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Competencies of Emotional Intelligence

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Competencies of Emotional Intelligence


We all know emotional intelligence (or EQ) matters. But what does it really mean to be emotionally intelligent?

8 min read

In a previous article, we explained that success in life depends on both IQ and EQ. Therefore, in the workplace, emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) matters for both leaders and employees. It’s now time to delve more deeply into what emotional intelligence actually is.


Emotional intelligence was first described in the psychology literature by Salovey and Mayer (1990). However, psychologist Daniel Goleman is generally credited with introducing EI to the public via his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” (Goleman, 1995).

You may be surprised to discover that there is no universally agreed upon definition of emotional intelligence, and no consensus about the competencies that comprise it. However, this is typical of psychology research where it’s common practice for academics to propose a variety of definitions and models.

Let’s begin by considering some of these definitions. Emotional intelligence has variously been described as:

  • “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action” (Salovey & Mayer, 1990)
  • “a person’s ability to manage his feelings so that those feelings are expressed appropriately and effectively” (Goleman, 1995)
  • “an array of noncognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures” (Bar-On, 1997), and
  • “emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both” (Caruso in Freedman, 2017).


Currently, three academic models which conceptualize emotional intelligence differently dominate the EQ landscape. These models have been developed by:

  • Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer, and further refined in collaboration with David Caruso
  • Reuven Bar-On, and
  • Daniel Goleman.

Salovey and Mayer (1990) argue that emotional intelligence is a form of innate intelligence related to cognitive (thinking or mental) ability. They view EI as a set of abilities involved in reasoning about emotions and using emotions to enhance reasoning. Their model is thus referred to as an ability model.

By contrast, Goleman (1995, 1998) and Bar-On (1997, 2006) regard EI as a set of skills that depend on both ability and personality traits. These models are referred to in the scientific literature as mixed models.

This article focuses on the evolution of the framework developed by Daniel Goleman. In his 1998 book “Working with emotional intelligence,” Goleman proposed a model of EI that included five components (Figure 1).

Five Components of EQ

Figure 1. The five components of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 1998).

Over time he refined his model to four domains (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017):

  • Self-awareness: knowledge of self
  • Self-management: actions towards self
  • Social awareness: knowledge of others
  • Relationship management: actions towards others


In the current version of Goleman’s model, twelve competencies are nested under these four domains (Figure 2). These building blocks of emotional intelligence are the “learned and learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work or as a leader” (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017).

Figure 2. Emotional intelligence domains and competencies (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017).

Emotional self-awareness is the first competency of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is the capacity to understand how our feelings affect us, other people and our job performance. A sign of self-awareness is the ability to speak openly and accurately (Goleman, Davidson, et al., 2017b; Harvard Business Review et al., 2018).

Emotional self-control is the ability to maintain effectiveness by keeping impulses and disruptive emotions such as anxiety, fear and anger in check under stressful or even hostile conditions (Goleman, Boyatzis, Davidson, Druskat, et al., 2017b). Emotional self-control is not about suppressing emotions but about understanding their function as a natural guidance system (Harvard Business Review, 2017).

Adaptability refers to being able to adjust when situations change or are uncertain and being able to juggle multiple competing priorities (Goleman, Davidson, et al., 2017a; Harvard Business Review, 2017).

Achievement orientation means striving to meet or exceed a standard of excellence and seeking ways to do things better (Goleman, Boyatzis, Davidson, & Druskat, 2017a).

Positive outlook relates to seeing the positive in people, situations and events and persisting toward goals in the face of setbacks and obstacles (Goleman, Boyatzis, Davidson, & Druskat, 2017b).

Empathy underpins social awareness and relationship management. Empathy is the ability to feel other people’s feelings, understand their perspective, and sense what they need (Goleman, Boyatzis, Davidson, Druskat, et al., 2017a; Harvard Business Review, 2017).

Organizational awareness is the ability to read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships, and identify influencers, networks, and the dynamics that matter in decision making (Goleman, Boyatzis, Druskat, Nevarez, et al., 2017).

Influence is the capacity to have a positive impact on others and to gain support and buy-in from key people (Goleman, Boyatzis, Senge, et al., 2017).

The Coach and Mentor competency refers to the ability to foster long-term learning or development of others by understanding their goals and providing constructive feedback and support (Goleman, Boyatzis, Kohlrieser, et al., 2017).

Conflict management represents the ability to help others through emotional or tense situations, tactfully bring disagreements into the open, acknowledge and understand differing perspectives, find common ground, and reach resolutions that everyone can endorse (Goleman, Boyatzis, Gallo, et al., 2017).

Teamwork is the ability to work with others toward a shared goal. Teamwork involves contributing to the capability of the team and sharing responsibility and rewards. Individuals with high teamwork competence create positive relationships and an atmosphere of respect and cooperation (Goleman, Boyatzis, Druskat, Lippincott, et al., 2017).

The Inspirational Leadership competency represents the ability to give others a sense of purpose beyond their day-to-day tasks. Inspirational leaders inspire and motivate their people towards a shared mission, guide them to get the job done and bring out their best qualities along the way. They are agents of positive change who take risks and sometimes defy conventional norms (Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee, et al., 2017).

In the next article, we will consider how emotional intelligence is measured.

Key takeaways

  • Emotional intelligence is necessary for outstanding performance at work, whether you are a leader or employee.
  • At a macro level, being emotionally intelligent means being self- and socially aware and having the ability to manage yourself and relationships with others.
  • At a micro level, psychologist Daniel Goleman proposes that emotional intelligence is comprised of twelve competencies. These are emotional self-awareness, emotional self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation, positive outlook, empathy, organizational awareness, influence, coach and mentor, conflict management, teamwork and inspirational leadership.
  • Emotional intelligence competencies can be learned.