Expert interview: What is emotional intelligence?

March 20, 2017
What is emotional intelligence?

Image by Gearstd / Shutterstock, Inc

I’ve been talking a lot to Work Psychology expert Simon Kilpatrick – a Lecturer of Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He specialises in the areas of Individual Differences and Work Behaviour, and this year, I’ve been publishing our conversations on the People HR blog.

To catch up on our previous discussions, follow these links:

  1. Internal and external motivation explained
  2. How SMART goal setting helps you motivate staff

This month, Simon talks me through the concept of “Emotional Intelligence”. Continue reading to discover what this is, and how it can help you build stronger teams within your organisation.

What is emotional intelligence?

The first thing I asked Simon to explain, was what the term “emotional intelligence” actually means.

“The best way to define emotional intelligence, is as a measure of how aware you are of your own emotions, as well as other people’s emotions” he explains. “Somebody with high levels of emotional intelligence would be able to identify and react efficiently to different emotional states around them.”

It seems that in short, it boils down to how self-aware you are, and how you can apply this self-awareness to understanding the thoughts and feelings of others around you.

How is emotional intelligence useful?

Emotional intelligence, it seems, is a quality that can really help create a good, productive working environment.

“An individual with high emotional intelligence can help to keep the balance of a room’s mood in check” Simon tells me. “This is because they can identify emotions easily, and then understand why a person is experiencing that emotion – and therefore how to react. For example, if somebody is angry or upset, then a person with high emotional intelligence can probably read the subtle clues in the context and situation, and decide whether to listen, stand back, or even intervene.”

And it’s not just keeping peace in the office, either – Simon tells me that 90% of top performers also show high levels of emotional intelligence. Does this suggest that looking for high levels of emotional intelligence in candidates might help you hire people who perform better?

Can employees “learn” emotional intelligence?

While speaking to Simon, I had a burning question. You see, some theories suggest that when it comes to your IQ – your “intelligence quotient” – you cannot actually improve your score. Your IQ simply indicates your potential, or your capacity to learn.

I wondered if emotional intelligence worked in the same way. In other words, are we simply good or bad at it, and that’s the end? Or is emotional intelligence something we can learn, or teach?

“Some people are more naturally emotionally intelligent than others” says Simon “but this doesn’t mean you can’t improve your emotional intelligence. You definitely can! And there are lots of ways you can do this. But before I explain how, it’s important to understand how an emotional intelligence score works. You see, your score is spread over a number of different areas – and it is absolutely possible that you’ll be really strong in some areas, and not so strong in others. For example, you might be really good at understanding other people, but you might have a hard time understanding yourself.”

So how can we improve our score?

Simon seemed to be describing me, here! I tend to understand other people better than I understand myself… and so I eagerly asked him what I could do to work on this area of my own emotional intelligence.

“Well in this case, a good exercise would be to practice something called “emotional regulation”” explains Simon. “Basically, it involves stopping yourself before you act – and asking yourself “how do I feel?” What this does, is it starts to forge connections in your brain between your behaviour, and the emotions driving this behaviour. It might feel a little uncomfortable, and it does require patience and persistence. But it is definitely something that can help you improve your emotional understanding of yourself – and in turn, to take more control of your thoughts and behaviours.”

It sounds to me like this is a topic I’ll be speaking to Simon about again, very soon. So make sure you tune in to our next expert interview – but for now, I think we’ll let Simon get back to doing what he does best.

What DOES Simon do best?

Simon is the founder of Intrinsic Links – a team of psychologists who teach positive psychology and management techniques. Intrinsic Links was built to help companies develop great teams and top performers. To learn more, you can visit their website:

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