Emotional Intelligence in business and its importance

October 20, 2020

emotional intelligence in business

Joanne Waddington, the MD of Think OTB, discusses emotional intelligence in business, its importance and how it can be applied throughout different aspects of business.

Often coined a psychological theory only, Emotional Intelligence is one of the most powerful human elements you can bring to the business world, but its importance is often overlooked by those on a sprint to the top with their own agendas.

The thing is, no matter how hard and fast you try to climb the ladder, if you don’t possess the ability to be able to read, understand and relate to a person’s feelings and the situations around you, then the cracks will soon start to appear in your journey.

To achieve success in the right way, one must understand the importance of emotional intelligence and how it relates to the world of business. Furthermore, you have to remember that whoever said that emotions in business are forbidden, was wrong.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Put simply, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to connect with one’s own feelings and the feelings of others and use this to shape how they react and engage. 

The theory was first developed in 1990 by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer who described it as:

A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.

However, it was Daniel Goleman who really brought the theory to life and defined its importance when it came to business success. According to Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was more important than natural intelligence (IQ) in determining success! He laid out four elements of emotional intelligence, which over time have developed into five.

The five elements of Emotional Intelligence


In short, this is knowing who you are, how you react and the skills and traits you possess. If you learn to be self-aware, you can better understand how your actions affect others and can respond better to feedback.


One of the more difficult elements is self-regulation. Why? Because being self-regulated means you’re able to regulate the emotions you feel and control how you express them. Obviously, when you’re in a situation that causing upset, anger or frustration, this can be difficult.

Internal motivation

This doesn’t refer to being motivated to succeed as such, it refers to being motivated by your own desires and internal drive rather than external factors.


Ah, empathy. The powerful trait to possess. Being empathetic allows you to understand and relate to how someone is or could feel as a result of a situation you or someone else has caused. By putting yourself in their shoes, you can react in a better and more constructive way.

Social skills

Everyday we are surrounded by people and opportunities to form new relationships, whether personal or business related. However, those opportunities only develop into something more when a person possesses the right social skills to help it blossom.

The importance of emotional intelligence in business

If you think about the challenges and situations you are faced with on a daily basis in the workplace, you’ll realise just how much emotion comes into play. Whether it be welcoming a new team member, dealing with a customer complaint, finding a member of staff not working as hard as they could, or even something as little as the printer breaking, each situation can be handled better if emotional intelligence is brought into the mix. 

Hence the importance of emotional intelligence in business.

Examples of emotional intelligence in business

A member of the team doesn’t appear to be focusing on the job in hand. They’ve made a few mistakes and just seem to be elsewhere. It’s an unusual behaviour for them as previously, they’ve won employee of the month and regularly smashes targets.

As an emotionally intelligent leader you would recognise the behaviour is out of character, understand that perhaps something isn’t right, and contact the member of the team via email (as not to embarrass them) to ask for a quick chat, explaining that nothing is wrong, you’re just concerned. 

During the chat, the employee explains a family member has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and they just can’t focus. As an emotionally intelligent leader, you’d understand how devastating this news is for them, ask how you can help whilst also explaining that work does need to be done and so if they are unable to, then someone else would have to take it on. You may then offer for the employee to take the rest of the day as an emergency holiday to process their feelings.

However, if you’re not emotionally intelligent, you’d likely not even recognise a change in behaviour or signs of emotional distress and instead, attack the employee verbally for not concentrating and blaming them for mistakes.

Do you see the relevance now?

Being truly emotionally intelligent will allow you to not only form an emotional connection with an audience, but also internally with your team or externally with your clients or consumers.

As a result, an emotional bond will be formed which, as we know from a personal perspective, can support a long term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Teaching Emotional Intelligence through behavioural flexibility

One of the best ways to understand how teaching emotional intelligence works is to look at examples of those with little behavioural flexibility and identify what behavioural modifications would make these people develop emotional intelligence, therefore more effective in their dealings with others.

In the book Surrounded by Idiots’ by Thomas Erikson, he builds on the theory by the American Dr Susan Dillinger and Carl Jung the Swiss psychiatrist. They divide personality types into four categories: Blue, Green, Red and Yellow. 

Let’s explore:


General behaviours they display:

  1. Maintain a low-assertive, low-responsive behaviour
  2. Want to stick to the facts and get down to business without any chit-chat
  3. Follow procedures to the letter, very conservative and analytical, and are resistant to change

Recommendations for appropriate behaviour modifications in these circumstances would therefore be:

  • Develop an understanding of the importance of feelings
  • Learn to make decisions based on intuition rather than facts
  • Be willing to bend the rules to accommodate others
  • Take the initiative


General behaviours they display:

  1. Maintains a low-assertive, low responsive behaviour
  2. Beats around the bush to be kind and tolerant of others
  3. Takes deliberate actions based on feelings and relationships

Recommendations for appropriate behaviour modifications in these circumstances would therefore be:

  • Develop a sense of urgency and initiative
  • Learn self-assertion and strength of convictions
  • Be willing to take the initiative
  • Take a firm stand


General behaviours they display:

  1. Maintains a high-assertiveness, low responsive behaviour
  2. Wants to stick to business and to work independently
  3. Blunt, overbearing, competitive, impatient – likes to control situations and people.

Recommendations for appropriate behaviour modifications in these circumstances would therefore be:

• Develop empathy
• Learn to relax and pace self
• Be willing to listen and understand the feelings of others and be patient.


General behaviours they display:

  1. Maintains a high-assertive, high responsive behaviour
  2. Over-enthusiastic, over-optimistic and too much hype
  3. Takes quick action based on feelings and relationships

Recommendations for appropriate behaviour modifications in these circumstances would therefore be:

  • Develop emotional control
  • Learn to use time more wisely
  • Be willing to analyse detail

Applying Emotional Intelligence in business through innovation marketing

Since the birth of innovation marketing, consumer behaviour experts, business psychologists and anthropologists have worked alongside creative marketers to enable businesses to harness the power of emotional intelligence in order to persuade target audiences to react in pre-planned ways.

Whilst you may be thinking this is underhand or worse, it actually provides great benefits to both the business and the recipient.

What they do is enable business leaders to understand the emotions of their audience and think outside of the box to make their offering or product desirable. How? By changing perceptions. This can be achieved because they know how to use emotional intelligence.


Whether you are looking to boost creativity or operate more efficiently, emotional intelligence in business proves to be a helpful tool to boost your capacity to solve the problem at hand and generate valuable ideas.

By fostering heightened behavioural flexibility and awareness of the emotional connection / purpose and values that underscore your organisation as a whole, it is possible to translate this into concrete actions that form the basis of your organisational culture.

In doing so, this will ensure that the quality of your ideas is already aligned with your wider strategy, as opposed to generating more ideas but then losing them at the later stages because they do not tie to your end goals.

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