The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in HR

As a Human Resources professional, a critical function of your job is to understand people and teams well. Emotional intelligence will allow you to stand out in your job because you will be able to develop a positive influence over others and show up fully for the employees you serve. That said, most of us don’t have strong, innate emotional intelligence. It is incredibly difficult to understand our own complex emotions, let alone those of others we don’t necessarily know very well, so it takes work to build strong self-awareness and emotional aptitude. This article will dive into what emotional intelligence looks like in practice, how it benefits HR professionals, and the key traits of emotional intelligence in human resources. This will help you to become a more emotionally intelligent leader in your teams. 

Emotional Intelligence

What is Emotional Intelligence?

While there are many skills that an HR professional should develop throughout the course of their careers, perhaps the most important is emotional intelligence, or EQ. This refers to the ability to identify, name, and understand one’s emotions, along with the emotions of others. 

The concept of emotional intelligence was first introduced by psychologists in the 1990s, but it has become an extraordinarily prevalent part of our lexicons in the workplace in recent years as we have had to cope with, adapt to, and process changes in the way we work. Leadership is now expected to not only possess strong emotional awareness but to be able to teach it to others, as well. 

The great thing about this skill is that we are all united in a necessity to be continually developing emotional intelligence. There is no “leveling out” when it comes to this skill. So, whether you’re already exceptionally self-aware or know that you have plenty of room for growth here, you’re not alone. 

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in HR Management

HR professionals need to possess strong EQ to perform their jobs well. As much as we might like to pretend we can separate work from the rest of our lives, it would be impossible to show up to work 40 hours each week and not feel a single emotion during this time. You will be there when employees are onboarded, you will be there when life events disrupt an employee’s work, and you will be there when employees resign or are terminated from their positions. To handle these emotionally charged events, we need to examine how to build emotional intelligence in human resources management.  

As an empathetic HR professional, you will also need to be able to share empathy-building and self-awareness practices with management at your company so that they can be strong and positive leaders who influence workplace culture in a productive way. You can help contribute to this effort by educating employees about the power of understanding one’s emotions. 

The benefits to HR professionals of being self-aware at work include:

  • Harnessing emotions into one’s tasks to build productivity–working with one’s emotions rather than against them
  • Using one’s emotions to bolster the critical thinking process
  • Allowing emotions to guide problem-solving efforts
  • Developing self-motivation by harnessing positivity
  • Using social awareness to interact productively and build positive influence with others
  • Boldly modeling empathy and becoming a trustworthy source of support

5 Key Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence for HR Professionals

Because understanding emotional intelligence is a deeply abstract process, it can be helpful to view examples of EQ in action, as it will help you to develop a stronger understanding of the importance of emotional intelligence in human resources management. 

The concept of emotional intelligence was widely popularized by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In his work, he suggests five fundamental features of EQ. Each of these features carries its own importance within the world of human resources.

  1. Self-awareness—This is the ability for one to recognize and describe their own emotions, strengths, limitations, etc. and to understand how these qualities radiate into the world around you, inevitably affecting others in various and complex ways. 

Building self-awareness can help you to both receive and craft feedback productively, and it can help you to focus your energy into the appropriate channels in your work since you have a strong understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. In HR, this helps you to work well in teams, build rapport with your organization’s leadership, designate yourself as reliable and trustworthy, and provide effective support to your organization’s employees. 

To build your self-awareness, you can start with routine journaling. This will help you deepen your understanding of yourself. This is particularly helpful when trying to work through complicated emotions such as grief or anger. You can practice finding the root emotions behind the things you feel, which in turn will lead to developing resiliency. 

  1. Self-regulation—This is the ability to manage impulse and control your outward displays of emotions to use them for your benefit. This can help you when it comes to adapting to change, using rational thinking in times of stress, and with designating yourself as a stable and reliable source of support within your organization. 

To improve your self-regulation skills, practice owning up to mistakes, being humble about your successes, being honest about your shortcomings, and taking responsibility when appropriate. Breathing techniques are useful when things become overwhelming and will help you to not lose control in highly charged situations. 

  1. Empathy—This involves understanding other people’s emotions. Being compassionate comes from developing strong empathy. When you are outwardly empathetic, people know that you care about and understand them. 

To develop empathy, you can simply imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes more often. Picture how you would feel if you were in their situation, even if it seems unfamiliar to you. You will probably be able to relate more easily than you think. Additionally, practice active listening and approach conversations with your employees from a place of curiosity. Reflect on and name the emotions that you observe in your employees, and give them a chance to elaborate or correct you. 

Furthermore, having strong empathy will help you understand how you can meet the needs of your organization as it pertains to hiring by noticing and recording trends in why people are leaving and investigating how employee morale changes over time.

  1. Motivation—This consists of enjoying working toward your goals for the sake of self-accomplishment rather than money or power. This helps to improve your productivity, increases self-confidence, and creates a positive example in your teams. 

To develop strong motivation, routinely set and evaluate new goals for yourself, practice optimism, and focus on you and your employees’ inherent value to the team in order to foster feelings of purpose and achievement. 

  1. Social skills—This speaks to managing relationships at work so that the overall culture is one of positivity and respect. Strong social skills lead to developing rapport with your employees and earning trust and respect from your teams. This will help you listen well when employees come to you with issues, and you will be able to better understand their needs and identify ways to be a source of support. 

Improve social skills by practicing active listening and communicating to understand problems. Being able to communicate well with your employees will help them to feel open enough to approach you with problems so that you can get a good sense of what is going well at your organization and what employees tend to struggle with. Having strong social skills will help you resolve conflict and notice trends within the workplace, because you will be known as a trustworthy person who people can come to when they need assistance or support. 

Use KnowledgeCity’s Ample Resources to Start Developing Stronger EQ

While developing emotional awareness and intelligence in human resources management may feel intimidating, you don’t have to approach the practice alone. Undoubtedly, you feel responsible for your organization’s employees and teams and want to show up fully for them. However, as the saying goes, you will need to pour into your own cup before you pour for others. Building community and working together can help in this regard, so you might consider participating in and providing more employee development opportunities centered around emotional intelligence and similar concepts. KnowledgeCity has plenty of resources for this—download our free guide on how to implement a successful training program


You can also take our course, Emotional Intelligence, which will help you further explore the different components of EQ, how it benefits leadership, and how you can accurately measure your own EQ. With these resources available to you to develop your emotional intelligence as an HR professional, you can move forward confidently in the knowledge that working on these skills will improve your life at work and beyond.

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