Enhancing Emotional Intelligence

By Ranjit Singh Malhi, Ph.D.


Recent behavioural research has shown that emotional intelligence is an important determinant of success in both our personal and professional lives. Emotionally intelligent managers are adept at making their emotions work for them. They are able to handle their emotions in ways that enhance their work productivity and quality of life around them. They use their emotions intelligently to guide their thinking and behaviour. Emotions are strong mental or instinctive feelings such as love, fear, hope, anger and sadness.

On the other hand, there are numerous cases of smart managers with high IQ who behave stupidly in emotionally charged situations. The lack of emotional intelligence often results in their emotions working against them with unproductive outcomes. I once worked under a boss who often shouted abusive and vulgar words at his subordinates in public when overwhelmed with anger. He was also unappreciative and had poor interpersonal skills. Due to his low emotional intelligence, he was greatly disliked by most people in the organization.

Fortunately, our level of emotional intelligence is not fixed at birth. It can be learnt and enhanced. One can become more emotionally intelligent by learning and practising the skills of emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The term “emotional intelligence” was coined by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990. It was then greatly popularized by Daniel Goleman in his bestseller, Emotional Intelligence.

Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined emotional intelligence in terms of being able to monitor and regulate one’s own and others’ feelings, and to use feelings to guide thought and action.1According to Goleman, emotional intelligence refers to “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”2

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to handle emotions in a way that enhances your productivity, personal power and quality of life around you. It involves making your emotions work for you.

Origins of Emotional Intelligence

It can be argued that emotional intelligence is not entirely a new concept. It has its roots in the concept of “social intelligence” which was first identified by E. L. Thorndike in 1920. Social intelligence is essentially the ability to understand others (what motivates them, how they work and how to work cooperatively with them) and to act wisely in human relations.3

Self-awareness, empathy and handling interpersonal relationships which make up the core of emotional intelligence are essentially dimensions of social intelligence. The dimensions of emotional intelligence are also closely related to other concepts of psychological maturity, emotional awareness, empathic listening and assertiveness.

Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Latest research findings show that IQ takes second position to emotional intelligence in determining outstanding job performance. The highest estimate of how much difference IQ accounts for success at the workplace is about 25%. A more accurate figure may be no higher than 10%, and perhaps as low as 4%.4 Daniel Goleman sums up the importance of emotional intelligence as follows: “For star performance in all jobs, in every field, emotional competence is twice as important as purely cognitive abilities.”5 Examples of emotional competencies are self-confidence, self-motivation, persistence, adaptability, empathy and initiative.

At the workplace, there is increasing evidence that IQ gets people hired, but EQ gets them promoted. More careers have been damaged due to poor interpersonal relationships rather than a lack of technical knowhow. EQ also directly affects teamwork and productivity.

Research shows that the careers of many managers were derailed due to poor interpersonal relationships, failure to build and lead a team, and inability to change and adapt during a transition. They were generally perceived as being poor communicators, abusive, manipulative, overly critical and poor team players.6

Major Domains of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence consists essentially of five major domains:7

Self-awareness which is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. It involves observing oneself and recognizing a feeling as it happens; seeing the links between thoughts, feeling and reactions; seeing the consequences of alternative choices; recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses; and seeing oneself in a positive but realistic light.

Managing emotions which comprises handling emotions appropriately. It involves keeping one’s anger in check, adapting oneself to change, and taking responsibility for personal performance.

Self-motivation which is primarily chanelling emotions in the service of a goal, delaying gratification, and stifling impulses. It includes achievement drive, initiative, commitment and perseverance.

Empathy which is essentially being sensitive to other people’s feelings and concerns besides respecting differences in how people feel about things. It encompasses understanding others, assisting others in their personal development, and anticipating and meeting customers’ requirements.

Handling relationships which encompasses managing emotions in others and social competence. This domain is critical for developing effective leadership and interpersonal relationships. It includes being a good listener; being assertive rather than angry or passive; managing conflict constructively; and learning the art of cooperation.

Tips for Promoting Self-Awareness

  • Take responsibility for your emotions and behaviour.
  • Identify your true feelings that greatly influence your behaviour and interactions with other people.
  • Recognise your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Identify events and behaviour which normally trigger your emotions. For example, identify what kind of situations or events can trigger your anger and what are its early signs.
  • Tune in to your senses to pick up information about yourself, other people and different situations.
  • Monitor your general behaviour and assess its impact on other people.

Tips for Managing Your Emotions Productively

  • Avoid being swept away by your emotions. Remember that you are primarily responsible for your emotions and thoughts.
  • Use “I” messages to express your emotions. Examples are: “I feel unappreciated when you take me for granted” and “I feel unimportant when you are late for your appointments with me.”
  • Pick an appropriate time for expressing your emotions.
  • State what bothers you clearly, calmly and courteously. Avoid generalising and don’t bring up old grudges.
  • Take deep breaths or a time-out to stay on top of your behavioural actions.
  • Seek solutions to problems rather than focusing on who is to be blamed.

Tips for Motivating Yourself

  • Maintain a positive attitude of “I can do it.” Think success, not failure. Establish specific, realistic and time-bounded goals.
  • Wake up happy. Start the day with positive thoughts.
  • Practise positive self-talk. Talk about your winners.
  • Don’t worry about things beyond your control. Have faith in God and hope for the best.
  • Never belittle yourself. Accept compliments with a “thank you” and a smile.
  • Break down formidable tasks into smaller and manageable components.
  • Dare to fail. View failures as lessons learnt.
  • Maintain perseverance in the face of setbacks. Try out new approaches instead of getting demoralized.
  • Maintain the company of nourishing people. Avoid negaholics and “toxic” people.
  • Visualize yourself undertaking challenging tasks successfully.

Tips for Empathizing with Others and Enhancing Social Competence 

  • Treat everyone with respect and dignity. Make them feel important. Remember and use other people’s names.
  • Be empathetic. Always try to see the other person’s point of view. Try to understand why others feel the way they do.
  • Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves. Listen attentively with the purpose of understanding what is being said. Maintain eye contact and resist distractions.
  • Make others feel good about themselves by giving them sincere, specific and timely praise.
  • Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly and politely. Avoid making sarcastic remarks.
  • Speak positively of others or not at all.
  • Assist others in their growth and development. Share ideas, skills, experiences and pertinent information.
  • Avoid personal attacks. Learn to make specific complaints by focusing on the undesirable behaviour of an individual.
  • Admit your mistakes. Apologize sincerely and take the necessary steps to correct your behaviour.
  • Seek out the good in others and accept them as they are.
  • Ignore minor irritations and trivial issues.
  • Create “win-win” relationships. Seek mutual benefit in all human interactions.


1. Cited in Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books, 1998), p. 317. 
2. Ibid. 
3. See Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books, 1995), pp. 45-46. 
4. Cited in Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, p. 19. 
5. Ibid., p. 34. 
6. Cited in Robert Kreitner, Management (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), pp. 5-6. 
7. The five major domains of emotional intelligence are based on the model proposed by Salovey and Mayer. See Daniel     Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, pp. 46-47. 

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