Emotional Intelligence in a Program, Project and Portfolio Management View

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The well-known American psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence”, published in 1995, defines the Emotional Intelligence as “the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand and influence the emotions of the others”[1]. Indeed, EI belongs to the large group of soft skills, also called behavior skills, which are a prerogative to be flexible and adaptable to any environment, especially in a business environment, where interactions with colleagues and stakeholders are on the agenda. Is it possible that someone selected for a job position through classic tests is not actually able to handle it? It could be: self-control, stubbornness, empathy, and attention to the others are fundamental to work effectively in a shared environment. Indeed, the purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the importance of the EI within team projects, individual tasks and relations with stakeholders, especially from a psychological point of view.


Emotional Intelligence and its Application

EI, as an individual and soft skill, can be applied in different contexts. Since it is a skill that every person should develop and train to make the most of it, in the first paragraphs it will be addressed from the point of view of the people who are working in a group project, then moving on the concept of EI used as an effective tool for stakeholder negotiation and limitations in its application.

EI in team projects

Why EI can be matter more than IQ? Interesting question, isn't it? In order to answer, it would be wise to analyze the behavior of individuals in carrying out corporate activities or, even better, group activities. Sy, Tram and O'Hara, professors of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, suggested in their research that there is a positive relationship between job performance and team members having high level of EI, because they are highly proficient at appraising and regulating their own emotions, which results in a higher level of faith in themselves and have power over them, which lead to make realistic actions resulting in high performance and less supervisory interference [2]. On the other hand, it is logical thinking about that team members with low level of EI are less skilled at appraising and regulating their emotions, so they need to be supervised and helped by managers to better control their feelings, improving so the coordination and adaptability within the working team. Another ability included in EI is the use of emotions, or the individual skill addressed to aid the cognitive processes. The right use of emotions can be a very useful tool to expand the flexibility of information processing or pick out among corresponding alternatives. Therefore, individuals differ not only in the ability to understand and express their emotions, but also in their ability to use emotions in collaboration with their cognitive processes to heighten fruitful operating. It seems to be clear that individuals, who struggle with the right use of EI linked to cognitive processes, are less likely to coordinate themselves in a group environment, being less able to fulfill the assigned task [3]. In addition to that, the other milestone comprised into EI is the regulation of the emotions of the people: individuals should focus on that aspect because it is extremely important to keep the balance between all the members involved in a project, for a better coordination, chemistry within the group and consequently for better outputs. For instance, if there occur any breach in quality, it may raise up a negative emotion reaction when the manager tries to understand the cause of the problem. However, managing that negative emotion, trying to effectively solve the problem, instead of just complaining or blaming someone, is fundamental. Handling emotional reactions leads to understand where the focus of interest is, avoiding disruptive conflicts and misunderstandings.

Handling emotions for job performances [4]

EI is a value that can be developed, trained, and achieved with a certain maturity. Nevertheless, as soon as the activities become more demanding and the workload increases, emotions are put to the test. Who knows how to stay motivated under stress, motivate others and manage complex interpersonal relationships, will get better results [5]. Though there are many studies and research regarding the improvement of job performances through a right use of EI, it seems that on individual level there would be no significant results. Indeed, few studies have investigated the relationships between EI and performance at group level are more relevant: Jordan and Troth (2002) have found a link between EI and performance on a purely cognitive task at group level. According to these authors, the ability to deal with one’s own emotions, allows team members to be more inclined to listen to others’ points of view and to seek superior solutions, without thinking of being wrong. Moreover, they found out that teams with a high level of EI have preference for collaborative conflict resolution strategies, unlike teams with low level of EI [6].

All these aspects are relevant to understand the importance of developing these skills, not focusing just on classic tests but much more on individual and collective mental growth.

Practical advice to improve EI [7]

To work better in a team, managers look for people who strive to be flexible and put the team's good before their own interests. This is the reason why the individual contribution is extremely important within a project group, so that everyone could follow five steps which would allow people to be more understandable towards colleagues:

  • Stop and think about feelings: as it is stated above, EI starts with self and social awareness. Through this, people do not let feelings rule their behavior. In order to do so, managers should encourage employees to ask themselves reflective questions, such as "What are my emotional strengths and weaknesses?" or "How does my current state of mind influence my thoughts and decision-making?", which reveal valuable insights that can be used to develop new interpersonal skills and, over time, intercept negative influences, enhancing positivity.
  • Show empathy towards other: empathy is the skill which allows people to recognize their and other's feelings. So people should strive to understand other's viewpoints in order to build deeper connections with colleagues, helpful when a person is dealing with someone who is challenging to work with.
  • Listen to understand and not to answer: patience is a key of developing a right EI attitude; listening is a valuable competence and even though a person doesn't agree with a colleague, it is important to acknowledge what they are saying in order to establish trust and rapport.
  • See challenges and criticism as a learning opportunity: being positive is fundamental in every situation, so for a manager it would be useful to encourage employees to look at how they deal with criticism and push them to deal with the feedback in a positive way. This would help the individuals to learn from their mistakes and how they might deal with a similar situation in the future. Over time, the person will be able to motivate themselves more easily and respond well to challenge.
  • Manage relationships well: after working hard on the previous ones, the last step leads the individual to communicate effectively, deal with conflict more smoothly and encourage more trust in colleagues.

The sooner people begin to work on themself, the sooner they foster effective and efficient work.

EI: Individual Effort and Motivation

In addition to being characterized by social skills such as empathy and construction of relational networks as it is stated above, EI is characterized by personal skills such as self-awareness, self-control and understanding of one’s motivation. This is clear that is a task that should be fulfill by the individual, nevertheless, it is also a task of managers to help their employees to find the right way, right motivations for an effective and efficient work. A clear picture of the expectations of individuals is presented by the “Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation[8]. This is a process theory of motivation, which says that an individual’s motivation is affected by their expectations about the future: people direct their efforts towards behaviors that lead to desirable rewards. The theory of expectations is a theory of decisions: people engage in rational decision, so firstly they think about the behavior they must adopt to get what they want and what the reward means to them. In order to understand what is the right motivation which lets the individual carry out a significant work effort, the individual must be intelligent from the emotional point of view and either the manager since they should provide a significant reward to facilitate and encourage individuals’ efforts. Let’s make an example: an insurance agent is notified that if in the following year he will obtain a turnover 10% higher than that of the previous year, he will be placed in the group of those who can obtain a promotion. The greater the stake, the greater the effort to obtain it.

How to calculate Motivation [9]

To dig deeper in the Vroom’s model, it is relevant saying that an individual’s motivation is product of three factors:

  • Valence: the value that a person places on the reward they will be able to obtain and the consequences of his work. It can take on positive value (+1) if the worker prefers to get reward rather than not get it, or negative value (-1) if the worker prefers to avoid the consequences of the work (toil, stress).
  • Expectancy: the individual perception of the likelihood that the effort will lead to a certain level of performance. A worker will try harder if they evaluate the result achievable. It can take on a null value if there isn’t any possibility to fulfill the task or a positive value (+1) if, whatever it takes, the worker will be able to complete the task and get the expected result.
  • Instrumentality: how much does a person believe that a high performance will match the expected rewards. The instrumentality varies between a maximum probability (1) if it is certain that once the worker reaches the goal, they will get the reward and a minimum probability (0) if there is no relationship between performance and reward.

The product of these three factors will provide the Motivational Strength of the individual in fulfill a task: the higher the result (between 0 and 1), the stronger the motivation (e.g. a result equal to 1 indicates a strong motivation, while a result equal to 0 or 0.125 indicates a poor motivation)

EI: Relation and Negotiation with Stakeholders

Another important aspect of the EI as a powerful tool to interact with others is Persuasion. Persuasion is defined as the ability to convince a person or other people of the value of a point of view or of the advantage they could derive from adopting a certain attitude, opinion, position. This is the reason why this aspect is certainly useful in establishing relations with stakeholders, especially in the negotiation phase. As an individual skill, there are behavioral indicators which should be followed to be effective: firstly, managers should try to convince the stakeholders by appealing to their interests (e.g., by pointing out what each one earns personally), managers should also try to convince them by trying to anticipate how they will react to an argument, request or situation and develop an appropriate communication to the level of understanding or emotional state of the listeners. Finally, ask questions or knowingly uses techniques aimed at gaining emotional and rational consensus on certain ideas. This is how a manager should behave in an environment where everyone wants to feather one's own nest. To be fair, managing relations with stakeholders is not easy, indeed, there are several activities of identification, analysis, planning and implementation of actions designed to influence stakeholders, so-called Stakeholder Engagement. Limiting ourselves to the use of the EI, it could be interesting digging into the phase of “Strengthen the skills of the involvement”[10]. This step aims to ensure that the company and its stakeholders have organizational systems and the capabilities to profitably engage in a fruitful relationship and, in addition, overcome obstacles that can hinder the desire to commit. This process requires a high level of EI from both parts, noticeable in three principles which provide a guidance for ensuring that stakeholder management supports the achievement of the organization’s reporting objective:

  • Relevance
  • Completeness
  • Responsiveness
The Holy Trinity of Procurement Skills [11]

All of them make sure that the company and its employees are able to understand the concerns and expectations of stakeholders and preparing the company to respond to these. In addition, the “Inclusiveness” in the reporting commitment is also relevant, which means to be aware of the stakeholders’ right to be heard and report on their own stakeholder activities. The process of strengthening involvement skills develops in three steps, after which stakeholders and the company are ready for the involvement:

  • Strengthen the organizational capabilities of response
  • Take into consideration the limitations and needs of each specific stakeholder
  • Strengthen the skills of individuals

Negotiation phase is part of the involvement, or better, the most important one. After knowing who the manager is dealing with, they must have a clear vision on which direction they are going to. Having a clear vision requires a good level of EI because it requires to identify which problems the manager is trying to solve, who they are trying to solve it for and what outcomes they want to meet. So, it’s all about an analysis of needs of the company, followed by in-depth knowledge. As a storyteller, the manager must orchestrate several characters to a conclusion, and a huge part of that is aligning them to certain outcomes. Shoot bad ideas down is important. In addition, managers should justify their position why they refused an idea in order to be clear and be understood by stakeholders. What should not be missing in a relation with a third part is a clear communication, asking questions and acknowledgment: understand why stakeholders feel in a certain way and their needs.

Emotional Intelligence: Limitation in its Application [12] [13]

EI has always been classified as one of the greatest soft skills to own, however the use of it must be balanced, especially in a business environment. Since a person with a high level of EI is able to handle conflicts thanks to their ability to understand different points of view, they would be capable to give constructive negative feedbacks with the aim of healing a difficult situation in the most correct way possible. Being one hundred per cent honest is not always the easiest thing to do, since a person doesn’t know how people would react to their honesty and opinions. However, a person with a high ability to know how to manage the conflict, has the “power” to moderate their words with respect for the other and with empathy, but they won’t be always sure that the conflict management will always have positive implications, since everyone could have the willingness to control themselves, but doesn’t have much influence on others.

Although the previous studies mentioned have highlighted the positive effects of having high levels of EI, some problems arise when a person over-develops their EI in a team context. This can lead to:

  • Low levels of creativity and openness to innovation: There are negative correlations between EI and many traits that predispose to creativity and the pursuit of innovation. To be more specific, creativity has always been associated with low levels of EI, since it is an expression of nonconformity, impulsiveness, and excitement. Traits that seem to be contrary to those of EI characterized more by control and moderation. For that reason, people with high level of EI are usually less creative than the other.
  • Difficulty giving and receiving feedback: High empathy and high sensitivity can lead people to have more difficulty in providing negative feedback to others, because they usually focus on transmitting positivity and optimism. This leads to avoiding giving pressure and criticism to others. In addition, high level of EI can be associated with greater indifference to negative feedback received, because it is viewed more as pointless criticism than constructive advice.
  • Reluctance to be unpopular: It could happen that despite a person is solar, respectful, emphatic, and capable to handle interpersonal relations, that person wouldn’t become a high-level manager. This would happen because people with high level of EI do not know how to make unpopular decisions. They are so oriented towards making other people feel good and making them as productive as possible that they are unable to give negative feedback and take positions that often make the manager feel “alone”.
  • The risk of manipulation: Understanding others is not that simple, however a high level of EI tends to improve this skill. The edge is very thin, and the ability to understand people could be used to manipulate them.
  • Risk aversion: Every job has its share of risk. People with high EI tend to prefer the comfort zone. This is especially true when there are high levels of consciousness and low level of adaptability.

To be clear, there is no doubt that emotional intelligent people are desirable employees, however a more in-depth investigation highlights how this aspect could lead to ineffective or inefficient behaviors in everyday working life .


EI is a very powerful tool and no-one can deny that having a teammates or a manager who is able to understand everyone's needs is a prerogative to work in a positive, effective and efficient environment. On the other hand, over-developing this soft skill can negatively affect the other, increasing pressure and conflicts. It is clear that it is better developing EI step by step in order to balance it according to the situation, rather than over-developing it in the initial stage, since it would be difficult to manage. However, it should be taken into account that there is no general rule which says that owning a high level of EI is mandatory to work effectively and in harmony with other people, it depends on too many factors. Indeed, many theories have been developed around this topic throughout decades and sometimes they contradict each other. Nevertheless, this article has followed the main path which psychology has shaped in the last thirty years.

Annotated Bibliography

Goleman, D.(1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ?. Provides useful insight into our "two minds"—the rational and the emotional—and how they together shape our destiny.

Sy, T., Tram, S., and O’Hara, L. A. (2006). Relation of employee and manger emotional intelligence to job satisfaction and performance. In Journal of Vocational Behavior. Article which examines the relationships among employees’ emotional intelligence, their manager’s emotional intelligence, employees’ job satisfaction, and performance for 187 food service employees from nine different locations of the same restaurant franchise.

Quoidbach, J & Hansenne, M. (2000). The impact of trait emotional intelligence on nursing team performance and cohesiveness. In Journal of Professional Nursing. Article that claims about the positive influence of emotional intelligence (EI) on work team performance are very numerous, both in commercial and scientific literature.

Costa, Gianecchini, University of Padova (2020). Slides from "Management of Human Resources" bachelor course. Lecture Slides about individual and transversal skills in a business environment.

Corel, S. (2020). L'intelligenza Emotiva è sempre positiva?. LinkedIn Article published to explain which negative aspects could arise from an overuse of EI.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R.E. (2017). Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?. Article which gives a 360-degree overview on which elements everyone should work on in order to improve their EI.

Krick T., Forstater M., Monaghan P., Sillanpää M. (2005). The Stakeholder Engagement Manual, Volume 2: The practitioner's handbook on Stakeholder Engagement. Handbook which provides practical guidance, advice and signposts for further information to those interested in how to make stakeholder engagement more effective and beneficial for the organisation and its stakeholders.

Paisley V., 5 Ways to Develop the Emotional Intelligence of Your Workforce (2018). Article which highlights 5 effective ways to improve emotional intelligence skills.


  1. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence
  2. Sy, T., Tram, S., and O’Hara, L. A. (2006). Relation of employee and manger EI to job satisfaction and performance. In Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68, 461-473. Retrieved April 02, 2010, from http://www.emeraldinsight.com
  3. Zhou, J., George, J. M. (2003). Awakening employee creativity: The role of leader emotional intelligence. Leadership Quarterly, 14, 545 – 568
  4. Nhu Ngoc Nguyen, Phong Tuan Nham and Yoshi Takahashi. Relationship between Ability-Based Emotional Intelligence, Cognitive Intelligence, and Job Performance. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/8/2299
  5. Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence. (10th Ed). New York: Bantam Books
  6. Quoidbach, J & Hansenne, M. (2000). The impact of trait emotional intelligence on nursing team performance and cohesiveness. In Journal of Professional Nursing, 25(1), 23–29. Retrieved March 02, 2010, from http://www.emeraldinsight.com
  7. Paisley V., 5 Ways to Develop the Emotional Intelligence of Your Workforce (2018) from https://www.learnlight.com/en/articles/5-ways-to-develop-emotional-intelligence-of-your-workforce/
  8. Costa, Gianecchini, Risorse Umane 4e, Slides from ‘Management of Human Resources’ bachelor’s course, University of Padova, 2020
  9. Difference between Expectation Theory and Equity Theory, December 9, 2015. Posted by Keth. https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-expectancy-theory-and-vs-equity-theory-2/
  10. Krick T., Forstater M., Monaghan P., Sillanpää M. (2005). The Stakeholder Engagement Manual, Volume 2: The practitioner's handbook on Stakeholder Engagement, from https://stakeholderresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/sra-2005-words-to-action-stakeholder-engagement-02.pdf
  11. Shute, B. (October, 2019), The Holy Trinity of Procurement Skills, https://comprara.com.au/the-holy-trinity-of-procurement-skills/
  12. "L'Intelligenza Emotiva è sempre positiva?" LinkedIn article by Simone Corel, 2020
  13. "Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?". Article by Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis, February 06, 2017
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