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Understanding Emotional Intelligence and How It Impacts Virtual Teams

By Melody Rawlings, Ed.D., MST, Director, Center for Advancement of Virtual Organizations (CAVO)

We're grateful to Melody for sharing her expertise. Any opinions expressed within this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.


Emotional Intelligence (EI) is an important element when acquiring talent, and developing and managing successful teams. However, EI is not a term or concept recognized or fully embraced as a leadership imperative by everyone in business or on virtual teams. What impact does having EI or lacking EI have on virtual team health and performance?


Defining Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman (2011) identifies four generic domains of EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. These include common sense elements such as internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. In contrast, autocratic rulemaking, narcissism, stagnant mindsets, and maintaining an unempathetic attitude are not reflective of one exercising insightful EI, and do not work well with teams, especially in the digital workplace. 

Goleman (2011) views EI as a powerful model for education in the form of social and emotional learning and has concluded that it is a fundamental ingredient of outstanding leadership, as well as an active agent in a fulfilling life. First developing emotional intelligence is a critical input to successfully prioritizing talent acquisition and retention, coaching or developing leaders, and building trust. To improve your EI, you can set objectives and goals of practicing better self-awareness, being more open-minded to the ideas of others, utilizing better social skills, and enhancing your ability to handle interpersonal relationships with fairness and empathy. 


Self-awareness and Self-management

Self-awareness is an understanding by the leader why they do the things they do. The leader is aware of the reasons and motivations behind their behavior. The ability to understand your own emotions helps us to understand the emotions felt by others (Goleman, 2011). Self-management comes from the part of our brain that gives us cognitive control, regulating attention, decision-making, voluntary action, reasoning, and flexibility when responding to a situation (Goleman, 2011). Self-management helps us to exert self-control, and guides us to be attentive to the needs of others. 


Social Awareness

Social awareness is the ability to understand, use and manage your emotions in positive ways to reduce stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and handle conflict. Social awareness is a challenging issue in the online world, as there is no face-to-face interaction. Extra effort and creative ideas need to be explored to address this challenge. Relationship management involves an ability to empathize with others, work productively with a diverse workforce, and be able to read and regulate emotions. 


Emotional Intelligence in Virtual Teams

It is no mystery that leading and managing virtual teams presents new and different challenges than traditional workplace settings. This includes the absence of face-to-face and social interactions, such as in-person meetings, personal conversations, and the ability to read body language and facial cues. Due to these changing circumstances, and given the realities of the digital workplace, the importance of recognizing and learning the critical elements and concepts of EI should not be underestimated. 

In building virtual teams and trust, people are now functioning in a world vastly different from that of the past. Modern business cultures reflect accelerated changes in the digital workplace due to globalization and the impact of changing technology (Cole, et al., 2019). Individuals and leaders working collaboratively require EI aptitude (Cole, et al., 2019).


Practicing Emotional Intelligence on Virtual Teams

The importance of EI should not be looked upon as some lofty ideal postulated by researchers, think tanks, or consultants. It is a logical and rational concept that functions in the current digital workplace because people, despite their differences, still share the same emotions, desires, and needs. Positive change can occur when there is understanding, empathy, and collaboration. EI factors of self-awareness and self-management correlate strongly with ideals in a collaborative setting such as concern for self and others, integration, inclusion, compromise, and communication (Cole, et al., 2019). EI competencies assist virtual teams in developing new and more prosperous cultures that support common goals and reach greater effectiveness (Cole, et al., 2019).

Advancing ideals of EI should begin prior to acquiring talent because people who know and understand EI principles will share those with their teams. Virtual team members may seek a level of independence unlike those in a traditional office setting, and an autocratic management style may be far from the best approach. Practicing EI is critical to the development of business continuity and competency, as well as the efficient oversight of stakeholders, including upper management and virtual team members.


Goleman, D. (2011). The brain and emotional intelligence (2nd. ed.). More Than Sound LLC.

Cole, M. L., Cox, J. D., & Stavros, J. M. (2019). Building collaboration in teams through emotional intelligence: Mediation by SOAR (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results). Journal of Management and Organization25(2), 263-283. doi:10.1017/jmo.2016.43

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