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Fingers holding blocks with the letters EQ and IQ while creating workplace emotional intelligence

Improve Workplace Culture by Building Emotional Intelligence

Remember when organizational culture crept into boardroom conversations decades ago? What began as a peripheral topic blossomed into a top priority as leaders began to understand the profound impact culture had on their businesses.

Now the term “emotional intelligence” (EQ) is getting the same kind of attention as an increasing number of articles and studies detailing the subject are opening eyes and swaying opinions. Many experts explain the effect EQ has on the workplace and how it dovetails with company culture. Most conclude that an organization can’t create a healthy culture without helping employees develop a higher EQ.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

While it’s currently a hot-button topic in the business world, emotional intelligence isn’t a new idea. Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined the term in 1990 in an academic journal. And Daniel Goleman wrote the seminal book on the topic in 2015, bringing the concept from the backwaters of psychology and neuroscience into the mainstream.

In Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, the Pulitzer Prize nominee and former New York Times reporter distilled oceans of research into language a layperson could grasp. EQ is broadly defined as a person’s ability to recognize and understand emotions in oneself and others and then use this awareness to manage their behavior and relationships.

Goleman breaks the EQ model into four sections:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

People with a high EQ have focused on and developed proficiency in each of these areas.

Why EQ is Vital for a Robust Culture

People’s conduct is largely driven by their perceptions of themselves and those around them. Since organizational culture is the sum of a staff’s behaviors, it is greatly influenced by the level of people’s personal and social awareness and ability to manage their actions and interactions.

A Harvard Business Review report states that companies that prioritize EQ maximize the impact of their culture. The study concludes that these organizations are better equipped to engage and empower their teams and facilitate interpersonal skill development. And high employee EQ leads to increased customer loyalty because team members interact with people so effectively.

A focus on EQ also strengthens retention because employees feel seen and heard. Conversely, a Hubspot survey found that the opposite is true: 82 percent of workers would consider leaving their jobs for a more empathetic organization.

Criteria CEO Josh Millet further explains EQ’s importance in Forbes:

“Emotional intelligence addresses employees’ most fundamental needs and concerns, from the desire for their voices to be heard to the ability to solve problems collaboratively and creatively. It is at the center of healthy relationships between colleagues because it helps them listen to one another, recognize and address problems when they arise and approach every interaction with genuine concern for the feelings of others.”

Employees’ interpersonal skills are critical for organizations to compete in the marketplace. High EQ allows staff to deepen professional relationships and form an environment where they’re comfortable and motivated to innovate, solve problems, and deliver outstanding service.

How to Strengthen EQ

It only takes one low-EQ person to disrupt a team. To maximize the positive impact it can have, everyone at every position in a company should hone their emotional intelligence. And it starts at the top.


Daniel Goleman states in his book on the topic: “Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.” Instead of using top-down intimidation tactics, leaders with a high EQ understand how to get the best out of their team members.

Eastward Partners CEO Joe Carbone offers several tips in Forbes on how leaders can improve their EQ.

  1. Build self-awareness.
    Carbone notes that self-aware people clearly understand their personality traits, motivations, and emotions. Consequently, they’re better equipped to regulate their reactions to situations. He recommends journaling as an effective way to process emotions, discover patterns in feelings, and unload feelings that may impede success.

    Another tactic is identifying someone they trust to talk about how they feel. Whether they are writing or discussing their feelings, they are articulating and thinking about emotions instead of being blindly led by them.

  2. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
    People who understand their strengths can rely on them in challenging situations. This awareness can help them channel these assets and stay positive under pressure. Awareness of weaknesses can help leaders avoid circumstances where they can’t tap into their strengths and are prone to letting emotions take over.

    Carbone recommends taking one of the many available quizzes to identify personal strengths and weaknesses. Another approach is to ask family and friends for feedback, giving them the freedom and flexibility to be honest. The better grasp leaders have on what they do best, the more effectively they can avoid caving in to their weaknesses and instead use their strengths to guide their teams.

  3. Develop a habit of reflection.
    Carbone observes that taking time to think back on the day’s events can help leaders process what went well and what didn’t. He stresses that even scheduling ten minutes a day for reflection can be one of the most valuable things leaders can do to be more successful.

    Without taking this kind of inventory, it’s easy for leaders to miss that they may have been part of a problem or could have handled something more effectively.

  4. Take time to recalibrate.
    Often leaders are so wound up in the intricacies of their organizations that they neglect to reserve time to nurture themselves. And a depleted leader can’t help their team thrive. It’s much easier to remain calm and collected if they set aside time to decompress.

Everyone recalibrates differently, whether via meditation, exercise, focusing on a hobby, or just spending quality time with family and friends. The key is acknowledging the need and making room for these therapeutic activities so they can recharge and have the energy to exercise their EQ.

As with every aspect of a company’s culture, employees emulate their boss. So if a CEO or owner demonstrates emotional intelligence, their team members are inspired to follow suit. The same is true if leaders show poor self-awareness and don’t control their emotions.


Emotional intelligence is a personal trait, but it is also a key component of a healthy organizational culture. A company’s culture affects every aspect of the business, and the staff’s collective EQ level largely determines the efficacy of the culture.

Like their leaders, employees must commit to doing the work to build their personal EQ. But organizations can encourage their development by creating an environment for them to succeed. Since culture is formed by the dominant actions and attitudes in a workplace, leaders can intentionally define and coach behaviors that enhance EQ.

Promoting the following behaviors will help cultivate an emotionally intelligent staff.

  • Walking in Others’ Shoes
    Empathy is one of the basic components of EQ. Along with the need to be attuned to their own emotions, people must make an effort to comprehend how others feel in any situation. Leaders can work with staff to think from the perspectives of their coworkers or customers before speaking or acting from their own point of view.

  • Listening generously
    People with low EQ tend to tune others out or hear them through filters reflecting their own biases. There are several techniques leaders can encourage to help staff listen to understand people so they can work with them more effectively. These include:
    • Setting aside judgment
    • Being open to learning something new
    • Removing distractions and giving people their full attention

Managers can underscore the importance of good listening by actively demonstrating these techniques. Team members need to know they are being heard.

  • Treating others with dignity and respect
    Social awareness stems from this behavior. It’s living out the understanding that everyone deserves this treatment regardless of background, heritage, skin color, sexual orientation, age, or physical capability. Leaders can foster a psychologically safe environment that cultivates EQ by making respect a non-negotiable component of the workplace culture.

  • Assuming positive intent
    People with high EQ don’t jump to conclusions and give others the benefit of the doubt. Doing this provides time to assess issues fully without overreacting or instigating conflict. Leaders can help their people develop this behavior by having them go into every situation with the mindset that other parties have good intentions.

  • Practicing blameless problem-solving
    Defensiveness is one of EQ’s biggest impediments. Employers who establish a solution-focused culture can significantly diminish this very human trait. They can coach their team to pull together to solve mistakes instead of pointing fingers when they occur. And they can further develop their people’s EQ by encouraging them to work as a team to prevent future errors.

These behaviors may not come naturally to everyone, but people can become adept at them through practice and reinforcement. Managers can use techniques like role-playing, asking people to share how they would respond in specific scenarios, establishing a mentor program, and one-on-one coaching to strengthen these skills.

Leaders can also cultivate a more emotionally healthy workplace by being transparent, acknowledging people’s contributions, and creating a safe atmosphere where people can respectfully and openly share their thoughts and opinions to move things forward.

The Benefits of EQ in the Workplace

Having an emotionally intelligent staff can lead to countless improvements throughout an organization. The primary benefits include:

A high-EQ staff is a valuable asset that can help businesses be more effective, improve communication and increase trust. But improving emotional intelligence takes time and commitment from leaders and isn’t something that can be forced on people or taught overnight. EQ can have a positive and lasting impact when prioritized in organizational culture and regularly practiced and supported.

By investing in emotional intelligence, leaders will develop a better-connected workforce that feels appreciated, respected, and motivated to succeed.

What will be the role of EQ in an increasingly digitalized world? Daniel Gorman predicts, “As AI gains momentum and replaces people at every level, there will be a premium placed on people who have a high ability in EQ.” Technology can’t compete with this very human and needed commodity.