The Five Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

You’ve more than likely heard of it, but how can you actually leverage emotional intelligence in your life? Read on to find out.

Emotional intelligence is one of those buzz-words that is thrown around, arguably more than any other these days. While we’ve seen it used in a variety of contexts, the truth is that emotional intelligence runs deeper than most leaders we’ve witnessed have read into, and there’s a heap of benefits in store if you take into account the five pillars at the bedrock of the concept. It’s quite a dense topic, considering there’s nearly six decades’ worth of research out there.

“Intelligence is one thing, but when your hiring you have to take emotional intelligence into account.”

First off, why is it so important? Well, to put it simply, there’s a body of research out there with peer-reviewed studies drawing the link between individuals with high emotional intelligence have greater mental health, job performance and leadership skills. This, more than often translates to high-functioning professionals that can turn an organisation’s numbers around and have a profound impact on the people they work with. Just one person exhibiting the best and most effective emotionally intelligent behaviours can have a massive impact on an organisation- that’s why it’s such an important concept to capitalise on.

In short, while IQ might be an indicator of intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence (EI) is an indicator of a person’s ability to both identify and manage emotions in themselves and the people around them and leverage this for success. Intelligence is one thing, but when hiring you have to take emotional intelligence into account.

Emotional intelligence is a quality that, while difficult to put into practice properly, enables us to confront problems with insight, empathy and patience both for ourselves and while working with other people. It came about in the 1960s largely because of the fact that intelligence was a general, one-dimensional quality at that point in history, and didn’t properly attribute the variety of different traits that contribute to someone’s overall demeanour. Now, let’s jump into a brief overview of the five pillars that underpin the concept of emotional intelligence.

Self Awareness

At times, it’s good to overestimate our abilities because it factors out any limitations we might put on ourselves while setting goals; the key words in that sentence are ‘at times’, however. The reality is that you need to be reasonable in this process, and aware of your strengths, weaknesses and flaws. In much the same way as a SWOT analysis, the key to emotional intelligence is being aware of these things and how they play into your everyday interactions at work and in your personal life. As the concept explains, before you can make significant changes in your life, you have to first be aware of the tools that you’re working with; this is self-reflection leading you to essentially take stock of what resources and capacities you’ve got at your disposal.

Emotional awareness, as theorists explain, translates to the ability to recognise the emotions you’re experiencing, and understand that while these can be powerful, you can also factor them out of the equation, akin to a professional athlete that factors out their emotions from inside themselves and from the crowd while performing at a high level. Daniel Goleman says that the competencies that come with a high level of self-awareness are: the ability to recognise your emotion and the impact they have on your life, as well as your strengths and limitations, and finally, an awareness of your self-worth and capabilities. For a great guide on how to put self-awareness into practice in the context of emotional intelligence, click here.


Now, moving on to one of the more elusive factors at play: motivation. It’s the engine turning the wheels toward an achievement or deadline, reinforced by our commitment to goals. While this part of the article warrants an article of its own, according to the theory of emotional intelligence, there are two forms of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. As you can imagine, intrinsic motivation is a person’s ability to stay on-task and moving toward a goal without any external reinforcement; those people manage to stay focussed and ahead of the crowd when it comes to getting the job done. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation comes in the form of your colleagues, your managers, your boss, the prospect of a raise or a bonus, as well as the powerful subsequent pressures that stem from project deadlines and meetings. Theorists argue that intrinsic motivation is one of the keys to leveraging emotional intelligence, as it’s important to have the ability to keep yourself on task without external forces at play, but they are in fact motivators that can’t necessarily be ignored.

Self Regulation

Self-regulation or self-motivation carries on in a similar vein to what we’ve just addressed but focuses more on a person’s ability to control yourself and your emotions and impulses, as well as how well you can leverage your resources and abilities in any given interaction. Think of the concept of over-promising and under delivering, for example. It’s better – in whatever context, in business or your personal life – to under promise and over deliver on the promises you’re making in your interactions. Disappointment is one of the most powerful emotions we as humans can feel, and in the context of doing business, it can perpetuate a negative feedback cycle stemming from negative word-of-mouth feedback and online reviews.

The five elements of self-regulation goes as follows: self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability and innovation.

As we’ve discussed previously, it takes years and years to build up your reputation, so managing your promises and keeping the concept of self-regulation as a pillar of emotional intelligence is a key aspect of bringing the concept together as a whole.


Empathy is an extremely important factor to get right in both business and in your personal life. We’d argue that this is one of the most important pillars of the concept. If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even just for a minute, you’ll be significantly better off when it comes to analysing the transaction or the interaction when you take into account their sensibilities and their concerns. This is partuclarly important when we’re talking about the concept of your customers and their concerns, but applies equally when we’re talking about colleagues in your organisation or your loved ones.

Social Skills

Now, we’ve placed social skills lower down in the chronology for a reason. We believe if you can practice the points we’ve discussed: self-regulation, awareness and being motivated- you’re in a better place when it comes to optimising your social skills. Individuals with high-level social skills are better equipped to handle and influence the emotions of other people in those interactions; this can be the sole determining factor between winning a deal and losing one.

Theorists say that the key areas to cover when exercising your social skills are: persuasion and influencing skills, leadership skills, conflict management skills, communication skills, change management skills, relationship building skills as well as your ability to cooperate and collaborate with your colleagues.

Emotional intelligence is one of those concepts that are implicit in job interviews and recruitment processes, whether or not the employer is even aware of it or not. While someone might be exceptionally credentialed, if they’re unable to fit into a role due to a lack of communication or collaborative skills, or they’re unaware of their foibles and consistently break promises, you can see how a lack of emotional intelligence can contribute to immeasurable frustration for everyone in a business.

The process begins with the individual getting an understanding of their set of emotions (self-awareness), then learning how to manage and leverage these emotions (self-regulation). From here, you’re in a better place to use these to plot a map to the achievement of your goals (self-motivation), and with empathy, you’ll be able to contemplate reactions to the message you’re communicating and ultimately achieve a deal through social interaction. It might take some time to wrap your head around the concept, but it’s truly transformational when you do.

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