5 times having low emotional intelligence can sabotage your career

People who excel at managing interpersonal dynamics are more likely to get promoted. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

5 times having low emotional intelligence can sabotage your career
[Photo: Hadis Safari/Unsplash]

If there was ever a time when the person with the most technical knowledge was given top consideration for raises and promotions, it’s long over by now. The inherent problem with that approach is apparent to many employers: Once someone gets promoted, their chances to apply those technical skills diminish since their direct reports take over that firsthand work. Meanwhile, newly minted supervisors’ ability to collaborate with and manage their teams becomes more critical.


That’s the basic explanation for why emotional intelligence has become a core factor in professional advance. The less apparent–but equally important–corollary holds true, too: Weak emotional intelligence (or EQ) is now a career liability just as much as high EQ is an asset. Here are five concrete ways that failing to exercise emotional intelligence in the workplace can actually sabotage your career–and how to avoid them.

1. When you struggle to manage your feelings under pressure

As your responsibilities increase, so do the pressures and demands of your job. Staying calm, controlling your emotions, and not reacting to every crisis (real or perceived) may become harder to do. Yet your employer needs and expects you to handle these situations smoothly and calmly, guiding your team to do the same. Handling your feelings is no longer just a personal challenge–it’s a managerial one. And managers who fail to pass that test can get passed over for further advancement or even relieved of their supervisory duties.

How to avoid it: Practice emotionally intelligent ways to channel and express all your feelings at work, not just the negative ones. There are professional, productive responses to all emotional experiences, and learning now to navigate the good ones as well as the bad can help you keep it all together when the going gets tough.

Related: Screw emotional intelligence–this is the real key to the future of work

2. When you fail to make others feel heard and understood

Even if you don’t actually take your team members’ advice or ideas on board, they still need to know you’ve seriously considered it. This is true among colleagues who are peers just as much as between managers and direct reports. Emotionally intelligent people–no matter their role or rank–know that the best way to keep a whole team motivated is to take the time and effort to understand everyone’s point of view.


How to avoid it: Get into the habit of active listening. It’s a fundamental skill that goes hand-in-hand with communication. If your coworkers constantly feel steamrolled and ignored, you could be flagged as a crappy collaborator, risking your future success.

3. When you’re too slow to empathize

Everyone at work eventually confronts a situation that comes up outside of work and affects their performance. Family members become ill or pass away, relationships end, and other difficult events crowd out work duties. People who struggle to show sensitivity and empathy to colleagues during times like these can leave others angry, resentful, and burnt out.

How to avoid it: Share personal experiences and invite others to do the same. Storytelling is a powerful empathy-building technique that sometimes gets short shrift in the workplace. You’ll always want to respect your coworkers’ privacy, but an easy way to leave the door open for them to confide in you should they choose to is offer an anecdote–showing that even if you don’t understand exactly what they’re going through, you’d like to try if they’d value that.

Related: These are the reasons your whole team is burning out

4. When you aren’t receptive to feedback

It takes emotional intelligence to remain genuinely open to learning. Without it, you’re likely to take negative feedback as personal criticism, assuming the person critiquing you has bad intentions rather than a real desire to help you improve. Your whole career can stagnate if you consistently struggle to adapt to feedback.


How to avoid it: Rather than waiting for a performance review, emotionally intelligent people know how to solicit feedback proactively. Ask questions–and not just about your own performance after the fact. For example, “What’s one thing I can do to make this group project easier?” doubles as a means of fishing for insights about how to adjust your approach.

5. When you avoid conflict, or get derailed by it

Career advancement of any kind means having to deal with the inevitable conflict that comes from having more people connected to the work you do. It requires emotional intelligence to view power struggles and disagreements as natural friction in a collaborative process, instead of as existential threats. If you shut down or lose your cool–becoming emotionally involved, rather than looking for common ground–you could be the one suffering the fallout.

How to avoid it: Whenever interpersonal tensions arise, try to play the mediator. Step back and understand for the bigger picture, and understand that disagreement can be productive and helpful as long as you look for solutions that hinge on shared goals.

Emotions in the workplace are normal and unavoidable, so it’s up to you to figure out how best to deal with them. In fact, that’s a skill set your career depends on.

About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to