The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

For decades, employers have vetted employees’ performance on the basis of their mastery of whatever knowledge and technical skills are required to produce the best results. This evaluative process, however, infrequently takes into account the ability of an employee to work effectively with others and ignores undermining behaviors that impair working relationships. Since the early 1990s researchers have linked a series of personal traits to productivity and profitability in the workplace. These traits—self-awareness, self-discipline and empathy—form the crux of what is now commonly referred to as “emotional intelligence” or “EQ.”

The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace cannot be understated.  As the leading EQ researcher Dr. Daniel Goleman indicated in his book Emotional Intelligence, the stars of any organization put time into cultivating relationships with people in an effort to build an atmosphere of teamwork. They understand the importance of building consensus, seeing others’ perspectives, being persuasive, and promoting cooperation while avoiding conflict. They also understand the value of self-motivation and self-management in the sense of regulating their time and commitments. All of these traits are aspects of emotional intelligence.

Dr. Goleman argues that improving the way that individuals work together in these key areas will become more central to corporate executives seeking to leverage their intellectual capital in an increasingly competitive global society. Training, therefore, is essential to produce a group who can harmonize their efforts to outpace their competitors. In the legal sector, increased competition among law firms will continue to drive merger activity, regionalization and enhanced performance metrics, rendering EQ training essential to maintain cohesion and advance the mission and goals of the organization. In virtually any corporate environment, EQ is most at risk in three major areas: the airing of critiques, managing diversity, and networking.

Criticism voiced as a personal attack rather than as feedback that can be acted upon destroys employee motivation that could otherwise fuel the economic incentives of the organization. EQ training teaches stakeholders a more artful way of critiquing performance, particularly as it relates to enumeration of shortcomings and face-to-face feedback.

A diverse workplace offers multi-faceted opportunities for learning new perspectives but provides little intellectual capital if individuals are simply thrown together with the hope that they will work together effectively. In this regard, one-time diversity workshops are generally ineffective in teaching long-term skills aimed at understanding institutional and personal biases that thwart empathy and tolerance-building awareness. These skills are essential if a workforce is to ultimately retool prejudices to advance emotional learning.

Finally, networking skills are at the heart of organizational success in the 21st century.  As the business expert Peter Drucker observed, in an era where more than one third of the workforce is knowledge based, effective coordination among various units is essential to synthesize specializations among diverse groups of workers. Indeed, research suggests that the ability to fashion a network of diverse talent into an ad hoc team is a crucial factor for organizational success. EQ training helps individuals understand and combine the organization’s core values with their own goals for success.


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