Last updated: The case for EQ: Why emotional intelligence in business matters

The case for EQ: Why emotional intelligence in business matters


In an era that often seems empathy-deficient and empathy-starved, it’s easy to understand the growing interest around emotional intelligence in business, and why it will matter for success – especially in an economy that values experience and emotion so highly.

In a nutshell: the business case for EQ is the human case for EQ.

Then what’s the problem? Improve your EQ and win at business and life. Simple, right?

If only it was so. Let’s face it: interacting with other people can be difficult. People are a mess. We are a mess. No, not always; but often enough, and often with each other.

“Hell is other people.”

This famous and searing indictment of being-with-others appears in the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre.

I mean, who hasn’t felt Sartre’s sentiment deep in their bones on the fifth Monday of the week when someone’s hair is on fire at 4:53 p.m., or when you have to reply with another ‘per my last email…’?

Perhaps there was one too many meetings to prep for other meetings that should have been emails. Except it’s never just one too many. They’re all too many.

Okay, maybe Sartre wasn’t talking about the annoyances of work life or needing some alone time to recharge.

All out-of-contextness and misinterpretation aside, one possible takeaway from our cold, cozy commiseration with Sartre’s statement of hell and other people is not that we feel it, but how we manage that feeling in ourselves.

Think of the 10/90 principle of what happens and how we react to it. Or, to look at the other-side of emotional intelligence, we become aware and regulate how we respond to that emotional state in someone else.

Without unpacking Sartre’s line in-context, the quick-and-dirty of it is that it has more to do with how we judge and make assumptions about each other as human beings than about how stupid, annoying, and incompetent other people can be.

The hell that Sartre seems to mean is one that improving empathy and emotional intelligence can go a long way toward overcoming and transforming into healthy and productive business relationships.

What is emotional intelligence or EQ?

Emotional intelligence, whether you call it EQ or EI (as the concept’s originator, Daniel Goleman, prefers to abbreviate it), is not a new concept. Goleman wrote the book on it – literally – in the late 1990s.

Goleman lays out five pillars of emotional intelligence to look for when hiring candidates, or when working to strengthen your own EQ:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. People skills

What does emotional intelligence have to do with business?

As long as we have to work with other people (and we do) and as long as we serve human customers (and we will), emotional intelligence in business will be an essential part of negotiating the complexities and dilemmas of those relationships for the best outcomes.

The revival of interest likely has many contributing factors, but the most obvious include:

  • Digital transformation: This seems counterintuitive at first glance. The rapid development and hyper-focus on AI and machine learning has also reminded of the importance of balancing it with the human strengths such as empathy and emotional intelligence.
  • Bad leadership and burnout: This kind of speaks for itself. People are tired of it. If Sartre had done any time in these toxic work environments, perhaps his line would have been something like, “Hell is bad bosses.” No?
  • Leaders with higher EQ get better results: Happier employees are more productive and innovative. But different people are motivated differently, and emotionally intelligent leaders find out what works for each individual and adjust their approach accordingly instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all solution. Happier employees make happier customers make higher profits.

Workplace culture grows out of the tone set by EQ levels of executives. That willingness to listen to others and to adjust one’s own behavior and course of action radiates outward, emerging in the customer experience with your company.

Daniel Goleman says of emotional intelligence among executives:

“The most effective [business] leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”

Unless you work in an overtly life-and-death situation on the regular, you’re probably likely to prefer a balance of IQ and EQ in your co-workers.

When someone is miserable and insufferable to work with every day, the value of their great technical skill and intelligence plummets.

Why will emotional intelligence in business be so important?

With customer experience as the primary field of competition among brands, the ability to listen to and understand your customers – even as they are changing from moment to moment – the emotional intelligence of your leadership and your company enables you to meet and exceed customer expectations.

This requires fostering an emotionally intelligent workplace culture. Leadership demonstrating EQ and training employees to develop their own self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and ability to build rapport and trust with everyone they encounter.

The emotional intelligence of your company inevitably shows through in the customer experience.

The numbers continue to support the benefits of higher emotional intelligence in business. Boosts in productivity, employee engagement, efficiency, customer satisfaction, and, of course, profits have caught the attention of the business world.

Some businesses will hold fast to the attitude – spoken or implied – that hell is other people and continue to ignore the value of updating and integrating emotional intelligence into their organizational culture.

And they will almost certainly succumb to inevitable existential crisis as top talent leaves and customers disappear.

The experience economy and intelligent digital technologies such as AI and machine learning continue their symbiotic evolution.

Businesses leading the way will drive growth and innovation through balanced development of the best human and machine attributes to deliver exceptional experiences based on empathy and real-time understanding of what customers need, feel, and expect.

Shine in the moments that matter.
Download our report on the future of customer experience. 

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