Emotional Intelligence Traits

As we mentioned a few months ago, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020.

For anyone who has conducted their own research into this topic this won’t be news. In fact, the awareness of this has been growing in recent years, probably prompted by the incredible success of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ, published in 1995.

In a 2011 Career Builder Survey of more than 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals, 71% stated they valued emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ; 75% said they were more likely to promote a highly emotionally intelligent worker; and 59% claimed they’d pass up a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.

The reality is that most of us have worked with someone who is technically proficient, even brilliant, but they have the emotional and social skills of a honey badger. I once worked with a guy who was a Technology Architect in a web development company. Management were so in awe of his skillset that he was pretty much able to get away with whatever he wanted; management mistakenly felt that he was irreplaceable. He once designed a system for a client and when it didn’t work blamed the client for having the wrong legacy systems because his solution was “perfect”. For readers of a non-technology persuasion, this is akin to you ordering windows (pun intended) and the glazier turning up with windows he has specially designed, and is especially proud of, and then blaming you for having the wrong size holes in your walls when they don’t fit.

Broadly speaking, emotional intelligence is a term to describe competence in how we manage behaviour, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.


Despite the variation in models there is general agreement on the traits and habits of emotionally intelligent individuals. Here are seven of these that go some way to explaining why hiring managers and recruitment professionals value emotional intelligence so highly:

1. They Understand and Cooperate with Others. As teamwork becomes more and more important in the workplace, people who can understand and get along with others will become ever more sought after. Emotionally intelligent people have well-developed people skills that let them build relationships with a diverse range of people across many cultures and backgrounds. That’s even more of an asset in an increasingly globalized workplace.

2. They’re Positive. This is different to being hopelessly optimistic – an outlook that can be almost as damaging as being helplessly pessimistic. Being positive though is about having an optimistic outlook framed through realistic awareness of ourselves and the world in which we operate. It’s about identifying the factors that impact on our lives and happiness, and not wasting emotional energy on things outside our control, but focusing on things that we can directly, or indirectly, influence. Emotionally intelligent people, intentionally or not, embody, “… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. They’re Empathetic. The ability to display empathy puts you in a better position to take others’ emotions into account. This is especially important when building trust, managing conflict and building harmonious relationships. All of this allows teams to focus on the task at hand rather than become embroiled in internal bickering and politics. Empathy and sensitivity to the needs of others helps team members work together.

4. They Can Handle Pressure (and Stress) Healthily. A modern curse of the workplace is the seemingly unrelenting pressure and its insidious cousin, stress. Dealing with this demands an ability to manage our emotions. People with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more aware of their internal thermometer and tend to have better-developed coping mechanisms.  Since the snowballing rate of change in the workplace is likely to increase work-related stress it is easy to see the value of high emotional intelligence.

5. They’re More Open to Feedback. Feedback is essential to job performance, particularly since some companies are rethinking their approach to annual performance reviews, replacing them with more focused, timely feedback sessions. People with high emotional intelligence are less defensive and more open to feedback, especially when it involves areas of improvement. Their accurate self-assessment and positive self-esteem lets them look realistically at areas where they can do better, rather than taking feedback personally. This also helps them when dealing with badly-delivered feedback from poorly-trained or under-stress managers.

6. They’re Assertive. Assertiveness is almost as misunderstood as emotional intelligence; I once had to design a course entitled, “Assertive not aggressive.” People with high emotional intelligence are able to balance good manners, empathy, and kindness with the ability to assert themselves and establish boundaries. When most people are stressed, they default to passive or aggressive behaviour, but excellent self-awareness and strong emotional management helps those with high emotional intelligence to steer themselves away from unfiltered emotional reactions. High levels of tact also mean they maintain good relationships.

7. They Are Forgiving. Emotionally intelligent people understand the motto “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Whilst ready to forgive in order to prevent a grudge and the negative emotions that go with it, they don’t forget. Offering forgiveness doesn’t mean they’ll be duped into being fooled again; emotionally intelligent people while being good at quickly letting things go assertive in protecting themselves from future mistreatment.

Final Thoughts

Unlike traditional intelligence, emotional intelligence is a lot less ‘set in stone’. You can train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviours; your brain then builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you will begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it.

People who deal with the stresses of modern work, can collaborate with a diverse range of people, and manage their emotions are already valuable in most workplaces. The ability to demonstrate these qualities will only become more appealing to employers as the workplaces continue to evolve.

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