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emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI), in its simplest definition, is being self and socially aware. Awareness is step one, and management is step two. Learning to manage your own emotions for desirable outcomes, and to build relationships with others for desirable outcomes is what it means to have a healthy EI.

Leading with emotional intelligence in the workplace (YouTube, 3:37)

What EI is


Self-awareness is the staring point for strong interpersonal skills. Being self-aware means you are in tune with your own emotions. What causes you to be anxious or upset? Then, what helps soothe your ruffled emotions back down?



In addition to being aware of your emotions, you must manage them well. Things like exercising self-control to delay gratification, the ability to stay on task and focus through stressful situations, and knowing how to keep your cool in the face of disappointment are examples of managing personal emotions to achieve the best outcome.

Don't take it personally when I tell you "no." I'm using it on everyone this year (Lena Dunham LinkedIn post)

The first soft skill to develop in students (Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders)

Social awareness

It's important to understand your own emotions before you can analyze what others may be feeling. Being socially aware means you are in tune with the feelings and expressions of others. You can accurately interpret the meaning behind others' behavior, particularly through non-verbals and tone.

Social (relationship) management

People with strong EI know how to adjust their own emotions as they navigate relationships, and they know how to influence the emotions of others toward achieving good outcomes. This helps them make strong team contributions. It means they understand what is appropriate in social settings--appropriate to say and appropriate to do, particularly in conflict.

We all have choices about our behavior. When we have a strong sense of how our behavior choices will impact others, and when we can adjust our own emotions and behaviors to help achieve the most favorable outcomes, that's a mark of high EI.

Why EI matters

Employers value EI

If you want to be an effective communicator, strong interpersonal skills are a must. But they aren’t the type of skills employers are willing to try to teach you. They want you to come to the job with good interpersonal skills.


Employers know how vital these "soft skills" are in the workplace, and they will look for evidence that you have them from the first interview.

In Career Planning, we talked about how there are 3 elements to a successful job search: understanding the market, understanding the process, and understanding yourself. We said understanding yourself is the most critical of the three. Dan Miller, who wrote 48 Days to the Work You Love, says that 85% of the process of a successful job search is looking inward. The better you know yourself--your passions, dreams, and unique talents--the better your outcomes.

Leadership requires EI

EI is a helpful skill for anyone, but it's a critical skill for leaders who hope to lead well. The highest performing leaders are the ones with the highest EI, according to Travis Bradberry (see below).


Bradberry tells the story of how Abraham Lincoln was in the habit of writing a letter to someone if he was upset with him. After writing the letter, Lincoln put it in a drawer. If he felt the same way the following day, he would send the letter. Only...he never did. He discarded every letter.

This illustrates a great strategy in understanding your own need to get your frustrations out, but doing it in a way that allows you to salvage relationships.

Read this fascinating article about how Lincoln's strong EI enabled him to be a strong leader during turbulent times.

Relationships are enhanced through EI

A solid sense of who you are, how you're wired, what your emotional needs are and how to meet them is also the starting point for building healthy relationships, not only in the workplace but in your personal life. A deeper understanding of others' emotional needs and how to navigate them improves relationships.

how EI can be increased

EI can be learned

No matter what level of interpersonal skills you were born with, you can improve your particular set.

Daniel Goleman introduces emotional leadership (YouTube_5:31)

Daniel Goleman wrote the books Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence. Both offer suggestions on how to improve your self and social awareness, which will strengthen your interpersonal skills.

Another expert on Emotional Intelligence is Travis Bradberry. I follow Dr. Bradberry and Dr. Goleman on LinkedIn and benefit from their frequent postings about EI. 

The power of emotional intelligence, Travis Bradberry (TEDX, 19:12 minutes)

The emotional intelligence skills employers want now (Daniel Goleman, LinkedIn)

Emotional Intelligence: How competent are you? EI isn't a trait, it's skills (Daniel Goleman, LinkedIn)


These tweaks to your morning routine will make your entire day more productive (Dr. Travis Bradberry, LinkedIn post)


Why attitude is more important than IQ (Dr. Travis Bradberry, LinkedIn post)

Own your behaviors, Master your communication, Determine your success by Louise Evans, TEDX Genova (YouTube, 18:30 minutes) 

Identifying areas you may be weak in, and strategizing to improve your skill and awareness in those areas will help increase your EI.

Personal Assessments

Another way to increase your EI is to take personal assessments that offer insights into your personality, your communication style, your management style, and your talents and strengths. There are many good personal assessments and all offer value if they help you understand yourself and others better.

Three I recommend are the Enneagram, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the StrengthsQuest



The Enneagram (pronounced "any-a-gram") is a personality type indicator. You can read about the 9 type descriptions on the Enneagram Institute website. Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile have also written a great book on the Enneagram called The Road Back to You. Check it out on Ian's website, which includes a podcast.


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality assessments that has been around for years. Many organizations still incorporate the MBTI into human resource initiatives. A free online version of the MBTI can be taken here.



The Clifton StrengthsQuest is a StrengthsFinder assessment developed by Gallup. There is a cost associated with it, but some organizations provide it to their students/employees. It's worth checking to see if your organization does.


The SQ helps determine your five greatest talents that might be honed into strengths. Knowing your strengths can help steer you toward jobs/tasks for which you are best suited--ones where you can excel. A person who knows his or her strengths can leverage those in job interviews.


Another way to increase your EI is to have personal mentors. For more on how to develop mentoring relationships, see Mentorship.

Now that you know the importance of EI--what it is, why it matters, and how it can be increased--get started toward strengthening your own.

Additional people skills Content

Contribution & Leadership



Conflict Resolution

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