How Developing Your Emotional Intelligence Supports Career Advancement

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Your emotional quotient, or EQ, is unquestionably influenced by genetics and your personality, but it is in no way limited by them. Your EQ is a learnable, measurable set of skills you can improve for the benefit of your well-being and relationships. Practicing EQ-building skills is how developing your emotional intelligence can support your career advancement, too, by boosting your self-awareness, self-management, and people skills for a happier, more productive work life.

Smiling business man standing in front of coworkers who are applauding himLet’s Start by Defining EQ

Also known as emotional intelligence, EQ is sometimes called “the other kind of smart,” the counterpart to IQ, or intelligence quotient. EQ is your ability to recognize your emotions and other peoples’ emotions and then act appropriately. First presented as a research subject in the 1990s, EQ answered the question of why, 70 percent of the time, people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs (the standard kind of “smart”). Daniel Goleman, author of the first book on the subject, aptly titled Emotional Intelligence, made the case that cognitive intelligence is far less essential to success in life than the ability to navigate complex relationships and interactions.

You likely have noticed this in your personal life and career. When you compare the accomplishments and relationships of people who listen carefully, understand body language, show empathy, ask questions, and respond constructively to stress versus those who don’t, who seems to have career momentum and a happier home life?

The 4 Core Characteristics of EQ

Since Goleman’s groundbreaking publication, EQ has become widely studied, accepted, and put to good use in human resources, the classroom, and the boardroom. But what are the core skills and qualities essential to a high EQ? Here’s how they break down under two primary competencies, the personal and the social:  

Personal Competence

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management

Social Competence

  1. Social awareness
  2. Relationship management

Personal competence focuses on you as an individual and your ability to keep your emotions and behavior under control. Social competence focuses on your ability to read others’ moods, motives, and messages so you can interact with them more successfully. Developing all four can fast-track your leadership potential.

12 High-EQ Traits of Business Leaders  

EQ research finds a direct relationship between the EQ of an organization’s staff (including its executives) and the organization’s success. Here’s how your highly developed EQ would play out at work.  

  1. You would embrace change.
  2. You would know your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. You would know perfection is impossible.
  4. You’d be open to options.
  5. You’d explore a range of interests.
  6. You would express empathy.
  7. You’d show gratitude.
  8. You’d stay interested in other people.
  9. You would not be easily offended.
  10. You would say no.
  11. You’d find common ground even with difficult people.
  12. You’d nix your own negative thinking.  

smiling woman with positive attitude in an open office workspaceElevating Your EQ Can Boost Your Career

It’s hard to argue with the results of the world’s most dynamic CEOs and revenue increases by high-EQ sales teams. There also is compelling evidence for EQ skills improving your career.   

As the digital age transforms into the age of artificial intelligence, finely tuned EQ skills will be more important than ever because machine learning will not be able to replicate the most human of qualities: empathy, motivation, leadership, and savvy. The good news is that there is an antidote to a marketplace heavy on automation and light on the human touch: It’s a diverse workforce, which organically skews to the high side of EQ.   

Test Yourself to Determine Your EQ Level

Although EQ seems to revolve around intangible qualities like self-control and patience, it is actually a measurable set of skills that can be evaluated and developed. You will discover valuable insights into your attitude and areas in need of improvement by taking a do-it-yourself EQ test. Most are inexpensive or free.  

You can also take advantage of the Birkman Method personality assessment. This test is used to reveal four key perspectives of every person: motivation, self-perception, social perception, and mindset. Once you understand these characteristics about yourself, you can better recognize the emotions and actions that drive your life.

How to Improve Your EQ

You’ve self-tested, or you’ve been through the rigors of an employment EQ test, or you’ve discovered the hard way that your career is not a perfect match for your EQ skills. Now that you know where you stand, it’s time to do something about it. 

Even if you weren’t born with a sunny outlook and a passion for people, you can become a more empathetic, emotionally balanced, can-do person by focusing on science-backed methods of building your EQ. Try these pointers, too:

  • Manage stress. Meditation, yoga, cardiovascular exercise, and adequate sleep help you keep your negative responses in check.
  • Get comfortable with feedback. Thin skin does not help you develop your career. Learn to take constructive advice, even if you have to white-knuckle it at first or ask your closest confidantes to give it to you straight for practice.
  • Assume the best. This tiny shift in thinking can disarm your triggers and help you feel more compassionate toward your colleagues and clients. Practicing mindfulness can help.
  • Become a mentor. To improve your relationship skills, sponsoring an employee (and, yes, being mentored) develops your social awareness, your leadership abilities, and your openheartedness. Plus, seeking out colleagues with a higher EQ than yours will serve as a good example as you develop your emotional skills.
  • Learn something new. Embracing new skills outside of the workplace rubs off in all the right ways, improving optimism, self-awareness, and your powers of observation. Take up knitting, Cambodian cooking, or krav maga. It’ll do your career and EQ a world of good.
  • Turn off your emotional autopilot. To become more self-aware and socially respectful, make a commitment to yourself that for a one-week trial run, you will assess work situations objectively, without reacting from biases or your own bad attitude. Intentional breathing can help you pause before pouncing. Chances are you’ll like the results so much, you’ll put knee-jerking on the shelf for good.
  • Watch yourself on video. Nothing will help you evaluate your body language and self-awareness better than sitting through a few minutes of seeing yourself in action at work. Pay special attention to your hand gestures and tone of voice. Do you interrupt people, slouch, fail to speak up when you wanted to?

coworkers standing at drawing board and effectively communicating with one another

Elevate Your EQ with USF

USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education can help you develop key leadership qualities, gain certification for the marketplace’s most sought-after skills, and enhance your emotional intelligence for a more rewarding career.

Find out how with our Emotional Intelligence and Situational Leadership certificate:



Learn More