Emotional Intelligence or EI is the term used to describe one’s ability to monitor, perceive and control one’s emotions as well as those of others. It is a relatively new area of psychological research which is gaining increasing importance in the hiring process because it is perceived as a good indicator of an employee’s ability to work in a team. The ability to assess one’s emotions and their effect on others has a significant effect on the work environment and ultimately, team productivity. This article analyzes the importance of EI in the workplace, looks at case studies in the engineering discipline, and studies the claim that EI is a bigger determinant of success than IQ.


In 1990, Salovey and Mayer coined the term "Emotional Intelligence" (or EI), describing it as “a form of social intelligence that involves 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."

What began as an investigation into the relationship between cognitive thought and emotion turned into a discovery that would change the perception of the workplace environment. In 1995, Goleman, a science writer for the New York Times, got knowledge of the work of Salovey and Mayer and published the book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, in which the author argued that it was emotional intelligence, not intelligent quotient that guaranteed success. Although Goleman’s book was very influential, many skeptics refused this claim, highlighting the fact that there was insufficient research for his theories to hold up to scientific scrutiny. Others argued for the case of IQ. This has long been debated with no consensus in sight.

The Four Branch Model

After further research reaped encouraging contributions, Mayer and Dr. Salovey created the Four Branch Model as a means to explain the four skills that adequately describe many areas of emotional intelligence. This model breaks down EI into possessing the ability to:

  1. Accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others
  2. Understand emotions and their source
  3. Use emotions to facilitate thinking
  4. Manage/Regulate emotions

Although the inkblot known as emotional Intelligence can be broken down into these four branches, it is difficult to explain all the skills represented. This model fails to capture the fact that emotional intelligence can manifest itself in two distinct ways: internally and inter-personally. An emotionally intelligent person has skills which benefit him/her directly (internal) and skills which benefit the people he/she interacts with (interpersonal). In the section below, we will explore both sides.

A Closer Look At the Four Abilities

Perceiving Emotions

Every one experiences emotion in varying degree. The ability to perceive emotions is the ability to accurately interpret the hints and clues, however blatant or subtle, that may define, exemplify or even project one’s own emotions or the emotions of others. Only 7% of the communication of our feelings and attitudes is done verbally, in other words, the remaining 93% is paralinguistic (the way the words are said) and body language (unconscious motor reactions; especially facial expression) (Mehrabian, 1972).

The ability to decipher the visual and auditory cues people exhibit is the first stage in being able to better relate to them. This is important for interpersonal relationships as being able to ‘catch on’ to other people’s emotions is a key to working with them. From an internal point of view, being aware of one’s own emotions provides information about the current environment. This knowledge is key to individual success.

Understanding Emotions

Emotions contain information. Being able to perceive emotions is complimented by the ability to understand them. This is the ability to identify the emotional messages from the gathered information. It also includes the ability to comprehend the meaning of these emotional messages and reason with them.

On an interpersonal level, by fully understanding other’s emotions and how these emotions may be affected by external stimuli, one can influence the moods of those around him/her.

Internally, one is able to assess the potential causes of one’s own emotional state and how those emotions affect his/her thoughts and actions.

Using Emotions

Emotions prioritize thinking. This can affect our thoughts and actions–both positively and negatively. When one responds to something emotionally, it becomes the center of attention.

Emotional empathy is an interpersonal skill based in part upon this ability to generate and/or relate to the same feeling that another person is experiencing. On the other hand, internally, by using emotions one can focus thought on what matters the most. The ability to generate a mood or an emotion internally accompanied by a good system of emotional input can drive creative thought.

Managing Emotions

This is the ability to engage or detach from the emotional messages one is receiving based upon its judged utility. This allows one to modulate emotions in oneself and others. By recognizing how clear, harmful, influential or reasonable emotional information is one can control how his/her words and actions (or lack of) influence other’s emotions.

Internally, this means that one is able to have better self-control by moderating negative emotions and enhancing pleasant ones thereby not allowing emotions to control his/her mood or actions.

The Impact and Overestimation of EI vs IQ in the Workplace

Every job has an IQ hurdle that people have to jump over. It doesn’t make a difference whether one employee barely clears it or clears it by 30 extra points (Kelley, 1998).

Although this claim seems counter-intuitive, Kellyey’s reason is sound. Data suggests that IQ is a good indicator of success but it analyzes the IQs of a vast range of people within different fields. Within specific professions, however, this theory fails to hold. If an employee has the average IQ required then IQ ceases to play a factor in determining job performance.

Most researchers conclude that IQ accounts for between 10% and 20% of success. This has led many to make the jump to conclude that EI accounts for the remaining 80-90% success. The drivers behind this claim are varied. For some, it is a consolation for poor grades in school and for others it is a marketing ploy to sell more literature relating to emotional intelligence. Goleman (2011) observed that the remaining 80% is open to a host of other factors – “everything from the family or social status you’re born into, to luck, to emotional intelligence, to name a few.” EI alone cannot account for this gap.

Application to Engineering

Control Systems Engineering is a branch of the engineering discipline in which engineers seek to analyze a process/physical system and design ways to control them. This is done in several stages. First, using sensors the performance of the system is measured. Some noise is present at the sensing stage which may offset the true value of the measurement. The measurements are then used as feedback to a controller. The controller analyzes this data and sends instructions to the actuators to influence the operation of the system to a more desirable state.

Figure 1 shows an example of a control system.


Figure 1

Control system diagram of an automated thermostat system. Source: Name (year).

Having an emotionally intelligent person on a team can be likened to having both a sensor and a controller as a means to moderate the emotional atmosphere of a workspace. As a controller, this team member can use his actions and/or words (or lack of) to control the emotional atmosphere of the workspace. Video 1 provides a visual analogy of how an emotionally intelligent teammate can control the emotional atmosphere in the work environment.


Video 1

Control system diagram of a workspace environment with an EI teammate.

Application to Senior Project

The skills labeled under the umbrella of emotional intelligence will play a huge role in the interactions which are made between the engineers and their sponsor, instructor and teaching assistant. Although emotional intelligence may not play a direct role in the building of the Red Team’s project, it will ultimately influence the design process of the project.

It is fair to suggest that having a high level of EI between the members of the Red Team will produce a healthy working environment which in turn will lead to a higher level of efficiency and individual satisfaction ceteris paribus. Below are some of the areas of a project development cycle which emotional intelligence can influence.


During any project development cycle, there are storms of frustration that loom whenever things are not going as planned. In these moments being able to recognize such emotions and evaluate them will lower the effect they have.

When a miscommunication between Jamie and Ellis caused them to miss a major deadline they argued. Even though they had both been at fault, Jamie was completely aware of the fact that she had directed her frustration at Ellis and needed to apologize. It was a good step in rebuilding the damage caused by the argument.


It takes drive to complete a long-term goal. Being able to use one’s emotions to control one’s actions puts the power to control mental attributes like assertiveness and optimism in one’s hands.

At the end of the first semester of our Senior Year, we realized that we had not achieved anywhere near as much as we had anticipated. Fueled by a desire to succeed, we made plans over Winter break to return to school early to begin working on our project and achieved all that we had intended to do in the first semester within three days.

Social Skills

Good interpersonal skills will be at the core of building a great rapport between the members of the Red Team. Nurturing bonds and creating good group synergy will aid collaboration. This promotes open communication lines between team members.

When the year began, my teammate and I barely knew each other. Being able to interact and build a friendship helped us create a work environment in which we could have fun while working on our project. This made the design process more bearable because it felt like an activity rather than a class requirement.

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