Emotional intelligence concept

Can you have too much emotional intelligence at work?

Are you too smart for your own good? It’s a saying we’re all familiar with but could it relate to our emotional intelligence too?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is made up from a combination of social intelligence – how we manage and understand relationships, and intra/interpersonal intelligence – how we manage our own and others’ motivations and intentions.

EI is vital to how we all operate on a daily basis – both in and out of work. It influences how we process information, how our memory works, our decision-making, our ability to reason and our learning.

IQ versus emotional intelligence

Studies suggest that our IQ accounts for just 20% of what we achieve at work. This begs the question – “what makes up the other 80%?”

It could be that emotional intelligence is even more important than IQ in influencing our work performance and career success. And, if that is the case, is it simply that those with higher EI end up being more successful at work? Not necessarily…

Conventional wisdom is that people with high emotional intelligence at work will have several positive attributes, which make them more successful. Among these are:

  • Empathy – understanding how others feel and why they feel that way
  • Adaptability – being able to embrace change rather than being afraid of it
  • Stress management – being able to cope with work demands such as tight deadlines and juggling multiple priorities
  • Emotion management – being able to manage the emotions of themselves and others (e.g. having good influencing skills)

The dark side of emotional intelligence

However, could having particularly high EI do more harm than good in some instances?

While high emotional intelligence can contribute to enhanced performance of oneself and others, it can also have its downsides in the workplace.

For example, someone that’s very good at emotion management might display more manipulative and controlling behaviours or disguise their feelings for personal, rather than organisational, gain. Conversely, having really high empathy could cloud one’s decision-making as they’re preoccupied with the feelings of others.

So, is it better to have low or high emotional intelligence?

There’s no perfect EI score and it’s not as black and white as high or low EI being good or bad. Context is all-important when judging what a ‘good’ level of emotional intelligence is for a particular job role.

For instance, if you work as a customer service manager, you’ll likely benefit from having higher empathy than if you were a financial trader.

This means that for some roles, scores in the lower range could be beneficial. Furthermore, each score, whether high or low, will have upsides and downsides. It’s important that these are explored with individuals in order to understand how these could be beneficial or detrimental to their performance and development.

How should you measure emotional intelligence?

One highly-regarded tool for measuring EI is the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue). This can be used to provide a comprehensive understanding of one’s EI level, through measuring self-perceptions of one’s abilities across 15 areas.

At the very least, having a greater awareness of our emotional intelligence level could help us in various work scenarios. And, ultimately, it could prove a great catalyst to support personal development.

Find out more about the questionnaire here. You can analyse scores across the 15 areas to gain a full understanding of your strengths and possible improvement areas.


Neisser et al., 1996; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998.

Hunter, John E.; Hunter, Ronda F. (1984). “Validity and utility of alternative predictors of job performance”. Psychological Bulletin 96 (1): 72–98.

Neisser, U., Boodoo, G., Bouchard J.T.J., Boykin, A.W., Brody, N., Ceci, S.J., Halpern, D.F., Loehlin, J. C., Perloff, R., Sternberg, R.J. & Urbina, S. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. American Psychologist 52 (2): 77–101, 85.


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