Emotional intelligence in the workplace matters much more for leaders and project managers today as remote work expands widely due to COVID-19. When it comes to achieving project goals and managing cross-functional remote teams, it is impossible to succeed without emotional intelligence. 

Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 book, "Emotional Intelligence," explained in his popular Harvard Business Review article, "What Makes a Leader?": "It's not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities’"; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions."

A leader with high emotional intelligence is likely to be more effective in their duties: communication, problem-solving, and management because they have the primary skills required to handle their job and also a deeper understanding of themselves, their team, and how their words and actions impact success.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our emotions while recognizing how they influence others’ emotions.

The theory of emotional intelligence was introduced in the early 1990s by two leading psychologists, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. In 1995, science journalist and author Daniel Goleman connected the theory with business leadership, solidifying its place in mainstream conversation and leadership education, with the book titled Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace is the ability of professionals, especially leaders and managers, to recognize their emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings, and adjust their emotions and reactions to achieve their goals. In summary, emotional intelligence is an array of useful skills and characteristics that drive effective leadership at work.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence in the workplace is critical to managing cohesive, high-performing teams. Researchers and behavioral scientists have suggested that emotional intelligence affects how leaders communicate with their teams and how their team members interact with them and each other. 

Emotionally intelligent leaders and managers know how to manage their emotions and behavior at work, creating safe environments for exchanging ideas and feedback, productive teamwork and performance, high morale, employee engagement, and job satisfaction. They manage workplace stress and conflict carefully and teach their team members to do the same. 

Top emotional intelligence skills managers need

Goleman's book highlights five key components of emotional intelligence, which outline useful emotional intelligence skills that can improve leadership effectiveness at work. 

Every leader or manager interested in improving their emotional intelligence in the workplace must prioritize these five skills below, breaking them down into even smaller skillsets for the best results. For example, to become self-aware, a manager must learn to listen actively and encourage giving and receiving feedback within the team or organization. 

  • Self-awareness
    As a manager, you perform better when you are continuously honest and aware of your strengths and weaknesses. 

    Without the ability to reflect and view yourself objectively, you may lean towards blaming others or failing to see how your actions contribute to particular outcomes. Self-awareness helps you recognize and understand your moods and emotions, as well as their effect on others. 
  • Self-regulation
    Being aware of our emotions and their impact on others is a strong starting point for good leadership. The next step is to manage these emotions and the reactions they evoke.

    Good leaders and managers must be able to handle pressure and refrain from emotional outbursts or strong negative reactions at work as these actions can cloud the leader's decision-making, break team morale, and cause confusion in a bad situation. Emotionally intelligent leaders hold their emotions in check and channel their energy into creating positive outcomes. 
  • Empathy
    Combined with self-regulation, empathy helps leaders and managers understand their team members and other partners. Having empathy simply means to understand and share others' feelings and be able to put yourself in their shoes. 

    If you pay attention to your team members' moods and actions, you may recognize actions or behaviors that warn you before a molehill problem grows into a mountain. Without empathy, a leader is unable to recognize the impact of their actions on others. They may be unkind to employees and team members without being aware. They may ask for more than their team can handle and create a toxic work culture. 
  • Social Skills
    Good social skills have a direct, measurable impact on almost all aspects of leadership and management. We can go as far as to say that good communication skills are the sine qua non of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

    Social skills help you deal with challenging situations and improve interpersonal relationships, collaboration, and team performance. They also help to resolve conflicts, build and maintain company culture, and develop project plans.
  • Motivation
    More than the promise of bonuses, salary increases, perks, or a more senior title, good leaders are motivated by strong intrinsic values. They communicate clearly and often to their teams and employees. 

    Leaders with emotional intelligence understand their internal motivations and how they correlate with those of their team members and the organization. Intrinsic motivation, more than just emotional intelligence, is a competitive advantage in almost any business context. The ability to harness and communicate this motivation to leaders, project managers, and employees cannot be underestimated.

How to improve emotional intelligence

You can improve your emotional intelligence with training, reflection, and deliberate practice. Starting with self-awareness, you can find and use the techniques that improve the areas of emotional intelligence you lack. Here are a few ideas to increase your emotional intelligence in the workplace. 

  • Build interpersonal work relationships
    The best way to build emotional intelligence is by practicing in real-world situations. Go for lunch with co-workers, attend industry-relevant networking events, and create relationships with people you work with.
  • Lean towards the positive 
    You must learn to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. In moments of pressure, focus on amplifying the positive and leading your team with an optimistic outlook. When things go wrong, instead of hammering on the negative, which reduces team morale, you can reframe your perspective and ask, "how can we do better next time?"
  • Manage your stress proactively
    Stress is inevitable. Stress at work is almost guaranteed. Exercise, meditation, and taking regular breaks from work are a few ways to reduce stress. 
  • Schedule "me" time to think 
    As a leader or project manager, you must schedule a time during the workweek to think and plan your ongoing projects. Writing in a journal, list, or within a project management tool is one of the simplest ways to increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence in the workplace. 

    Collaborative workspaces like Wrike have personal spaces where you can outline, reorder, and keep tabs on your work and emotions. You should mark recurring subjects or areas of improvement over time. 
  • Have a confidant or mentor
    Leaders with coaches perform better than leaders who handle everything on their own. It is helpful to talk to someone you trust about your emotions. It would help if this person is objective and has their emotions in check.

    Talking to someone who understands your work and responsibilities helps you reflect and become aware of what needs to be done. You can even ask for advice. Having a good confidant or mentor can help you build your emotional intelligence quickly.
  • Enroll in emotional intelligence training
    Becoming emotionally intelligent is not a one-and-done deal. We can all improve in self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills, and motivation. When you know the areas you need to improve the most, you can enroll in an online or offline emotional training course. 

How to encourage emotional intelligence in the workplace

In today's evolving world of work, there are many ways to encourage emotional intelligence in the workplace. Managers must imbibe the characteristics they wish to see in their employees by: 

  • Leading by example
  • Practicing empathy
  • Communicating clearly and positively
  • Praising in public and criticizing privately
  • Creating a work environment that rewards emotional intelligence
  • Listening actively
  • Embracing feedback
  • Providing emotional intelligence workshops or courses for team members

Where to get emotional intelligence training for managers?

You can find a lot of emotional intelligence training and courses for managers online. 

These include courses from Daniel Goleman (the author of Emotional Intelligence), Harvard's Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, and an increasing collection of courses on the subject on Udemy and other e-learning platforms. 

Depending on your budget, how much training the managers need, and if you'd like a certification upon completion, you can decide which emotional intelligence training is best for your managers.

Why is emotional intelligence important in project management?

When you consider emotional intelligence, it is easy to understand how important it is to project managers in their daily work.

While the ability to organize and execute effective project plans can't be underestimated, the ability to maintain a harmonious team, whether in-office or remote, may be rarer and more critical. 

Project managers with high emotional intelligence experience a higher chance of success, improved physical and mental well-being, better work relationships, and lower stress levels. Emotional intelligence in project managers also helps to:

  • Build solid relationships internally and externally
  • Foster environments with good communication and culture
  • Ensure successful collaborations 
  • Negotiate and find points of compromise
  • Resolve disputes and manage conflicts
  • Listen actively to feedback

Are you ready to take actionable steps to improve your emotional intelligence? Read the rest of the infographic to evaluate your emotional intelligence and get tips for improvement. Get a free two-week trial to learn how Wrike improves communication, increases visibility, and supports managers and teams.

(Source: University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business)