Some call it a fad, others call it the future way of work. Emotional Intelligence is one of those labels in the office where used inappropriately causes offence. “Obviously you have a low EQ!”. Is this a fair label to award someone or does this verge on discrimination? 

It is the same with any behaviour or new approach in the workplace, if you know (or think you know) more than the next person it is an opportunity to raise your profile. But how can you ensure you are aware of and can apply these techniques in the workplace?

Let’s start by taking a look at the constituent parts of how to raise your emotional intelligence.

Self Awareness 

The ability to review any situation that arises and process the facts and how the reaction will affect you as an individual. Being able to self-evaluate to understand our strengths and weaknesses, our trigger points for love, happiness and anger and frustration enables us to react to situations in a way that serves us in the most effective way. Understanding when to be compassionate, understanding when to be driven or forceful protects ourselves and increases our effectiveness and builds confidence in others. 

Applying this to the workplace being self-aware enables us to facilitate meetings more effectively. It enables us to bring the room back to focus once disagreement verges on becoming destructive and building walls within the team. Having self-awareness and certainty within ourselves enables us to take control of situations to reduce conflict, and drive to an outcome that is beneficial to individuals or a team.. 


Having drive and passion are key aspects of any successful person. However, it is important to find the balance to avoid becoming too focussed, too driven which makes you less self-aware, less approachable and effects your leadership. Having clarity and certainty in your goals and objectives and how to achieve them allows you to lead others and provide motivation to find the ways to succeed. 

Accepting Criticism 

Those with a higher emotional intelligence, though not necessarily going out of their way to seek criticism, will take on board any critique that is presented to them. Taking an initial view of acceptance and then reviewing the critique to determine its value prevents or limits conflict and enables processing and compartmentalising these comments to determine which aspects serve to improve ourselves in order to become more effective. By filtering the criticism we protect ourselves and maintain our effectiveness. As we are self-aware, we know what our strengths and weaknesses are, therefore an instant filter can be made to process the validity of the criticism. If there are elements of truth, we drill into the filtering to determine how modifying our approach may increase our effectiveness and enable us to find constructive elements in the critique. By providing an acceptance (in principle) to the criticism reduces conflict, diffuses the situation and enables the parties to focus on remedial activity and the best way forward. This also has the effect of increasing our effectiveness and leadership.


Newton’s third law: “Every action has an equal an opposite reaction” 

We should understand that any statement that we make to our peers and colleagues has the potential to cause an opposite reaction to what we originally thought. It is important as leaders to recognise the warning signs for potentially volatile situations and react accordingly. Understanding the potential scenarios that could be a response to a message will heighten our empathy. Understanding that there will be different reactions based on a person’s role, commitments, personal situation etc. will enable us to control our message  and focus on the outcome as well as supporting others who may be affected. Displaying empathy in these situations, understanding the other points of view without being condescending will increase our ability to motivate individuals and demonstrate constructive leadership to work towards the company goals and vision. 

Praising and Assisting others 

This builds on empathy. Understanding individual goals, restrictions or concerns nurtures an inclusive environment where all members of the team feel that they can contribute, disagree with points of view and challenge current thinking. Developing such an environment allows team spirit to grow, refines solutions and approaches and potentially opens new revenue avenues due to increased efficiency or enhancements to products and services.

Offering support to our team and colleagues will bring challenges to the surface and enable them to be resolved appropriately so that the individual(s) can regain clarity of thought and help deliver the project, initiative or goal. 

Praising team members nurtures confidence, but this must be heartfelt, so as not to come across as condescending or a tick box exercise which could lead to demotivation whereby opportunity is lost. Regular check-ins with those around us, listening and observing the challenges faced, the options tried and the solutions found increase our awareness, increases our respect for others and hopefully respect for our leadership is maintained or developed.

Now we have taken a look at some of the aspects of developing or displaying emotional intelligence, we can look at how this can be applied to business scenarios to determine how to increase effectiveness and shape the decision making process. We’ll now look at a couple of examples based on the status of the company. We’ll look at Start-ups, Established teams and large organisations. We’ll look at the parallels between the three business types and also the differentiators that require further thought.

Emotional Intelligence in the ‘Start-Up’

Start-up culture is historically fast paced, challenging, all hands to the pump, full of wins and losses; no doubt in equal measure. 50% of Start Ups fail in the first 5 years (ref:, usually for similar reasons around funding, product fit or too niche to make a difference in the current marketplace. 

There is more to business than having a great idea, the effort to launch and create markets is a daily challenge. As your product or service develops there will be interest from many angles, some welcomed and others that become a drain on your resources and time. In the formative years of your business, there needs to a ruthlessness and bloody minded ‘eyes on the prize’ mentality. This is where emotional intelligence becomes a necessity. 

As a business owner and entrepreneur, self-awareness is one of the most important skills to possess. Having an ego that says “I can do everything” is not the best use of your time and will dilute your effectiveness, particularly in your key skills. Having the ability to be self-critical and honestly evaluate your skill set will enable you to:

  1. Focus your attention on areas that are aligned to your skills
  2. When evaluating your team, this will enable appointments to key roles and responsibilities to help drive the business forward and to avoid waste and repetition. 
  3. Self-evaluation and awareness will highlight key areas of the business that have little or no coverage. 

These realisations , and constant evaluation of yourself and team capabilities will serve to set a blueprint for the hiring rounds of the company. In the absence of finding the right person to come onboard to fill this void, there will be decisions made as to who will provide this service as an interim. This interim appointment could be you or one of your team, or could involve outsourcing the activity to a niche specialist until the company grows to a size that warrants investment in a full time role or until the right person is found. 

Empathy is also critical to the formative years of your start-up. As the company forms, and goals and markets become more clearly defined, there may be some harsh choices that need to be taken; such as initial hires no longer meet the requirements of the company. You may decide that changes are required, empathy in these situations is paramount, supporting the individuals, understanding the impact  and providing options will benefit you and the company. No one wants to be known as a hirer and firer, understanding the ramifications of the individual and the company will enable the correct support plan to be put in place and enable new appointments to be made. The individual being supported with severance, references, training and time for interviews etc. will process the position and draw positives where possible. From your perspective, if you know that you have been empathetic, supportive and understanding then you are less likely to feel guilt, regret and other self-deprecating emotions that will cloud the task in hand and enable you to focus the business on growth and maximising opportunity.

Motivation, when applied to your product or service increases your certainty and confidence. This is important when entering into negotiations with suppliers and potential customers. If you are motivated and have confidence in your service, understanding the benefits and business problems that your product solves, you create a need and a want from your buyer. Providing a cost effective solution to a potentially long standing problem creates a negotiation position. Belief and therefore motivation is generated which removes stress of the pursuit. If you can remove the chase or perceived desperation, then your audience will be more likely to understand the benefits of your proposal and you can calmly answer any challenges that will more often than not present opportunity. With each success you create more positivity and become more motivated to repeat the pattern. If you are unsuccessful in the pursuit, ensure that you seek feedback from your customer. Accepting feedback (or criticism) will enable refinement of the proposition which in turn will provide a ‘better’ more refined presentation to the next potential buyer (or the customer who initially rejected your proposition). Improving the process or product will validate your integrity and willingness to collaborate with your customers to provide the right product at the right time and the right price. 

Emotional Intelligence in established teams

You’ve made it passed the start-up stage! You may have enjoyed increases in revenue, profits and have a team that you have assembled over time that are looking to develop as the company grows. 

It is at this stage where it is imperative that you do not rest on your laurels. If you do any market share that you have achieved will no doubt be threatened by competition and other newer companies. If you stand still, the only thing that can happen is that others catch you up or the gap to the next level becomes wider. You’ve reached this position through entrepreneurial mindset, a drive and motivation to make things better, so why stop now? 

Supporting others, in particular the team that you have assembled will be an investment that could open further avenues of growth. Development and appraisal systems must be an integral tool used to motivate; it cannot be a tick box exercise, or a recipe to create mountains of paperwork and process that individuals (appraiser and appraisee) are reluctant to follow. Providing an open and productive lean model will create a forum for individuals to feel supported, raise concerns, share their personal vision and goals that can  be mapped to business goals for mutual benefits. Some team members may also show some entrepreneurial spirit and may suggest a development path which could supplement or improve your companies offering and in turn open or establish a market.

Without the support, praise and environment to develop individuals, motivation will suffer, a perceived lack of opportunity will lead to resentment, unhappiness and potentially the individual ‘voting with their feet’ and finding a new job. Though the reality is that in today’s market people move on to gain different experiences, it is important that this happens for the right reasons. In some respects, if the individual moves on full of praise for the company and just wants to try something new, they are likely to recommend the company to others and reputation is maintained or even enhanced. There are many forums where candidates can conduct diligence on new companies; such as Glassdoor where current and ex-employees can provide feedback on many aspects of the company. You’ll never please all of the people all of the time, but to avoid regret, guilt and negativity, invest in your employees, make a calm, rewarding environment to promote a culture that people will want to join, that breeds confidence in your customers if retention levels are high. 

Part of your investment in people approach may include research and development, providing a sandbox for employees to innovate and try new ways to do things. Collaborative methods and being present leads to a breaking down of walls and removes traditional matrix structures. Having founders or CXO members available and supportive of ideas nurtures an inclusive environment and promotes innovation that not only develops individuals it can also open new markets and revenue lines. These examples of self-awareness and acceptance of others enforce the level of being present to the situation. Having this presence of mind enables clear thought process, enables balance in our lives and ensures we are feeding our internal aspirations and goals as one. Without being present in the moment we run the risk of missing opportunity, missing an unhappy workforce and chasing problems without a plan that prevents us finding the balance with all aspects of work and home life.

Emotional Intelligence in the large organisation

The problem with large organisations is that there are many similarly skilled employees all looking to gain a foot up the ladder to progress their career and take on more responsibility. As leaders, trying to nurture and develop this talent; whilst maintaining balance among the peer group with potential disruptions through pay reviews, promotion boards and the like, it is imperative to remain in a heightened state of awareness. As leaders we need to have a plan in place for our teams, clear group goals as well as individual targets that compliment each other rather than inviting the prospect of conflict. 

Promoting inclusiveness, providing a forum where your direct team have a chance to share ideas, success and challenges will build a framework for all to succeed. Setting ground rules such as no judgement of individuals, introducing gamification of challenges to build morale and healthy competition is likely to reduce some elements of stress within the workplace. Flexible working, lean process (audit) and lean governance keep all informed but reduce the paper trail and overhead to promote innovation, clear thinking and drive towards common and individual goals. 

A large organisation may have many executives and shareholders who set company targets. As leaders, in order to achieve these company goals, we must remain mindful of our surroundings and challenges, remember to check on people, praising and offering support with the objective of promoting greater loyalty and providing a healthy environment to tackle these challenges. Creating an environment of trust, loyalty and respect will raise confidence and provide certainty when sitting in front of stakeholders or shareholders. From this position messages and plans can be clearly articulated knowing that the team are behind this all the way. Displaying confidence and certainty will promote the same emotion in the stakeholders; which will be particularly relevant when discussing next phase budgets and objectives.

Having looked at the examples across the different organisation types, we can deduce that the same skill sets and approaches are applicable; irrespective of audience or conditions. Having a clear toolset and approach will build our confidence, providing clarity and balance across all aspects of our life and in turn raise our certainty of achievement and success. Breeding confidence and certainty is a key pillar to emotional intelligence, the more certainty we have, the more clarity of thought and direction will increase our effectiveness and ability to deliver the collective targets and ensure that when a market opportunity presents itself, we are there to maximise the potential and returns.

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