others’ personal and social goals. The healthcare professional who stays in control, calmly assesses an emergency, and continues to instill patient confidence is managing their emotions even under stressful conditions. This refers to the process through which we create and maintain positive appropriate affective states, which in turn, impact behavior and performance. 

  • Are you able to use emotions appropriately, for example putting an emotion “on hold” if it won’t be beneficial in a particular situation?  

  • Can you manage people’s emotions to inspire and motivate them?  

  • Can you make decisions that consider all of the facts, no matter how uncomfortable they are? 


Why does emotional intelligence matter? 

Emotions play an important role in our daily interactions and tasks, particularly when we’re working with others. Work makes emotional demands on people. Sometimes, the demands are quite explicit. For example, in sales roles, employees may need to display positive emotions when they are selling, regardless of how they feel. At other times, the demands are more implicit, such as the requirement to navigate a difficult conversation with a colleague. In the face of emotional demands, employees who can draw on emotional intelligence competencies are likely to be better equipped to maintain their well-being and performance at work.  

A study Criteria conducted with JVR Psychometrics demonstrated a clear relationship between emotional intelligence and job performance. The study focused on employees spanning across job levels from semi-skilled employees through to top-level management, and across multiple industries including education, professional services, and oil and gas. Employees who scored in the average range or higher on emotional intelligence (as measured by Emotify, a scientifically validated EI assessment), received higher overall job performance ratings from their managers, compared to those scoring in the below-average range. 


Employees who scored in the average range or above on the EI test also received more favorable manager ratings across many aspects of job performance compared to employees who scored below average, including: 


The body of research linking EI with various workplace and general life outcomes is significant and convincing. The role of EI in the areas of leadership, job performance, and stress management is well documented, with many new research insights being published regularly.  

The reality is that we make emotionally charged decisions at work every day. We feel project A is more important to the business than project B. We make choices to react in certain ways in meetings or conversations with colleagues. We interpret (or misinterpret) the meaning behind emails. Most of us interact at least some of the time with colleagues in different geographies and cultures to our own, and almost all of us work with people from a range of different generations. So, in these increasingly connected, collaborative and complex workplaces, including those where face-to-face interaction with employees is infrequent, there are few roles where EI is unimportant.  

Having the ability to identify and regulate our emotions allows us to empathize with others, communicate effectively and diffuse conflicting or difficult situations. It’s with good reason that the World Economic Forum lists EI as one of the critical Skills for the Future, and one which underpins many of the other skills on the list, such as leadership and social influence, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility. 


Emotional Intelligence in management and leadership 

What qualities define a good leader? It is unfortunate but true that those who are exceedingly intelligent do not necessarily make the best leaders. It is a common story in the business world where a highly intelligent, technically skilled employee is promoted into a leadership role, only to fail at the job. And someone with strong, but perhaps not extraordinary, intellectual abilities and technical skills is promoted into a similar position, and subsequently leads their team to success. Results and experience are relevant but far from the whole picture when assessing a person for a leadership role.  

Great leaders are self-aware and empathetic. They can read and regulate their own emotions while intuitively grasping how others feel and gauging their organization’s emotional state. They can influence, motivate, and bring their best selves to work, and also inspire others to bring their best work. According to Harvard Business Review, for a leader to be truly effective they must be able to master relationship management in a positive way. Many studies have found that leaders with higher levels of emotional intelligence demonstrate effective communication skills and an increased capacity to problem-solve as well as demonstrating the level of interpersonal skills required to establish more genuine relationships, identifying, understanding, and empathizing with their teams.  

In current times of disruption, the work of a leader has never been more important - or more difficult. According to Professor Neal Ashkanasy, a Professor at The University of Queensland (UQ) Business School, leaders now more than ever need to have a sharpened awareness of emotional intelligence and how to use it, to help successfully navigate their teams through crises such as pandemics. 

Leadership is an emotion-laden process at the best of times. And as work patterns shift, it is important for managers to exhibit a leadership style focused on communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and one that focuses on empathy and a supportive attitude. If leaders lack emotional intelligence, it could have more far-reaching consequences, resulting in lower employee engagement and higher turnover. 


Emotional intelligence in building interpersonal relations and teamwork 

Collaboration is a crucial part of working successfully in any organization. Most work is done by teams and there are few things that hold a team back more than an emotionally unintelligent team member. With the dramatic increase in the knowledge required to do any job function and the complexity of business processes, there are very few roles in an organization that wouldn’t require working with others - even the most technical roles.  

Work that has traditionally been accomplished by individual contributors often demands collective knowledge, expertise, and problem-solving. However, working as a high-performing team doesn’t come easily. Despite the vast array of experiences and diversity of thought that naturally comprises teams, it can still be challenging for even the best team players to navigate the dynamics of working with different personalities and to work in synergy.  

Emotionally intelligent people build strong connections and relationships with others. Strong EI underpins their ability to collaborate and communicate with others and to manage differences of opinion. Emotionally intelligent team members work to recognize each other’s strengths and accomplishments, seek feedback, give credit, and are therefore often more motivated with an enhanced sense of purpose. In positive workplace relationships characterized by high emotional intelligence, employees are likely to do what they can to help another person achieve success. 


Emotional intelligence in sales and customer service 

Employees engaged in customer service or sales roles work in an environment that can be effectively demanding and stressful. These roles produce a steady stream of emotionally charged events, including making and losing sales, dealing with difficult customers, and managing conflict with coworkers and supervisors. All the while employees are expected to remain positive, suppress any negative emotions, and focus on solving the problem at hand in an effective way.  

It's often reported that selling causes so much burnout that estimates of annual turnover among U.S. salespeople run as high as 27% - twice the rate in the overall labor force.  

Sales roles present an added layer of emotion-led work as they require a greater focus on the emotions of the customer or prospective customer and requires employees to adapt their own behavior to that emotional state. Without emotional intelligence, salespeople will struggle to build rapport with prospects and stay motivated.  

Advantages of High Emotional Intelligence in Sales

  • High El sellers are aware of their own emotional state and can control their emotions. They know how to cover up emotions that might turn off customers (e.g., lack of enthusiasm or excitement, anxiety, distraction, irritation, greed, insincerity, fear, and nervousness).  

  • Reps with high EI have the patience to delay gratification. This means they can continue prospecting with high energy even when they know it will take time to sign the deal.  

  • Practitioners with high EI can discern customers’ emotional states and can adapt and align their own emotions with that. Salespeople who have mature levels of EI know how to fine-tune their pitches to pull the right emotional triggers.  

  • High EI salespeople remain positive even amidst constant rejection. They do not take rejections personally and consistently avoid harboring negative emotions. Sales reps who can establish strong emotional connections with customers are better at understanding what customers feel, need, and expect.  

  • Strong emotional bonds with customers significantly improve retention rates, client satisfaction, and customer success. 


Emotify Scores and Performance 

In a study Criteria conducted with a leading marketing and communication agency on call center sales reps, a clear correlation was evident between emotional intelligence and performance. Top and middle-rated performers scored higher on an emotional intelligence assessment and those with higher EI (based on the completion of an ability-based EI assessment) made more calls, had more quality conversations with prospects, and were able to convert more calls to sales. 



Emotify Scores and Commitment to Customer Happiness 

In another study of customer service representatives, we collected data on attitudes toward commitment to customer happiness. The study found employees who received a high score on our ability-based EI assessment, were more likely to agree that customer happiness was important to them. 

Criteria collected data from customer service representatives for an IT systems company. We asked them how much they agreed with the statement “I get satisfaction from making my customers happy” and compared it to their performance on Emotify.  

Those employees who received a low score on Emotify (20% or below) were less likely to agree with the statement. E 

Employees who received a high score on Emotify (80% or above) were more likely to agree that their customers’ happiness was important to them, with 95% of this group agreeing with the statement. 



Emotional intelligence in emotionally demanding roles 

High levels of emotional work are central to many other roles including healthcare professions in medicine, nursing, therapy and aged care, teaching, law enforcement, emergency services, and even people management roles in Human Resources.  

These roles are emotionally challenging, with many employees dropping out due to burnout and emotional exhaustion. Breaking bad news to patients, managing multiple demands under time pressure, and dealing with pandemics all require a certain level of emotional intelligence. Indeed, physician empathy has been associated with patient satisfaction. Empathy lowers patients’ anxiety and distress and delivers significantly better clinical outcomes.  

Research suggests that emotional intelligence is linked to an individual’s ability to cope with stressful conditions. A study into the relationship between EI and stress responses found that participants who displayed higher levels of EI (via completion of an ability-based EI assessment) were less likely to succumb to the negative impacts of stressors. Those with higher levels of EI were found to display resilience and were less likely to suffer from burnout.  

Other studies have found a significant correlation between EI and individual advancement and performance, with evidence pointing to a strong link between an individual’s resilience and their motivation to achieve, emotional intelligence being a prerequisite to resilience, and resilience motivating endurance in the face of adversity. 

Emotify Scores and Stress Management 

During the validation of Emotify, we asked 931 candidates if they agreed with the statement “I have a hard time making it through stressful events.” We then compared their responses with their scores on Emotify.  

Those who score less then 20% on Emotify were twice as likely to respond ‘Agree’ or ‘Strongly Agree’ to this statement (left column) than people scoring 20% or above (right column). 

27% of the people scoring below 20% said they agreed or strongly agreed that they struggled with stressful events.  

13% of the people scoring above 20% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.