Emotional intelligence is an essential business tool, say Pamela Young and Penny Owston. They explain what it really means – and how to develop it 

It was Dr Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, who brought the notion of emotional intelligence (also often referred to as EI and EQ) to prominence after extensive research on the brain and human actions and interactions. His 1995 book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ has sold an amazing 5,000,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into 40 languages. Daniel Goleman’s view, that EQ matters more than IQ, is now supported by many of the world’s most influential business thinkers. Consultant, author, and leadership expert Gordon Tredgold points out that we ‘get promoted because of our IQ and get fired because of our lack of EQ’.

Emotional intelligence as a business tool

Many of the highly acclaimed business schools, including Harvard, now teach the importance of emotional intelligence. As Daniel Goleman says, ‘without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader’. If the importance of possessing these skills is so widely recognized, it begs the question – why don’t they teach it at law school?

The haves and the have nots

We all know people who clearly do not possess these skills – how about Donald Trump? On the other hand, there are those who possess EQ by the bucket load – enter Richard Branson. The perception is that you either have it or you don’t… and if you don’t, that’s just hard luck. Well, the good news is: that’s nonsense! There’s so much you can do to develop your own EQ and it’s most certainly worth the effort.

What is EQ?

So, what exactly is it? Essentially, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and those of the people around you. Once developed, emotional intelligence will enhance your performance in the work environment as well improve your ability to manage relationships in your everyday lives.

According to Goleman, EQ comprises five skills:

1. Self-awareness

Look for ways to respond differently and resist getting hooked into a negative cycle

This all about understanding the impact you have on others. How do other people see you? Do you shout and lose your temper under pressure? Or do you calmly assess a situation and work your way through it? The ability to control your own emotional state is essential for taking responsibility for your actions and can save you from making hasty decisions, or worse, from upsetting other people. It also helps to be aware of those situations and people that may trigger an over reaction or negative emotion. Look for ways to respond differently and resist getting hooked into a negative cycle. Never forget that only you have the power to control your thoughts and feelings and although you may not be able to change the person who is generating this emotional discomfort, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by changing how you choose to respond to them… and that in itself is liberating

2. Self-regulation

You have to accept that what you are feeling is what you are feeling, but you should then go on to think about what you need to do to change those uncomfortable feelings of anger, anxiety, distress, or whatever it may be. You may simply need to go for a short walk to get issues in to perspective or to calm down but equally, emotional messages may be telling you something more profound, maybe, about whether you’re in the right job or in the right organisation. All too often people become financially successful by engaging in jobs they don’t really like and then become a prisoner of them, so you should always listen carefully to your feelings. As Ruby Wax says: ‘How you make money can either make you sick or successful… or both.’ Everyone has the power to make choices, but unhappy people don’t know they have it and can destroy their own peace of mind.

3. Motivation


Effective leaders have a passion to work for reasons that go beyond external factors such as status and money

Effective leaders are driven to achieve. They are energetic and motivated, and have a passion to work for reasons that go beyond external factors such as status and money. Motivated leaders possess skills to support and guide their team and are not in it for their own gains but for the greater gain of the team as a whole. In the face of setbacks or obstacles, they keep themselves and their team motivated. Their positivity and energy is contagious and fundamental to leading people through difficult times and times of change. It’s all too easy to lose motivation when the going gets tough or when you suffer a minor set-back but great leaders have such a strong desire to a succeed that they don’t allow such things to get in the way of achieving their and their team’s goals. Give negative people a wide berth and practice the art of positing thinking. It’s surprising how you can turn your day around and become motivated by being in a positive frame of mind and surrounding yourself with people who inspire you and those you inspire.

4. Empathy

This is a critical ability to sense and respond to the emotions of others. If you don’t get why an individual may be reacting as they are, then take a moment to walk in their shoes and try and see things as they see them. Perhaps do that very basic thing that many people avoid – ask them if they’re OK! Remember: it’s really important in this situation to focus on the individual or individuals concerned and not on yourself.

Notice and read visual signals, for example, subtle changes in facial expression, changes in posture or tone of voice and movement are major clues as to how someone might be feeling. Ignore them at your peril as they will help you to decide how best to communicate with people and to recognise that they may not be being ‘difficult’, but rather might be justifiably angry, frazzled or downright unhappy. Allow other people to have their emotions. There may be nothing you can do for them other than to acknowledge their feelings and show them support… and this is probably all they need at that time.

5. Social skills

This includes things like knowing what to say and to whom, when to say it and how to say it. Take note of an individual’s body language; listen to what they say and how they say it; pay attention to their non-verbal communication. Don’t just leave it there – act upon it. The act of reaching out to another human being is not an easy thing for some people, some of whom might worry about saying the wrong thing, but displaying and receiving warmth and compassion is essential for our own emotional health and that of others. We only need to reflect on how we feel when others show us kindness and affection to understand how true this is.

You can see then why this is an essential requirement for someone in a leadership position and you can also identify the business leaders who are emotionally intelligent and those who are not from the comfort of your own home simply by watching the TV. Take Richard Branson for example. He is very open, smiles a great deal and is self-evidently a ‘people person’ caring deeply for his staff and his business. He displays those gentler altruistic emotions and positive behaviours that lead to a happy organisation with clear cultural identity. He, perhaps instinctively, understands that people need to feel good about themselves to perform at their best. Stories about his kindness and generosity to his staff are legendary. It’s not difficult to understand why they would want to work for him.

Top tips for emotional intelligence

So, what can you do to improve your own emotional intelligence? Here are our top ten tips.

1. Notice how you are feeling and understand why. Remember your thoughts and feelings change all the time. Consider how the actions you take as a result of these thoughts and feelings might impact others and what you can do to make the impact more positive rather than negative or even destructive.

2. Listen carefully to emotional messages of your own and others and try to understand them. They might be trying to tell you something, especially if they are persistent and bothersome.

3. Try to see yourself as others see you. Start by putting yourself in the shoes of a friend or someone who loves you (what would your mother say?), and notice how you look and how you come across through their eyes. Learn from – and act upon – any insights you gain from this.

4. Take responsibility for your feelings and ask yourself, ‘“What do I need to do to change the way I feel?’ Then, when you have the answer, do it!

5. You need to feel good about yourself before you can interact with others in a positive way. Be kind to your body. Caffeine, alcohol and sugar can have a roller coaster effect on your emotions. However, exercise is good for reframing your negative thinking.

6. Be aware of your posture, how it makes you feel and the impact of it – what messages are you sending out? Stand up straight and look up. Slumping over with your head down is not a good look and is not a sign of a confident leader.

7. Challenge negative talk and behaviour in others. Especially challenge your own ‘inner critic’ if such ‘chatter’ constantly takes on an obstructive stance. Train it to move from ‘you can’t do that’ to ‘I can and I will’. Remember: good leaders are confident in their ability and the ability of those they lead.

8. Clarify and prioritise your values. Values are important to us and are the things that determine how we spend our time and whether we are doing the right things. Remember, if you are in a situation where your values are being compromised then this can make you very unhappy indeed.

9. What is your goal? Are you motivated to achieve it? If not, how can you improve your motivation? Focus on what you want and motivate yourself and your team to achieve it.

10. Practice listening to what people really say – not just the words they use, but also their tone of voice and their body language. Pay attention, especially to any change in response to something you have said or done and reflect on the reason. Follow up where appropriate but equally, learn when it’s appropriate to say nothing.

In conclusion, being emotionally intelligent can enhance your life both personally and professionally. We cannot improve on the quote from Maya Anjelou, who said: ‘I have learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

Pamela Young and Penny Owston are lawyers and business coaches at Musa Coaching and Development