EVERFI Content Team

What is Emotional Intelligence at Work?

Emotional intelligence encompasses a range of competencies that help individuals and leaders effectively navigate the complexities of the modern workplace.

So, what is emotional intelligence? Daniel Goleman, an internationally known psychologist and author, outlined five components of emotional intelligence, or “EI,” in his bestselling book, EI: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. These five attributes include the following:

  1. Self-awareness involves recognizing your own emotions, understanding their impact on your behavior, and being able to accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Self-Regulation is the ability to manage and control your emotions, especially in stressful situations.
  3. Intrinsic Motivation is the drive that comes from within rather than external rewards.
  4. Empathy is the capacity to understand and share the feelings of others.
  5. Social Skills covers a range of abilities, including communication, active listening, and collaboration.

Emotional intelligence is not just a nice-to-have for leaders: it’s critical for business success. Employees who have managers with high emotional intelligence are four times less likely to leave their company. Emotional intelligence is also important for leaders today who are often charged with addressing negative conflict.

Guide: How Emotional Intelligence Helps Address Conflict in the Workplace

Learn practical strategies for using emotional intelligence to diagnose, navigate, and prevent conflicts in the workplace using our full guide!

The High Costs of Workplace Conflict

Research shows that, between 2008 and 2022, the rate of people who report dealing with conflict at work “often” increased by 24%+. Unhealthy workplace conflict, if left unchecked, can have far-reaching consequences and significantly impact a company’s bottom line.

“Companies with high levels of conflict and low levels of emotional intelligence typically see high absenteeism, high sick rates, less overall engagement, and they’re usually less diverse,” notes Gianna Driver, the CHRO at Exabeam.

Conflict at work can create an environment that’s emotionally draining and stressful. As a result, employees may choose to call in sick or take unplanned time off to avoid a tense workplace. Additionally, they may lose motivation, withdraw from team activities, and become less committed to their work. Low engagement and absenteeism don’t only affect individual productivity but can also disrupt team dynamics and overall workflow.

Ongoing conflicts can be particularly damaging to diversity and inclusion efforts within an organization. When people feel unwelcome or unsupported, they are less likely to bring their unique perspectives to the table. This hinders innovation and can lead to a homogenous and less creative work environment.

The financial impact of workplace conflict associated with loss of productivity alone can be staggering. Now add on the costs related to attrition, and it becomes clear that this is a critical issue for organizations to solve, especially with data showing 34% of employees have left a job because of unresolved harassment issues.

Emotional Intelligence: The Key to Effective Conflict Management

Emotional intelligence provides leaders with a powerful set of tools that can identify, deescalate, and prevent conflict in the workplace. Here’s how each component of emotional intelligence can help a leader address conflict effectively.

  1. Self-Awareness. Self-awareness can help leaders spot non-verbal cues of conflict within themselves and others, such as feeling down, withdrawing or lack of participation, or avoidance.
  2. Self-Regulation. This enables leaders to approach conflicts objectively and maintain composure when tensions rise. Practicing self-regulation means taking a moment to pause and think before reacting impulsively.
  3. Intrinsic Motivation. This trait is essential for collaborative problem-solving during conflicts. Leaders with internal motivation are more likely to seek solutions that benefit the team and the organization, rather than trying to “win” the conflict.
  4. Empathy. In conflict situations, empathy allows leaders to validate others’ experiences, foster understanding, and build rapport. It’s a crucial skill for de-escalating tensions and finding common ground.
  5. Social Skills. In the context of conflict, these skills enable leaders to partner with employee resource groups, facilitate open dialogue, and work together towards resolutions.

Emotional intelligence is essential for encouraging healthy debate and minimizing workplace conflict. These skills are also critical for reducing employee turnover and creating a more collaborative, diverse, and productive work environment. The ROI of upskilling leaders in this realm is high for businesses today.

Leadership Essentials Suite of Microlessons

Our 10-minute leadership training lessons on Managing Conflict at Work, Leading with Emotional Intelligence, and Engaging Employees, empower leaders and managers to build the skills they need to lead in today’s ever-evolving work environment.