Emotional intelligence (EQ), at work and in life, is the key to better conversations, productive reflection, and connecting with others on a deeper level. Not to mention, being aware of our emotions helps us evolve past reactivity and more toward proactivity. Ever heard of “soft skills”? Those can be markers of a high EQ. 

What is emotional intelligence? 

The Oxford Dictionary defines EQ as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” According to Harvard Business Review, EQ competencies fall into four main buckets: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.  

Focusing on and growing in each of these areas can help anyone — manager or otherwise — improve their presence at work.  

Related: What are work determinants of wellbeing?  

Truity, a provider of productive personality assessments, recently published an article on EQ, citing six specific ways to tell if it is at work at, well, work:  

  1. You believe in lifelong learning. 
  1. You demonstrate vulnerability.  
  1. You value feedback. 
  1. You can self-regulate when things get hard. 
  1. You exhibit a work-life balance. 
  1. You compassionately read between the lines. 

These key indicators are specific examples of how a high EQ translates into the workplace. They’re also important qualities to look for in an effective people manager. It’s just as (if not more) important to seek candidates that show emotional awareness in the areas of vulnerability, compassion, and delegation. 

Emotional intelligence versus IQ

“IQ” stands for intelligence quotient, and it refers to our reasoning and logical ability to execute tasks. In other words, IQ leans on the intellectual, and EQ leans on the interpersonal. Getting job duties done is one thing; empowering a team to grow in their roles is another. However, neither are mutually exclusive; teams need a certain amount of both to collaborate well and succeed together. 

Entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson was asked which is more important in business — EQ or IQ. His answer, according to Inc.com, was in favor of EQ: 

I think being emotionally intelligent is more important in every aspect of life — and this includes business. Being a good listener, finding empathy, understanding emotions, communicating effectively, treating people well, and bringing out the best is critical to success. It will also help you build a business that really understands people and solves their problems, and it will make for a happier and healthier team too. 

Emotional intelligence at work

We referenced six key examples, but what specific actions can we take or build upon to ensure our EQ really is expanding? These suggestions will help ensure you’re touching on all four buckets, not just a few. 


Becoming emotionally self-aware requires engaging with our emotions. When it comes to work, reflecting on our roles is important to resolving conflicts. What are you reacting to in a personal way, and what’s a true interpersonal conflict that needs to be addressed? For those that don’t spend much time thinking about their personal responses, self-awareness may be a work in progress.  

Here are three things you can do today to make it an everyday practice: 

  1. Spend 10 minutes after a hard conversation to notice how you felt about the dialogue. 
  1. Notice if a work situation reminds you of a personal scenario. Is your reaction related to the job or something else? 
  1. When receiving constructive feedback, take time to think about it before replying. 

Social awareness 

Social awareness refers to our ability to “read the room.” Do you deliver feedback kindly and thoughtfully? Do you treat others like human beings with every interaction? For leaders wanting to better hone this skill, follow these three steps: 

  1. Practice active listening; don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Demonstrate you heard what was said by repeating it back in your reply. 
  1. Notice body language and tone. These can be unspoken cues asking to be addressed in a confidential way. 
  1. Respect people’s schedules. It may be tempting to do “quick drop-ins” on projects, but what’s brief to you may be a big distraction to the other person. Schedule time instead. 


Self-management and self-awareness often go together. The latter informs the former, and it requires honesty to know where we excel and where there’s room for improvement. No one knows how to do everything, so managing yourself includes knowing when your expertise fits and when someone else’s skills are better.  

To finetune self-management, follow these ideas from Asana, a top project management system for collaborative teams: 

  1. Notice how you respond to change. Adaptability is paramount in the ever-evolving work climate. It’s key to alter your workflow when tasks shift.  
  1. Establish a time management process. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when a team member tosses extra work our way. It’s up to us to manage our time and make sure that out-of-control scenario doesn’t last long. 
  1. Discover intrinsic motivation. Things like incentives or captivating contests are important drivers, but when it comes to long-term engagement, knowing how to manifest our excitement at work is always important. For example, what is your company’s mission, and how does that align with the work you do every day? 

Relationship management 

Boundaries are productive, whether it’s holding your own or respecting those a colleague sets. Meeting others where they’re at is an important pillar of EQ. It keeps us responsible for our side of the street (not both sides) and is key to avoiding things like micromanagement or overstepping.  

Here are three ways to practice relationship management, according to LinkedIn. 

  1. Assume good intent with every interaction. Rather than erring on the side of “ill will,” assume the other side means well, even if the tone or message doesn’t align with yours. 
  1. Avoid office gossip. There’s a difference between seeking productive advice and feedback on how to manage a relationship and speaking poorly about someone. Always lead with this: What’s the intent of this conversation? 
  1. Simply, talk. Conversing is often a lost art in our digital world. Connecting verbally with team members can be a powerful way to build trust that fuels healthy relationships at work. NPR radio host Celest Headlee offers conversation tips in her TED Talk.  

How will you explore your own EQ at work today? If you’re interested in learning how Sonic Boom Wellness can support these four areas, reach out to our team to learn more.