The EQ Interpersonal Domain and Leadership

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Do a Google search on the term “leadership” and you get over 101 million results. Leadership is subjective – you can’t build an assessment that pinpoints who will be a great leader in a particular situation. You can, however, create a mosaic of sorts around characteristics, traits, skills, and past experiences that are important to your organization. And from that mosaic seek out candidates that align with the organizational culture, growth phase of the company, management climate, and a host of other criteria.

Technical and functional skills will clearly be part of the mosaic. Hard research is now showing that emotional intelligence plays a role in the success or failure of a leader. Many models exist and each model has its pros and cons. What is becoming clear is that a few models, supported by substantial peer reviewed data, form the basis for much of what we know regarding emotional intelligence. MHS has conducted significant research around the Reuven Bar-On model – 5 domains and 15 subscales – and how it has direct application to leadership development.


Dr. Karl Albrecht, in a 1979 publication titled Stress and the Manager, listed four types of stress:

  • Time stress
  • Anticipation stress
  • Situational stress
  • Encounter stress

For many, and especially for first time managers/leaders, the stress and anxiety they experience with peers, subordinates, and bosses can have a significant impact on performance. The interpersonal domain of emotional intelligence focuses on our people skills. Within our personal and professional lives we are called upon to interact with others, understand others, and relate well with others in a wide ranges of situations. Honing those skills is a key leadership competency.

Interpersonal Relationships

What we do to others we do to ourselves. ~ Bryant McGill

The skill identified in this sub-scale relates to our ability to have a mutually satisfying relationship with others. It is characterized by a healthy give and take dynamic – where trust, respect, and compassion are openly expressed both verbally and non-verbally. We know that relationships will, at some point in the future, experience strain. Stephen Covey, in his seminal work, The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People, provides a powerful metaphor regarding the “emotional bank account” we have with others. He outlines six major deposits:

  • Understanding the individual
  • Attending to the little things
  • Keeping commitments
  • Clarifying expectations
  • Showing personal integrity
  • Apologizing sincerely when you make a withdrawal

Over the next week take time to introduce yourself to somebody – a person at the Chamber of Commerce networking event, somebody in your work area who you see on a regular basis but never talked to, or a complete stranger. Practice your skills at asking open-ended questions, be genuinely interested in the other person, and actively listen. Record this experience in your journal – what you learned, how you felt, and how the other person reacted (voice inflection, tone, posture).


When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems. ~ Stephen Covey

How adept are you at understanding and appreciating the feelings and thoughts of other people? This EQ sub-scale is defines how well you tune in to the feelings of others. Empathetic people care about others and have the ability to genuinely show deep concern and interest. Like the Covey quote above indicates, empathy shifts and adversarial relationship into a collaborative relationship.

Empathy isn’t about being nice or cordial. And it’s not sympathy. At its core, empathy is the acknowledgement that the other person holds a particular viewpoint and your ability to admit its existence without passing judgement. Easy to say; hard to do. It takes practice.

Seek the assistance of a friend – somebody that might hold a counter viewpoint from you on a particular subject. Stay away from the big three – politics, money, and religion. You can tackle those when you have developed your skill set to a higher level. The topic could be about a recent film, news headline, or event where you both had participated. Ask a few open ended questions about how they feel about this topic. Keep the conversation going for a few minutes with more and deeper open-ended questions – no judgement. Now, describe to the person your version (what you heard) of how they feel or what they said. Document the events in your journal and provide insights into how you might use this information in a future encounter.

Social Responsibility

This EQ sub-scale describes our desire and ability to willingly contribute to the good of society. This might seem like a stretch to include social responsibility in our discussion of emotional intelligence. A healthy amount of social responsibility means that you are more cooperative rather than competitive; you approach the problem from a global perspective rather than WIIFM (what’s in it for me), and you can uphold the social rules and norms of the group.

Reflect on an instance where you did and did not agree with a team, department, or organizational decision. Provide a detailed description of the issue at hand – from your perspective. Did you support or not support a decision from an evidence-based position, personal preference, historical experience, flexibility (this is yet another EQ sub-scale we will explore), caving into the group pressure, etc? Document these two examples in your journal.

Here is a look at low and high values of Interpersonal. Stay tuned as we continue to look at each of the five areas of the Reuven Bar-On model of Emotional Intelligence. Each blog post will provide you with exercises aimed to help you reflect on and increase your awareness in each area.


The EQ Edge

Primal Leadership