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What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Does It Matter?

Why emotional intelligence matters
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Cognitive intelligence in a given field or industry is crucial for all workers to have. However, intelligence goes far beyond an IQ. Emotional intelligence, or the ability to be aware of and understand your and others' emotions, is just as important.

"Understanding your emotions, controlling them, and understanding other people's might be the most important asset in working with others," said Eric Lupton, CEO of Life Saver Pool Fence.

In an article published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, Joseph C. Rode, professor of management at Farmer School of Business at Miami University of Ohio, and his co-authors found emotional intelligence is linked to higher salaries and increased job satisfaction. We spoke to experts to define emotional intelligence and outline ways to use it in your career.

Lupton defines emotional intelligence as the ability to be aware of, manage, and control your emotions, and to use that ability to work and empathize with others. This is crucial for all types of relationships, from personal to professional, he said.

Similarly, Rode noted that emotional intelligence "represents the intersection of emotions and general mental ability."

"It can also be thought of as the extent to which one actively thinks about emotion or uses emotions as important information in a manner similar to other information, such as facts and opinions," he added.

Emotional intelligence, and its associated people skills, are crucial, because people are an important part of any business. Emotions, said Rode, are important pieces of information that must be considered in decision-making – even if that means learning to tune them out.

"While emotional intelligence includes the ability to use emotions to increase motivation and focus, it also includes the ability to detach from very powerful short-term emotions when needed to better focus on the tasks at hand," he said.

Just like cognitive intellect, you can become more emotionally intelligent by taking the time to learn about people and emotions. Read a few psychology books, get to know your employees on a personal level and increase your self-awareness. If you practice becoming more mindful of your own feelings and your reactions to others', you'll become more empathetic.

"While some people are going to be naturally gifted with a higher EQ than others, like anything else, it is possible to improve with patience and dedication," said Lupton. "Taking time to get to know people around you and consciously seeking to empathize can go a long way toward having an effectively higher EQ. If you look at someone else and see yourself reflected back in them, you can begin to treat them in a more compassionate and understanding manner."

Rode's study found that people with high emotional intelligence typically have higher salaries than people who don't. To measure emotional intelligence, Rode and his co-authors required participants to solve multiple emotional problems that had right and wrong answers like an IQ test. For example, participants had to identify emotions in faces or artwork and identify the best response to different scenarios. Higher emotional intelligence has shown to be related to several measures of leadership effectiveness.

"Following this research, we argued that emotional intelligence should be more relevant to success – and salary – at higher organizational levels, where leadership becomes a relatively more important part of one's job," said Rode.

But what is the connection between high emotional intelligence and high salary? Brad Flowers, partner of boutique branding agency Bullhorn Creative, says this important quality helps you to read the situation and time your request just right.

"The most difficult part of getting a bigger salary is asking for it," Flowers said. "Emotional intelligence – combined with a smart case – equips you with the tools to recognize the perfect moment to ask, how to ask appropriate for your audience and how to deal with any answer you receive." 

Jennifer Hancock, founder of Humanist Learning Systems, said people with emotional intelligence also typically have high salaries because they tend to be more productive.

"People who are good at working with other people and getting other people to work with them tend to get more work done," she told Business News Daily. "They have good reputations since people like working with them."

Additional reporting by Saige Driver. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Business News Daily and Business.com staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.

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