Throughout time, intelligence has been associated with the IQ level of an individual, but recent studies have shown that there are more layers to which intelligence can be assessed.  The idea that intelligence is multilayered became widespread in the 1920s when the psychologist Edward Thorndike brought perspective to something that he named social awareness:

“The ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls.”

However, nearly 70 years later, Peter Salovey and John Mayer conceptualized emotional intelligence (EI). In the 90s, Daniel Goleman shed most light and provoked the popularity of EI with his books about it (“Emotional intelligence,” “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” “Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships”).


The main point of this small historical walkthrough of emotional intelligence? That is: EI’s concept is relatively new and will gain more attention as more insights are revealed.

That being said, one fact remains certain: emotional intelligence is a valuable employee skill for businesses. Knowing what it is, what its pillars are, and how you can train it, can be beneficial if you want to stand out as a candidate or if you’re going to make your work environment thrive (as an employer).

What is emotional intelligence?

Salovey and Mayer define emotional intelligence (EI) or the so called “emotional quotient” (EQ) as:


“the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.

So, the awareness you have about your feelings and those of others and how you can use this awareness to manage others or life situations. This is what defines your emotional intelligence.


Let us exemplify the above with an everyday situation. Imagine that you enter a dialogue with someone who has the opposite view on a topic that you are passionate about. Instead of stonewalling their arguments, you are capable of listening openly to their truth, and you are aware of their emotional state. To top it up, you are also in control of your emotional reactions during the dialogue. You, as person with high emotional intelligence levels, manage to listen, monitor your and the other person’s feelings and reply with objectivity in a manner that will not upset or offend the speaker.

What constitutes emotional intelligence?

To bring even more clarity to what emotional intelligence is, let us break it down even further. EQ has four pillars that together construct emotional intelligence. Two of the pillars are within the person (self-awareness and self-management), also named intrapersonal. The other two (social awareness and interpersonal management) are how you handle emotions with others, also known as interpersonal.


The four pillars of EI:



Your ability to understand your emotions, strengths, and weaknesses


Your ability to manage your emotions in situations that require it

Social Awareness

Your ability to grasp other people’s emotions

Interpersonal management

Your ability to respond and influence others, respectively

Why is emotional intelligence crucial for businesses?


Emotional intelligence is one-third of what constitutes a person’s holistic intelligence. It has become widely accepted that IQ, EQ, and personality make together each person’s overall intelligence. The combination of the three makes each person a unique gradient of “smart.”

Those employees with high EQ are able to let go of their ego and grasp new perspectives and thus collaborate well in teams. Those capabilities give a nurturing environment for diversity programs and effective collaboration. Consequently, this gives ground for creating an agile and innovative company. Employees with high emotional intelligence manage and facilitate their relationships within the team and with customers, bringing a competitive advantage to businesses.

Can you train your emotional intelligence?

Unlike your IQ, which does not change between the age of 15 and 50, you can train your emotional intelligence. It is equal to muscle training, but here you are working on your emotional brain. The more you use that type of muscle, the easier it gets. With life experience and few techniques, you can develop higher intelligence.

To clarify, emotional intelligence is not a hard skill like coding that you can learn from your education and you can easily measure. EI is a soft skill, and as such, it is less tangible and can easily be overlooked. The path to training for it and spotting it in candidates is not as straightforward as with training for hard skills.

So, how do you train yourself or your team for EI? First, start with identifying where you might find strengths and weaknesses with the 12 aspects within emotional intelligence.

Second, start talking and educating your employees about EI – why does it matter, why you value it and how it can help them and the team in the future. When your staff is exposed to the idea through webinars, books and articles, and even encouraged to take an EQ test, they are one step closer to improving their EQ levels.

Thirdly, be involved as a team in volunteer events. Nothing brings more empathy than being socially responsible towards people and organizations that need it.

Can you interview for emotional intelligence? 

There are do’s and don’ts when you interview for emotional intelligence. The best way to grasp candidates’ EQ is to do a behavioral event interview where you ask situational questions and have follow-up questions to dig deeper. And the best way to make the most of your time and have concrete questions? Be prepared in advance with a linguistic resume screen reader that identifies each candidate’s personality traits so that you can dive in and get to know the individual during the interview.