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Employee Hiring, Development, and Retention

Emotional Intelligence in Today's Workplace

Mike Poskey | November 17, 2021

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US employers improved the pace of hiring in October 2021, with 531,000 jobs added compared to the expected 450,000 jobs. However, despite this positive news, the economy is still experiencing a shortage of 6 million jobs than expected.

In addition to the lack of job growth, there are still 11 million unfilled jobs. Along with flat job market participation, there is also rapid wage growth.

CEOs in every industry are saying that, more than ever, retaining talent and finding quality candidates is their number one priority and one of their greatest business challenges going into 2022. With that said, what is the best way to attract, hire, and retain talented employees in today's tight labor market?

Some of the key hiring and retention strategies that smart companies have employed successfully in 2021 are offering more remote working opportunities to enhance work-life balance, increasing wages (sooner rather than later) to counter current inflation, and focusing on building great cultures and leaders that employees gravitate toward rather than away from.

Building a great culture can positively be impacted by focusing on hiring and developing emotional intelligence, especially as the workplace continues the trend of more and more remote workers.

Research tells us that 80 percent of the competencies that lead to success in the workplace are emotional intelligence-based. Additionally, employee engagement surveys tell us that employees are more motivated by employers that provide emotional intelligence training and development opportunities.

Since this information points to the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace, what critical emotional intelligence competencies should you look for when assessing emotional intelligence in candidates, and what should you focus on developing with your leaders? And how does the workplace of today benefit from having employees with high emotional intelligence competencies?

Three Key Emotional Intelligence Competencies in Today's Workplace

There are three important things to look for when hiring and developing employees: empathy, self-awareness, and self-management.


Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup and feelings of other people and the skill of treating them according to their emotional reactions. Hallmarks of empathy in the workplace include expertise in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity, and high standards of service to patients, clients, or customers.

Tips for Hiring for Empathy

In the interview, focus on the candidate's proven ability to personally connect with coworkers and customers and their ability to build strong relationships and trust with others. Learn if this ability has led to their being able to solve problems and debate—in a healthy way—while still preserving the dignity and respect of other people.

The following are a couple of behavioral-based interview questions that address empathy.

  • Can you think of a coworker who saw things differently from you? Give me an example of a time when this happened and how you addressed the situation.
  • Describe a situation where you were able to strengthen a relationship by communicating effectively. What made your communication effective?
Tips for Developing Empathy in Leaders

When developing leaders, one practice that can help develop empathy is by encouraging your leaders to have consistent one-on-one meetings with their direct reports. In these meetings, encourage your leaders to be "present" and focused on the individual in front of them. A way to do this is by asking questions about what's going well, not going well, and how the leader can remove obstacles and set the direct report up for success. In these meetings, also encourage your leaders to ask about what's going on in their employees' lives, their career hopes and dreams, and if there are any other tasks that they are interested in learning and working on.

I recently had an executive coaching client that isn't particularly high in empathy tell me that he has been focused on having regular one-on-one meetings with his direct reports. He told me this led to a major relationship breakthrough with a key person. Now, rather than having a key player on the team not even talk to him, they are having some excellent, energizing, and strategic discussions. He said he now feels like he has gained a true follower who is more engaged than ever.

Another tip for developing empathy in leaders is by being purposeful about not judging others and being dogmatic about decisions. When an employee or another person is judged, our thinking is limited, and the unique individual in front of us can't be seen. Only the "concept" of them can be seen. Here's an entire blog I wrote about how dogmatic thinking and judging limit leaders: "Leaders, Is Dogmatic Thinking Working Against You? These Seven Questions Have the Answer."


The definition of self-awareness is recognizing one's own emotions and their effect on performance, awareness of personal strengths and limitations, and the desire to receive feedback about how to improve. The hallmarks of self-awareness in the workplace include self-confidence, accurate self-assessment, initiative, and leadership skills to create engaged followers.

Tips for Hiring for Self-Awareness

In the interview, focus on the candidate's proven ability to consistently initiate, bring energy to situations, solve problems, and exhibit leadership qualities that create followers. Learn if this ability has led to their being able to accurately insert themselves and/or remove themselves from situations according to what's required. Determine if they look for win-win scenarios and truly solve problems through their influence and actions.

When hiring, here are a couple of behavioral-based interview questions that address self-awareness.

  • Describe a time you felt empowered to make a decision that affected a group of people. What helped you feel empowered to make that decision?
  • Tell me about a time you were part of a team that needed to come together to solve a problem, and what role did you play in the problem-solving?
Tips for Developing Self-Awareness in Leaders

When developing a leader's self-awareness, help the leader practice and roleplay some of the critical aspects of their job as a leader. One leadership skill I see that most leaders could benefit from practicing is having critical conversations with employees. Often the leader delays or doesn't have these conversations at all. When they do have them, it's not uncommon that they have made the problem they wanted to address even bigger by making the other person defensive, which can damage trust in a relationship.

Practicing and roleplaying by having these conversations builds specific confidence and self-awareness in these situations. Practice identifying the best time and ways to approach the conversation, focus on being accurate about what drove the unwanted behavior or performance, and focus on practicing to help the employee see what they missed without making them feel incompetent or that they had the wrong intentions.

Another tip for developing a leader's self-awareness is to have them ask the following of their direct reports: What do I need to stop doing that doesn't work for you? What do I need to start doing that would work for you? And what do I need to continue doing that is working for you now? The key as the leader is to intently listen, clarify, and begin to implement without getting defensive.


This is the controlling or redirecting one's own emotions and anticipating consequences before acting on impulse. Hallmarks of self-management include trustworthiness and integrity, self-direction (especially in remote worker situations), comfort with ambiguity, and openness to change.

Tips for Hiring Self-Management

In the interview, focus on getting a clear picture and confirmation of the candidate's ability to consistently exhibit self-control, self-regulation, self-discipline, and an overall consistent pattern of following through on commitments and responsibilities. Look for patterns of job-hopping and/or an inability to see commitments through to completion at the expected performance levels.

Here are a couple of behavioral interview questions that target self-management.

  • Tell me about a time when you did not make a deadline. What did you do? What prevented you from making the deadline?
  • Give me an example of when you went "beyond the call of duty" and exceeded the requirements or expectations of your manager.
Tips for Developing Self-Management in Leaders

One key tip to developing self-management in current leaders is by first being very clear with them about what's expected and what success looks like. This might be setting clear expectations regarding their being accountable to certain business outcomes. One of the first items I talk about to a new leadership coaching client is making them clear that they are being watched 24/7 by their direct reports with respect to their actions, words, behaviors, and how they handle and react to various situations. A leader will never be able to build a team that is different from them. If they can't control their emotions, then they shouldn't expect people on their team to control their emotions.

In addition to being clear about what's expected of them, another tip to developing self-management in leaders is to hold them accountable to the clear expectations that were given to them, as noted in the first tip. Once clear expectations are provided, review what is expected as leaders and then be consistent in having conversations about keeping things on track and holding them accountable.

Benefits of Emotional Intelligence in Today's Workplace

Here are some of the proven benefits in today's workplace by having emotionally intelligent people in the workplace.

  • Helps improve communication and teamwork. Employees with higher emotional intelligence communicate better with team members because they have more accurate empathy and self-awareness. They share ideas and are open to ideas from others. These employees are more likely to trust their coworkers and value their ideas and input. They are respectful and thoughtful as the group works together. Additionally, in remote working situations, empathy and self-awareness cause employees to have more of an emotional need to initiate communication with their peers and managers rather than being unaware and/or not having an emotional need to connect and reach out.
  • Enhances diversity training. In a Dutch study, discussed by EBW Global in "EQ, Team Diversity and High Performance," October 15, 2013, teams consisting of diverse types of people who were willing to learn performed better than homogenous teams. This finding supports the notion that when people have high emotional intelligence and are willing to learn, then diversity becomes a limitless resource.
  • Improves employee retention. Hiring people leaders with high emotional intelligence directly impacts employee retention. A recent study found that employees are 400 percent less likely to leave their job if they have a manager with high emotional intelligence.


By focusing on hiring and developing emotional intelligence, your organization can have a significant competitive advantage in the war for talent.

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