Emotional Intelligence: What is it and does it matter?

Posted 06 February 2015 by
Lorraine Mills - Head of Consultancy at OPP

In my work with individuals across all sectors and at all organisational levels, I am hearing more and more from managers and their HR colleagues about the importance of ‘emotional intelligence’. It’s a concept that has been around for a while and it looks like it is no longer the latest fad, but a permanent part of our people development “business as usual” tool kit. However, emotional intelligence has become a ‘catch all’ panacea for desirable interpersonal skills, a rather mixed bag of the positive qualities one might hope for in a colleague or leader.

Exactly what emotional intelligence is, and how it can be useful to organisations seeking to select and develop talent is still being actively debated. What is clear, however, is that there is a growing body of research suggesting that the combination of cognitive or mental abilities aligned with skills and competencies in understanding and utilising emotions is important in how we work effectively in increasingly complex and relationship-focused work environments. Flatter teams, complex data, devolved decision making and ambiguous role boundaries all mean that being able to read others accurately and adapt behaviour as appropriate is key in individual and organisational success. 

As a consultant I often work with individuals to ‘hold up the mirror’, to help them gain deeper insight into themselves, take steps to manage their own emotions and then to ‘walk a mile in the other person’s shoes’. All of this work is designed to develop individual confidence and insight to draw on their thinking, and emotional resources to work more effectively with information and people.

A useful definition for emotional intelligence is: A set of abilities, competencies and traits that enable a person to perceive, understand and constructively act on the information emotions provide in a particular context. It’s a theme we’ll be returning to frequently in 2015, OPP’s Year of Coaching.

Employees with higher emotional intelligence have been shown to be more adept at handling conflict, adopting a more positive work attitude and demonstrating more altruistic behaviour towards their colleagues1. We also know that working with individuals to develop their skills at using the data from emotions can make a real difference. For example, developing the skills of noticing one’s own feelings can be a valuable insight that unlocks and addresses unhelpful habits of behaviour. For others it may mean developing different behavioural strategies to handle conflict, such as being clearer and more direct in expressing expectations and needs. As ever, this will vary according to individual needs. But it’s not all about being more accommodating and smiling more. Emotional intelligence is also associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and work performance2. So identifying and developing your own strengths and development areas in relation to your emotional intelligence (and exploring those of your team) can deliver real benefits.


Carmeli, A. (2003). The relationship between emotional intelligence and work attitudes, behaviour, and outcomes. An examination among senior managers. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 18(8), 788-813.

Sy, T. (2006). Relation of employee and manager emotional intelligence to job satisfaction and performance. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 68(3), 461-473. 

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