Emotional Intelligence Could Help You Succeed At The Workplace More Than Intelligence

Emma Lam

Emma Lam

Last updated 09 November, 2022

IQ has long been the indicator of academic skill and competence, but studies posit that EQ leads to better success in the workplace.

Throughout history, human intellect and emotions have always been incredibly nuanced and complex. Intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional quotient (EQ) have been at odds with each other, spurring the age-old debate of which is more significant. 

While there’s no clear-cut answer, each quotient has its own benefits and drawbacks depending on the situation.

Particularly in a workplace setting, many employees value aspects like career progression, decent interpersonal relationships, healthy work demands and boundaries, so on and so forth.

However, each employee has their own set of career priorities, and that’s where the differences lie.

To understand whether IQ or EQ is more important to you in a professional setting, we must first unpack their differences, and thereafter, how they impact your performance and workplace interactions.



What is IQ?

To assess cognitive awareness, IQ has been heralded as the most common professional measure of human intelligence. 

It refers to a number score retrieved from a series of standardised assessments (e.g. Stanford-Binet test, Wechsler test, Mensa test) to test for relative intelligence.

The number is calculated by taking an individual’s mental age divided by their chronological age, then multiplying by 100.

These assessments test for one’s ability to learn, understand, think critically, and apply information effectively to solve problems. It’s believed that people with higher IQ are able to think abstractly and make connections through pattern recognition and generalisations easier.

Overall, intelligence is your ability to learn and remains the same whether you’re age 13 or 30.

What is EQ?

On the flip side, EQ refers to the ability to understand, reason, and manage emotions in a positive way that enhances thoughts, relieves stress, fosters effective communication and empathy as well as manages conflicts and challenges.

Over the course of many scholastic studies, emotional intelligence gained traction when it was popularised by Daniel Goleman.

According to him (as seen in HelpGuide), EQ can be defined through four attributes: 

  • Self-management (e.g. control emotions and impulsive feelings), 
  • Self-awareness (e.g. emotion recognition), 
  • Social awareness (e.g. empathy), and 
  • Relationship management


Source: Forbes

Self-management and self-awareness are classified under personal competence whereas social awareness and relationship management are classified under social competence. 

The former pertains to being cognizant of your emotions and managing your behaviours and tendencies. Meanwhile, the latter pertains to appropriately interpreting emotional meanings, and motives and perceiving others’ emotions to improve the quality of relationships.

Compared to IQ, EQ is a skill that can be nurtured and honed over time through experiences.

Comparison between IQ and EQ

Criterion

IQ

EQ

Definition

An intelligence score derived from several standardised tests

Refers to emotional intelligence

Acquisition

Innate ability

Learned and developed ability

Ability

Learn, interpret, acquire knowledge, logic reasoning, abstract and spatial thinking, and filtering information

Identify, express, and control the emotions of self and assess emotions of others within a group

Application to the workplace

Meticulous, excels in challenges and problem-solving, good analytic skills, research & development

Teamwork, leadership, interpersonal communication, collaborative spirit, proactiveness, service-oriented

Who it identifies

Intellectually-gifted workers, mentally-challenged workers, special needs workers

Leaders, team players, independent workers


Based on this general overview, the key distinctions between IQ and EQ are fairly apparent, but how do we determine the relevance of IQ and/or EQ in our respective job roles?

How IQ and EQ are linked to performance

#1 Client-facing vs. non-client-facing roles

Another topic predisposed to debate surrounding IQ versus EQ is client-facing versus non-client-facing roles. 

Higher IQ

Employees with higher IQs would be those working in non-client-facing roles such as accounting and technology.

Simply put, these roles often involve minimal conversations and more calculations. More often than not, these employees spend the majority of their day facing their computer screens and crunching away numbers.

They usually won’t deal with external clients and worry about company reputation.

As a result, it may not be necessarily advantageous to be skilled in reading or regulating emotions. Instead, emotional distance is what allows these employees to focus on being highly productive and efficient at work.

Higher EQ

In contrast, employees with higher EQ naturally excel at client-facing (or any people-oriented) roles such as customer service, counselling, sales, real estate, etc.

These roles require the ability to perceive, understand and manage emotions on a personal and social scale.

Whether it’s through the art of persuasion to close a deal, or empathising with a client’s predicament, exercising emotional intelligence is pertinent in establishing harmonious ties.

Similarly in the workplace, communicating and collaborating effectively with your peers directly translates into a more cohesive and harmonious work environment. This is because high EQ colleagues are more capable of recognising points of tension and de-escalating conflict where necessary.

#2 Senior management

When it comes to senior management positions, the importance of both IQ and EQ seems to be on par with each other. 

Higher IQ

Employees with high IQs are critical and innovative thinkers, capable of creating quick and effective solutions to complex problems — often through the most efficient course of action. 

Usually, roles demanding such high rigour and creative problem-solving happen at higher management levels in an organisation. These senior associates or managers are required to accurately weigh a complex problem’s pros and cons before deriving an informed decision.

Effectively, their quick thinking and keen discernment are what will help the team hit KPIs and improve overall productivity.

Higher EQ

Meanwhile, if we think of EQ as the foundation for a host of critical skills, this is where leaders exhibiting high EQ flourish. 

Skills in supervision, interpersonal communication, and management are key pillars of good leadership. 

Hence, the ability to recognise body language, and visual and auditory cues allow good leaders to assess situations meaningfully and react tactfully; because factually addressing problems head-on with no empathy can cause greater misunderstandings, tension and more grievances in the workplace.

Unresolved, aggravated conflicts within member groups lead to organisational disruption overall.

This is especially true in complex institutional settings when working internationally or managing multi-tiered/stratified teams.

Which is better in the workplace: IQ or EQ?

Realistically, you need a synergy of both IQ and EQ to achieve a relatively balanced and healthy environment at work — where you’re able to work hard, play hard, and communicate effectively with your colleagues.

However, when we’re talking about what an organisation would most likely prioritise, the question remains largely open-ended. 

There’s no denying that hiring intelligent and competent candidates that align with the company's vision and values is crucial. Despite that, it turns out that EQ could actually be the more effective criterion for hiring managers.

In fact, a CareerBuilder’s survey revealed that 71% of employers give precedence to EQ or IQ in employees.

34% of them even admitted to actually prioritising EQ when it comes to hiring and promoting employees.

Almost 60% of them reiterated that they’d forego a high IQ but low EQ candidate.

But that’s enough about workplace dynamics for now, what about the influence of IQ or EQ regarding career advancement?

Which correlates to greater career success: IQ or EQ? 

Higher IQ

Based on Adam Grant and Dane Barnes’ Linkedin study, they posited that cognitive ability was more than five times more powerful than emotional intelligence across three scales of cognitive ability. 

Below are the average annual revenues generated by employees:

  • High cognitive ability: Over S$195,000 
  • Mid-cognitive ability: Over S$159,000
  • Low cognitive ability: Over S$109,000

They asserted that IQ dramatically outperformed EQ, and that EQ added no value to employee performances.

Meanwhile, another meta-study compiled results showing that IQ accounted for more than 14% of job performance while EQ accounted for less than 1% only.

Higher EQ

Conversely, Travis Bradberry, bestselling co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, reported that every one-point increase in EQ contributes a S$1,300 raise to an employee’s annual salary. Besides that, an employee with high emotional intelligence is shown to earn S$29,000 more per year on average than those with low emotional intelligence.

Another study conducted by TalentSmart demonstrated that out of 33 important workplace skills, EQ was the strongest predictor of performance — showcasing 58% success in all types of jobs.

Lastly, a 2017 time-lagged study reported that emotionally intelligent college graduates enjoyed significantly higher salaries 10 to 12 years later. They cited EQ as a tool for acquiring social capital crucial for career progression as a key success factor.

These findings are found to hold true for all industries, at all levels worldwide.

In essence, there just hasn’t been sufficient proof denouncing the strong correlation between performance and pay with EQ.

“EQ, more than IQ or expertise, accounts for 85% to 90% of success at work. IQ is a threshold competence. You need it, but it doesn’t make you a star whereas EQ can.”

– Warren G. Bennis, pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies

Read more:
Salary List For Top 10 High-Paying Roles in Singapore 2022 

7 Stable Jobs That Pay Surprisingly Well in Singapore 2022
Guide to Starting Salaries in Singapore


So should we focus more on IQ or EQ?

While it’s easy to play favourites here, we must acknowledge the utility of both IQ and EQ in running a successful organisation. 

That said, therein lies the greatest benefit: learning to improve skills required in both IQ and EQ.

For instance, people with high IQs can generally absorb information and think quickly on their feet; however, they’re not always geniuses. 

Even Mensa warns that IQ measure might be “misconstrued as knowledge, wisdom, memory, or a myriad of other attributes”. High IQ individuals might excel in vertical thinking but struggle in lateral thinking – or in layman’s terms – struggle to think outside the box. 

In these moments, those with lower IQs might make unexpected contributions.

Perhaps, for hiring entry-level and non-people-oriented positions, IQ might be more relevant to the job scope. However, on a grander corporate level, companies tend to promote employees based on EQ.


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With a minor problem of ‘itchy fingers’ when it comes to checking out at flash deals and sales, Emma is on a lifelong journey to understand what being financially independent in adulthood means. That said, her inner child is still very much alive… with animals and gaming (especially Pokémon) being her weak spot.