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What is Emotional Intelligence and Why is it Important in the Workplace?

Learn what emotional intelligence is and why it is a crucial aspect of any healthy and high-performing workplace, as well as how to grow your own emotional intelligence in a sustainable and effective way.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence has been a buzz term in the corporate sphere for a number of years after the term was popularized in 1995 by Dr. Dan Goleman. Goleman asserted that emotional intelligence can be a better indicator of successful leadership, people management, and overall work efficacy than cognitive intelligence. Most scholars agree with Goleman’s assessment that Emotional Intelligence is comprised of 5 key components:

  1. Self Awareness: the ability to be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives,

  2. Self Regulation: the ability to consciously choose your behavior even when in the midst of experiencing an emotion,

  3. Motivation: the ability to stay resilient and recover from mistakes,

  4. Empathy: the ability to recognize the emotions that underpin other’s experiences,

  5. Social Skills: the ability to build trust and maintain positive relationships with others.1

How Does Emotional Intelligence Impact You at Work?

In the current workforce climate, emotional intelligence is severely lacking in leaders and employees across our nation. Most of us have had a boss, manager, or co-worker who struggled to recognize their toxic contribution to the culture and climate of our organizations. Some people at work demonstrate toxic behaviors by becoming aggressive, showing frustration, anger, or annoyance, and the energetic shift is palpable. They may raise their voice, slam things, or take their frustrations out on others.

Others may take the passive defensive approach and demonstrate over-dependence on others, be unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for their commitments and promises, or deflect ownership through becoming victims to the pressure to perform.

This energy shift is also palpable. It is the energy of anxiety, overwhelm, and despair. They may go out of communication, forget to follow up on important items, or find themselves pretending to be engaged.

These negative and defensive patterns polarize people, stop progress and hold organizations back. There is one more ingredient that exacerbates toxicity, which shows up in the covert manipulation approach, which is when team members at any level participate in backchanneling, blaming, and gossiping about others. This erosion of individual, team, and organizational trust is always decisive.

Unchecked behavior like this can create dysfunctional and toxic work environments. Dr. Donald Sull and his son Charlie Sull published an article in early 2022 called “Why Every Leader Needs to Worry About Toxic Culture.” In the article, they state that studies on organizational productivity and toxicity reveal that working in a toxic atmosphere is associated with elevated levels of stress, burnout, and mental health issues (2). Toxicity also translates into physical illness. When employees experience injustice in the workplace, their odds of suffering a major disease (including coronary disease, asthma, diabetes, and arthritis) increase by 35% to 55% (3).

In addition to the pain imposed on employees, a toxic culture also imposes costs that flow directly to the organization’s bottom line. For example, when a toxic atmosphere makes workers sick, their employer typically foots the bill. Among U.S. workers with health benefits, two-thirds have their healthcare expenses paid directly by their employer (4). By one estimate, toxic workplaces added an incremental $16 billion in employee healthcare costs in 2008 (5). These are the kind of statistics that inspire those of us at KeenAlignment to continue the work we believe in, liberating the human spirit and inspiring the kind of transformational change needed in today’s workforce.

CEO and Founder of KeenAlignment, Margaret Graziano, is coming out with a new book entitled Ignite Culture with a foreword by Marshall Goldsmith. In the book, she discusses the importance of Emotional Intelligence in building a healthy, intentional, high-performance organizational culture and takes you through the process of transforming yourself as a leader and a change-maker within your company. If you want to learn more, you can preorder the book here. Ignite Culture will be out everywhere on January 18th.

How Can You Increase Your Emotional Intelligence?

Everyone can benefit from increasing their emotional intelligence and capacity to handle difficult situations. Recognizing that people are innately emotional beings is crucial to improving relationships and culture in organizations. Most of us were not taught to even recognize our emotions, let alone to have coping mechanisms. We need tools to successfully regulate our emotions and communicate our thoughts in a psychologically safe manner. People need to feel safe in order to function at their highest capacity.

As stated above, the repercussions of low emotional intelligence in leadership can be dramatic and lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and perpetuate toxic environments.

Emotional Intelligence Training for leaders and efforts to increase emotional intelligence across an organization are plentiful and promise to mitigate toxicity in culture and improve people’s lives in and outside of work. This usually entails decreasing the knowledge deficit that emotions deeply affect how we show up, engage, produce, and innovate.

There are thousands of workshops, articles, and books that promise to improve emotional intelligence and thereby improve culture, employee relations, burnout, and productivity, but many of them miss the most important part; integration.

KeenAlignment does this through various workshops, one-on-one coaching sessions, and experiential learning retreats. Our Leadership Accelerator Live training, E-learnings, and Integration Coaching is a holistic program for leadership and emotional intelligence development. The goal of the program is to activate and release the full and sometimes dormant potential within you, your leadership team, and your entire organization. You can learn more about our Leadership Accelerator Program and other offerings like it here.

So, What Can You Do Starting Today?

Practice and partner with coaches and mentors who have a track record of successfully integrating emotional intelligence practices into organizational cultures. It won’t be easy to do alone but a few first steps might be:

  • Becoming aware of how certain events, people, and stressors make you feel. There is no need to judge your feelings, but simply notice how they present themselves in your body. Maybe your cheeks flush or your heart rate increases when you feel embarrassed by someone calling you out.

  • Observing how feedback lands and how you respond if you are criticized versus praised.

  • Intentionally responding to heightened situations with “I need a moment to process this before we continue the conversation.”

Most of us can benefit from learning techniques and gathering knowledge, but much like building strong muscles, building emotional intelligence requires us to practice our skills in real situations.

If you would like to learn more about emotional intelligence or meet with one of our coaches to understand more techniques and coaching opportunities please visit us at

To your success, The KeenAlignment Team



  2. Robbins, Ford, and Tetrick, “Perceived Unfairness and Employee Health,” table 5 for U.S. employees.

  3. J. Goh, J. Pfeffer, and S. Zenios, “The Relationship Between Workplace Stressors and Mortality and Health Costs in the United States,” Management Science 62, no. 2 (February 2016): 608-628, table 3. Estimate based on odds ratio for self-reported physical illness and physician-diagnosed physical disease for an unfair workplace culture.

  4. A.C. Enthoven, “Employer Self-Funded Health Insurance Is Taking Us in the Wrong Direction,” Health Affairs, Aug. 13, 2021,

  5. Goh, Pfeffer, and Zenios, “The Relationship Between Workplace Stressors,” table 7.


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