Emotional and Diversity Intelligence are Inseparable

How are Emotional Intelligence and Diversity intertwined with each other as we work to create healthier, more equitable, and diverse workplaces?

Most of us are now aware that Emotional Intelligence matters A LOT in the workplace. People who don’t ‘play well’ with others and worse, are unaware of their impact, fail at alarming rates. This makes our hiring, retention, and firing jobs much more difficult and our workplaces much more toxic and unwelcoming. The EI considerations in hiring  - Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management are the four essential quadrants where EI competencies matter and what I call “Diversity Intelligence” (DI) plays a key role in each of these four EI quadrants.

It is widely known that diversity has the potential to bring many benefits to an organization such as increased creativity and market share. However, it is difficult to access these benefits when differences clash and emotions take center stage. Often leaders and employees alike do not know how to deal with these feelings to capitalize on diverse perspectives, styles and approaches. Developing the capacity to understand and manage feelings and deal effectively with others, no matter how great the differences, is a critical competence in today’s workplace. The ability to do so depends in great part on emotional intelligence. The Center for Creative Leadership has identified three significant career de-railers for executives: difficulty with handling change, inability to work on a team, and poor interpersonal relations – all EI competencies that are needed to succeed and get positive results in any workplace at any level.

What Is Emotional Intelligence And Diversity?

While human beings function on both rational and emotional levels, emotions emanating from our core personal values, are at the heart of our energy, commitment and motivation. Feelings are also fundamental in forming our reactions to the differences we see in others, whether we approach or avoid, like or dislike, accept or reject. The more we understand and manage our emotional responses, the more we can enjoy greater satisfaction in our relationships, higher effectiveness in interpersonal interactions, and peace within ourselves.

Cherbosque, Gardenswartz and Rowe’s definition of Emotional Intelligence and Diversity (EID) expands the traditional definition of Emotional Intelligence so that it is relevant in today’s diverse world. EID involves the ability to feel, understand, articulate, manage and apply the power of emotions to interactions across lines of difference.

Diversity, those aspects across the spaces where we interact, can be understood as the multiple dimensions where we are both similar and different. Interacting with others across these lines of difference can trigger powerful emotional responses that require Emotional Intelligence competencies to manage constructively. These dimensions are depicted in the model below.

From Diverse Teams at Work, Gardenswartz & Rowe (SHRM, 2003) * Internal Dimensions and External Dimensions are adapted from Marilyn Loden and Judy Rosener, Workforce America!   (Business One Irwin, 1991)

While Emotional Intelligence is needed to function effectively anywhere, additional aspects are required in a world where we are bombarded daily with differences, in areas such as culture, traditions, race and ethnicity, gender, sexual preference and identity, values, language, behaviors, personality preferences and workplace norms. Whether these differences are internalized as positive or we respond on an emotional level and respond or react both emotionally and intellectually. Our behaviors can be constructive or destructive, depending on our ability to both recognize and manage our emotions.

The Emotional Intelligence we need to cope effectively in a diverse world of work requires both awareness and action of ourselves and with others if we are to have effective interactions and productive workgroups.

What's in it for me? (WIIFM?)

1. How can self-awareness help me?

Self-awareness precedes choice

You must understand your own values, passions, preferences, and worldview.


  • Know what makes you ‘tick’
  • Get and be comfortable in your own skin
  • Get and be in tune with your own biases and hot buttons

How can self-management help me?

Self-management comes before action. Powerful feelings can trigger powerful reactions. You are responsible for how you use and display your energy.


  • Make ambiguity an ally – take your time
  • Be your own change master
  • Be in charge of your self-talk

How can social awareness help me?

Understanding others requires empathy. Do you care and know her or his values, cultural norms? Can you ‘walk a mile in those shoes’?


  • Make time to learn the “whys” behind behaviors – ask, don’t assume
  • Be open to consider the benefits and limitations of all norms
  • Be curious and look beyond your perspective to understand

How can relationship management help me?

Be intentional about relationships. Build trust on purpose, help others understand various perspectives, and help to transform conflicts.


  • Become a ‘cultural’ interpreter, and not indifferent or silent
  • Communicate effectively and resolve conflicts
  • Structure positive, synergistic and compelling positive environments

It’s about each of us and all of us!

Individual: Growing my own EDI competencies and awareness

Team: Grow and model inclusiveness norms, raise awareness, and do your part to create emotionally intelligent teams.

Organization: Be proactive in creating a healthy culture where the values, norms, and practices are welcoming to all our team members – regardless of your role or position in the hierarchy

Those of us in roles where we influence hiring, retention, and letting people go, need to get smarter – not in brain intelligence, but in Emotional Intelligence and Diversity Intelligence to address the challenges of our workplaces today and tomorrow. We cannot stand still, be indifferent, rely on annual training, be silent, or hope things will work out; we have to LISTEN, pay attention, take a stand, be creative and proactive, be clear, and put some real ‘teeth’ in creating welcoming workplaces for all our staff members.



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