How managers develop emotional intelligence: New study

How managers develop emotional intelligence and apply it: New study

How managers develop emotional intelligence

How managers develop emotional intelligence is a critical question for organisations and anyone involved in management development.  A new (this research briefing was sent to members in July 2017)  meta-analysis of over 25 years of research on the emotional intelligence of managers answers some important questions about emotional intelligence and its development in managers.


Intelligence and emotional intelligence

The first thing to note is that there is no relationship between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. “Therefore it is important not to assume that a person with high cognitive capabilities also has high emotional capabilities and vice versa.”


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Emotional intelligence and performance

Research does support the assertion that emotional intelligence predicts improved performance at work. In particular, there is a strong correlation with jobs that require a significant level of communication and connection with others and especially in complex social situations where emotions are at play.

Further, managers who have to deal with issues of diversity, including diversity of views, tend to perform better with higher levels of emotional intelligence, than those with lower levels.

Additionally, it has been found that managers with higher levels of emotional intelligence perform better in situations where people are in emotionally demanding jobs and where people need to regulate their emotions frequently to perform well.

Emotional intelligence has been found to be less important in terms of performance in situations with few managerial or emotional labour demands.


emotional intelligence and performance


Intelligence (on its own) has been found to be a good predictor of performance in jobs that are cognitively complex, but not emotionally complex or requiring relationship building. However, intelligence is a better predictor of performance than emotional intelligence in many situations. Together, higher levels of intelligence andemotional intelligence are the best predictors of performance. It is therefore important when considering how managers develop emotional intelligence to also understand what emotional intelligence predicts in terms of performance in the workplace.


Emotional intelligence and personality

Emotional intelligence has been found to be a better predictor of performance in management and jobs that require greater levels of relationship building and emotional labour than any facets of personality (agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, extraversion and openness to experience for example).


The core emotional intelligence capabilities

The meta-analysis found that there are four core emotional intelligence capabilities that underpin how managers develop emotional intelligence:

1.    Self-awareness
2.   Social perception
3.   Emotional literacy or emotion understanding
4.   Emotion regulation.

Understanding these four capabilities is essential for getting to grips with how managers develop emotional intelligence


Developing Self-Awareness



Self-awareness refers to the ability or level to which an individual is able to identify their own emotions, particularly whilst they are experiencing that emotion. For example, being able to identify that they are angry or sad or happy, at the time they are feeling the emotion, rather than afterwards when things have calmed down. This ability to recognise the emotion at the time is the precursor to emotion regulation, or the ability to change our emotions at will and whilst we are feeling angry, for example. It is the self-awareness that allows for control. Therefore when thinking about how managers develop emotional intelligence starting with developing self-awareness is key.


Social perception

Social perception is the ability to be able to accurately read and identify other people’s emotions as they are feeling them. Social perception also includes identifying the distribution of emotions and sense of the emotional direction of a group. Interestingly, this includes being able to distinguish between genuine emotions and expressions that are put on for show in group, and particularly work, situations. This ability to be able to extract the underlying emotions in a group situation is a complex capability.

Social perception is critical in the work environment as it gives us vital information about people’s attitudes, goals and intentions. Managers who have low social perception often misread their team’s sense of things. Developing social perception and awareness is the next factor in how managers develop emotional intelligence.


developing emotional literacy


Emotional literacy or emotion understanding

Emotional literacy, or emotion understanding, is the ability to be able to identify and understand what has led to the feelings we are experiencing and why others might be feeling how they are. This ability to correctly identify the specific events that have given rise to a set of emotions is particularly important in management and for being able to predict how future events are likely to affect the people around them, as well as themselves.

This ability to be able to predict how future events are likely to influence people’s emotions (known as affective forecasting) helps to manage performance. Most people, the research shows, are not that good at affective forecasting and are continually surprised by their own and others’ reactions to events and even their own actions.

Affective forecasting or accurately identifying how events will influence our and others’ current and future emotions is an important facet of decision making, particularly for leaders and managers.

Errors of prediction in affective forecasting are often difficult to rectify later. Once an emotion has been associated with a decision, changing that initial reaction can be extremely time consuming. Emotional literacy is a critical skill when thinking about how managers develop emotional intelligence.


Developing Emotional Intelligence


Emotion regulation

This is the ability of an individual to increase, decrease or maintain both the duration of an emotion and the intensity of it. Emotion regulation also includes the ability to change or influence other people’s emotions.

There are three core facets of emotion regulation:

1.    Setting appropriate emotion regulation goals
2.    Selecting the most effective and appropriate emotion regulation strategy
3.    Implementing the most appropriate and effect emotion regulation strategy


Learning to be more emotionally intelligent – how managers develop emotional intelligence

A number of studies have shown that emotional intelligence is not fixed at birth and can be changed. Further, the parents or significant caregivers have a significant impact both on our level of emotional intelligence but also on the flexibility we show in developing greater levels of emotional intelligence.

Exposure to different cultures and a range of emotions is also important in predicting the level of emotional intelligence an individual has and their ability to develop greater levels of emotional intelligence.

Defensiveness has been shown to be a considerable barrier to developing higher levels of emotional intelligence.


New podcast: Emotions, expectations and behaviour


There are really four broad steps to developing better emotional intelligence capability:

1.    Develop greater self-awareness of and learn to accurately identify others and your own emotions
2.    Become more aware of your own and others’ general emotional intelligence capabilities
3.    Learn to recognise where emotional intelligence is important
4.    Learn and practise emotion regulation strategies and techniques
5.    Find out which are more effective in which situation.

The first step to developing better levels of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Getting direct feedback about how good you are at identifying emotions, both your own and others has been found to be the most effective way to start the process.

This is then best followed by becoming increasingly aware and focused on your general emotional capabilities. Learning to read the signs of your own emotions and your abilities and identifying those of others extends the self-awareness abilities.

Next, recognising the importance of emotional intelligence is important. A number of studies have shown that managers who are defensive about their emotional intelligence capabilities tend to be trying to protect their ego and as a result tend to down-play the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Other studies have found that employees who reduce the importance of emotional intelligence are also the ones who make the least effort in terms of emotional intelligence.

Practice and feedback (both of emotional awareness – “can I just check what you feel about this…” to calibrate your perceptions for example, tend to be the last stage of developing greater emotional intelligence.


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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page

  • Darren says:

    So in order to get better Emotional Intelligence, you need to develop your Emotional Intelligence? How circular is this concept? EI is complete nonsense and I can’t believe it’s got such traction in psychology. My theory is much better, and EI is a facet of it, not even a major player. I can tell you HOW to develop your awareness in order to develop your EI, but simply telling someone to get some awareness so they can be better at defining someone else’s emotional intelligence is poppycock Their interpretation of someone else’s emotional intelligence will be limited by a person’s own level. The advice is ultimately futile. My PhD will demonstrate this.

    • An interesting approach to refuting research. The idea behind academic research is to refute through the use of primary research evidence rather than angry rhetoric and self-aggrandisement. I also think that research that goes out to ‘prove’ or ‘demonstrate’ something may well be accused of bias. The intention behind research is to test theories through testing the null hypothesis – in other words show that the alternatives aren’t true (within a band of acceptability).

      ‘Attacking’ another’s research and arguing with the findings (or methodology and/or paradigm) used are also two different things. The difference being evidence rather than retort to words like ‘poppycock’.

      Now on to this particular study we reported on. The first step around emotion clarity (reported in this study as self-awareness) as been backed up in a number of studies including one published this month by a team of high level researchers from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Washington University, the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California.

      I have no problem with you or anyone else disagreeing with research findings – it (challenge) is indeed at the very heart of academic endeavour. However, I think we should strive to be professional, humble and learned in doing so.

      I would welcome reviewing your PhD when it is complete and good luck, as it is quite an endeavour.

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