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The Value of Emotional Intelligence at Work

Intelligence is a highly valued quality, but also a widely misunderstood one. We don’t gain much of it from our education, or from listening to Mozart. That app on your phone won’t boost it. Psychologists have wrestled for decades with the question of what intelligence is and where it comes from. The answer may surprise you.

Education is crucial for gaining knowledge, but intelligence refers to our raw mental ability. Research on General Intelligence (or “g”, for short) finds the key elements seem to be the ability to quickly decipher new information. The differences between people on this ability seem to be primarily due to genetics. But before you start trying to screen potential employees’ genome, you should know research finds that g is only modestly related to workplace performance.

What kind of intelligence does impact workplace performance?

Emotional intelligence (or “EQ”) describes our ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, and the emotions of those around us. Since most work environments involve working with people, or for people, EQ is a much better predictor of workplace performance than g.

People higher in emotional intelligence are more successful in group-based tasks and more appreciated by their peers. Across a wide range of job settings, higher performers rate higher in EQ. For supervisors, EQ can be particularly valuable. Managing, motivating, and reprimanding employees can all be emotionally fraught interactions. Greater EQ helps supervisors navigate this process more effectively.

But sometimes emotional intelligence at work is bad, right?

Could emotional intelligence be a detriment in emotionally demanding, interpersonal work – such as nursing, teaching, and working with special-needs populations – where some emotional distance might be beneficial? The answer is no. It’s actually a benefit. Research consistently finds less, not more, burn-out in employees high in EQ. The only critique of EQ is that job performance metrics are often more subjective aspects of likeability rather than objective measures of quality, which biases any studies of EQ’s impact.

What’s the takeaway?

The science of Workplace Psychology is catching up to what savvy hiring managers have known for a while. People skills can be a critical but traditionally underappreciated quality in employees. But there’s no one size fits all answer, successful candidates are the best fit for the needs of the position.

Want help identifying if emotional intelligence matters for your role? Cangrade can help you identify the personality traits and soft skills that differentiate your most successful employees and help you make your next great hire.