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What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence in the workplace refers to a person’s ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as those of other people. Employees with higher levels of emotional intelligence will be better equipped to understand, express, and properly manage their own emotions, which is often essential in roles with a significant emotional load. In roles with a large interpersonal focus, emotional intelligence often underpins a person’s social skills, helping individuals navigate the complex interpersonal domain more confidently.

Those lacking in emotional intelligence will have difficulty working in roles which either involve a significant emotional load or are highly interpersonal. For example, in caring roles, those lacking in emotional intelligence will have difficulty empathising with those they care for, they may misinterpret their emotional signals, or may have difficulty expressing their own emotions effectively or appropriately. Similarly, in a customer service role, a lack of emotional intelligence could result in misreading emotional signals from customers, appearing unnecessarily abrasive or difficult to get along with.

""As a result, emotional intelligence is a common core competency in roles with a significant emotional load or interpersonal communication."

- Ben Schwencke

Watch a video instead?

In this video, Ben talks about why emotional intelligence is important in the workplace:

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Are there components to Emotional Intelligence?

Although many different models of emotional intelligence exist, they generally all agree that emotional intelligence is an aggregate construct comprised of many components. These components describe slightly different aspects of emotional intelligence, and are often measured as sub-scores within a wider emotional intelligence measure. The Test Partnership Adaptive Questionnaire (TPAQ) measures emotional intelligence using five sub-traits. Collectively, these five traits underpin emotional intelligence, presenting five key aspects which define people with high-levels of emotional intelligence. These traits include:

Emotional Awareness:

An individual's level of emotional awareness, recognition and understanding of what they feel and why.


An individual's concern for others' well-being, readily empathising with their situations, challenges and feelings.


An individual's propensity to use feeling, emotions, and intuition as a guide when making decisions.

Negative Expression:

An individual's healthy expression of negative emotion, attending to negative feelings and not suppressing them.

Positive Expression:

An individual's awareness and recognition of positive emotion, feeling able to express this to others.

How does it look on the TPAQ?

With our Test Partnership personality questionnaire, emotional intelligence is measured with the axis of self-awareness and social awareness, self-management and relationship management. As can seen below:

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These five traits collectively measure both the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of emotional intelligence, allowing individuals to manage both their own emotions and those of other people. Depending on the context, certain users of personality questionnaires may place greater weight on specific emotional intelligence sub-scores than others, giving assessors more flexibility to prioritise certain behaviours. Others, may prefer to utilise emotional intelligence overall, with no interest in these sub-scores. Neither approach is inherently better, it simply depends on the organisation’s approach to emotional intelligence.

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Emotional Intelligence vs Intelligence Quotient

Although both emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence (as measured by IQ tests) are nominally recognised as forms of intelligence, they are radically different constructs.

Cognitive intelligence (also known as cognitive ability) underpins a person’s ability to learn, solve problems, and make effective decisions, and can be measured using more objective forms of assessments i.e. questions with objectively correct / incorrect answers. Often, a whole battery of cognitive tests is required to properly estimate a person’s level of cognitive intelligence, particularly when using IQ tests in a clinical or educational setting. In the workplace, cognitive ability is a powerful predictor of performance in complex technical, professional, and managerial work, and is commonly used in employee selection.

Emotional intelligence however, is typically measured using behavioural assessments, relying on rating scale multiple choice questions. These questions are never objectively correct or incorrect, but rather capture the individual’s level of agreement, or the frequency of their relevant behaviours which underpin emotional intelligence. For example, a typical emotional intelligence item could read something like “I take time to reflect on my emotional state”, requiring individuals to state their level of agreement with that specific statement. Although emotional intelligence assessments are commonly used in employee selection, they also see much use in personal and professional development, helping with career planning.

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Why Does it Matter?

Emotional intelligence is essential to performance and job-fit in a variety of roles, and is recognised as a key component in the selection process. As a general rule, the more interpersonal the role, the greater the importance of emotional intelligence for performance, engagement, and job satisfaction. Roles which rely heavily on emotional intelligence include:

Roles with emotional load

In roles which require staff to care for other people, for example in the medical professions, emotional intelligence will be essential. In these roles, highly emotionally intelligent people will readily empathise with those whom they care for, going the extra mile. They will better understand their charges emotional needs and requirements, ensuring that an appropriate level of care is provided. Lastly, they are better able to manage their own emotions and mood, helping to keep their head above water when times get difficult.

Roles with potential for conflict

In roles with significant potential for conflict, emotionally intelligent individuals are essential. Highly emotionally intelligent staff are able to connect with others more effectively, allowing them to see others’ points of view, preventing conflicts. They are also likely to be highly effective diplomats and peacemakers, smoothing over conflicts between third parties. For example, in customer service roles, staff are often required to engage with people who are frustrated or angry, requiring careful management and navigation which is aided significantly by emotional intelligence.

Roles which involve leadership

Managers, executives, and supervisors have responsibility towards those whom they lead, and must take into account their emotions. Failure to do this exasperates conflict, causing a breakdown of trust, and increases the probability of employee attrition. Emotional intelligence helps managers to connect with their direct reports, allowing them to recognise problems before they arise, and to carefully manage the leader-follower dynamic. Emotional intelligence also helps managers to track their own emotions, ensuring that their mood never negatively impacts their team.

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How to Assess Candidates on their Emotional Intelligence?

Trait emotional intelligence as a psychological construct is underpinned by a range of specific behavioural traits, which vary depending on the model of emotional intelligence used. Generally speaking, models of emotional intelligence comprise a range of common traits and behavioural dispositions, including empathy, effective emotional expression, emotion-based decision making, and social tact. A person’s overall emotional intelligence is an aggregate score of these relevant underlying traits, rather than a single uni-dimensional trait. As a result, personality questionnaires designed to measure emotional intelligence are the best way to measure emotional intelligence for recruitment.

Although many hiring managers ma try to measure emotional intelligence using an interview, this is unlikely to be effective. Although certain traits such as positive expression could be measured with an interview, the majority of behavioural traits that underpin emotional intelligence are difficult to convey in an interview. Indeed, with sufficient experience in interviewing, skilled interviewees could quite easily convince interviewers that they hold significant emotional intelligence, regardless of their actual level of emotional intelligence. This is particularly true regarding emotional decision making and level of empathy, which are especially difficult to honestly convey in an interview, but easy to exaggerate or outright lie about.

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Our recommended Test Partnership assessments for measuring emotional intelligence

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