Mastering Emotional Intelligence in the Digital Workplace


Emotional intelligence has an outsized impact in the workplace — we’ve heard this message over and over again.

Studies suggest that people with high emotional intelligence have better job performance and higher leadership capacity, among other benefits. Knowing this, companies strive to cultivate emotional intelligence, or EQ, in their leadership and hire new employees who display a high capacity for emotional intelligence. 

Daniel Goleman, one of the leading experts on emotional intelligence, identified five traits that distinguish emotionally intelligent individuals: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. Goleman argues that companies should seek out those traits in potential employees.

Globalization Introduces New Challenges

But the prevalence of globalization and remote working add to the complexity of work and leadership today. Gallup reports that 37 percent of today’s workers say they do or have telecommuted, up from 9 percent of workers in 1995. 

Liberal economic policies geared toward free trade is one of the factors pushing companies toward a transnational existence, according to a recent SHRM Foundation study. The study looked at how globalization affects HR and communications issues. 

According to the study, 64 percent of workers at multinational companies work with virtual teams and 52 percent of team members are based outside the company’s home country. When a team includes individuals from multiple countries, cultural differences can create new challenges, such as preferred management style. This affects all corners of a business, from retention to strategic decision making. 

Where does emotional intelligence stand in a globalized business climate, especially in light of the communication challenges that remote work introduces?

Adjusting Tone to Medium

The short answer: emotional intelligence remains the same. A person who is self-aware and empathetic in person is still self-aware and empathetic online, and they remain empathetic regardless of culture. 

The longer answer is that while emotional intelligence carries over, it requires new types of awareness to put it into practice. People still need self-awareness, but they must also be sensitive to different modes of communication, as well as other perspectives. 

What may come across as kind and encouraging in person might seem brusque through email. What may seem a too stern management style in one country may feel lax elsewhere. Additionally, empathy is different if you can’t read the facial expressions of the person with whom you’re speaking or see their reactions. 

These new factors may result in managerial faux pas by those used to an older style of doing business — but that doesn’t mean they have lower emotional intelligence. Rather, they need to pay special attention to the self-awareness and self-regulation elements of emotional intelligence, feel confident in their emotional intelligence and train themselves to listen to those instincts. 

A few minutes of extra research on leadership styles around the world, or reading one’s own email aloud to check the tone, can prevent headaches of miscommunication down the road. 

Different Circumstances, Same EQ

Globalization and technology are here to stay. 

While online communication may have displaced face to face interaction in the workplace, the two only differ in that they each offer something the other lacks. Face to face interactions provide an opportunity to read body language and tone of voice, while speaking online gives communicators more time to consider and edit what they plan to say. 

Managers must recognize the new norms digital communication presents within the enterprise, and know that this will be the primary mode of engaging with workers overseas. 

Emotional intelligence’s importance doesn’t go away just because we work in digital workplaces. It’s just as important — if not more so — as when all members of a company worked together in a central location. 

Learning the nuances of different communications styles must become part of emotional intelligence today. Master that, and you will become an expert in emotional intelligence in the digital era.

Title image Charles Forerunner

Nigel Danson PhD is CEO and founder of Interact. He founded Interact with the aim of developing a simple enterprise collaboration solution that connects people to people, and people to content.


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