What does emotional intelligence look like in action and why should we hire emotionally intelligent people?

Emotions play an incredibly important role in workplace behaviour. As humans, we experience a variety of complex emotions throughout our working day. Our emotions impact how we communicate, manage stress, respond appropriately to clients and customers, and also our ability to display leadership behaviours such as prioritising, managing others, providing feedback, and making complex decisions.
In the original and 2017 Bladerunner films, the fictional Voight-Kampff test assesses non-verbal responses to emotional situations, to determine whether an individual is a replicant or a human. A human is expected to display reactions to the different situations or stimuli, while a replicant would remain unaffected.
Of course, we are pretty sure there is no such thing as a replicant, and the Voight-Kampff test doesn’t exist. But – especially if we are hiring for leadership or customer-facing roles – we do want to hire people who will deal effectively with both their own and other people’s emotions.
So, what does emotional intelligence (EI) look like in action? And what kinds of behaviours can we expect to see if we hire emotionally intelligent people?

1. They recognise how others are (really) feeling

While estimates vary, it is generally agreed that the actual words spoken during an interaction account for around ten percent of the information that is exchanged. The rest comes from non-verbal cues such as our tone of voice, our body language, and our facial expressions.
People with strong EI tend to read both body language and facial expressions more accurately. They can spot the difference between genuine and non-genuine body language, such as a fake versus a real smile. They are also attuned to differences between words and body language, such as when a comment like “Sure, I’m fine” is not actually the case.

2. They express emotions effectively

Emotionally intelligent people can be very good at identifying how they are feeling and, as a result, express their emotions more accurately.
Some examples of this skill would include being able to set the right tone when they have to deliver difficult news to someone, or being able to send the right signals to others to get the help they themselves need.

3. They match their mood to the task

Have you ever paused for a moment before switching tasks to make sure you are in the right frame of mind for what is coming next?
Emotionally intelligent people can deliberately change their mood to match their task. For example, brainstorming and thinking outside the box can be easier when we are in a positive mood.
On the flip side, if the situation calls for more careful and critical thinking, a negative or serious mood is often more conducive to results. This awareness of the right mood or frame of mind for specific tasks is also a great way to boost productivity.

4. They can empathise

Empathy is an incredibly important skill in most situations, and particularly for roles that require interaction and/or collaboration with other people. It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and see and feel things from the other person’s perspective.
In particular, people working in customer-facing roles should have a high degree of empathy. They need to be able to understand what the customer is feeling, to see the situation from their perspective, and then to respond in the most appropriate way.

5. They can predict how someone is likely to react

Emotionally intelligent people understand how emotions change and progress over time and within a situation or circumstance. This means they can predict how someone is likely to respond to a situation or to particular news.
For example, they know that if someone is feeling frustrated and the situation is not resolved soon, things are likely to escalate. This knowledge means they can approach situations more appropriately because they can foresee the other person’s likely reaction.

6. They understand the cause of emotions

The ability to understand the cause of particular emotions is incredibly powerful information. It helps us to determine why someone is feeling a certain way. And if we understand the cause of emotions, we can get more insight into what is actually happening for someone at a particular time.
For example, if a team member is sad, an emotionally intelligent manager might know that they are feeling a sense of loss over something important to them. Conversely, if a teammate is angry, an emotionally intelligent colleague might understand that they feel a sense of injustice.

7. They think before they react

We have all worked with someone who is unpredictable in how they react to things – it depends on their mood, the day, their stress levels – and they can have their colleagues walking on eggshells.
Emotionally intelligent people tend to respond appropriately to emotional situations, and don’t tend to have outbursts or lash out at others. They tend to be more even-tempered, to think clearly under pressure, and to take the time to feel their way through a problem rather than reacting in the moment.

8. Their decisions include thinking and feeling

Emotions contain data and information about people and situations. If we ignore emotions because they are negative or uncomfortable, we can miss important information about an interaction or situation.
Emotionally intelligent people are open to all emotions and use them in their thinking and decision making, and they know that emotions can help inform them on the best way forward.
I believe our priorities as employers are changing: while it used to be acceptable to hire or promote based on intelligence, experience or skills – a clever replicant, if you like – businesses are increasingly understanding the importance of emotions at work.
We are realising how important emotional intelligence is across all aspects of work, and especially within roles that require interacting and collaborating with others. And we are also recognising that EI has cascading repercussions for our most critical metrics, such as productivity and engagement.
Perhaps now is good time for us to relook at our hiring processes to see how we can identify these candidates so we can build a team that will thrive in today’s contemporary world of work.
Cover image: Shutterstock

This article is contributed by Revelian.

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One Response to “What does emotional intelligence look like in action and why should we hire emotionally intelligent people?”

  1. Neurodivergent graduates should know that most recruiters can be convinced to exempt them from psychometric tests, like this one. The only ones that have given me any trouble on that front were gatekeeping for the Victorian government.
    This is a bad article. It’s pretty hypocritical to lecture your audience about being ’emotional intelligent’ when you’re perfectly happy to dehumanise anyone who doesn’t fit your arbitrary standard of acceptable emotional behaviour, by comparing them to androids from a Philip K Dick novel. You’d have to wonder how the author would respond if someone compared recruiters to the Dementors from Harry Potter. They enforce social boundaries, you rarely see their faces, they avoid accountability by working in teams, they can suck all the joy out of your life…
    I doubt this is intentional, but Emotify reminds me a lot of Simon Baron-Cohen’s Mind the Eyes test. Both ask the viewer to match facial expressions to emotional states. Given that SBC used his test to make sweeping statements about autistic empathy and systemising, I really have to wonder whether Revelian cares about neurodiversity.


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