Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

What is EQ?

EQ is often used as shorthand for emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient. Emotional intelligence (also known as EI), describes a person’s ability to recognize emotions, to understand their powerful effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior. Since EI helps you to better understand yourself–and others–a high EQ increases your chances for successfully achieving goals.

I write a lot about how to increase your EQ, including learning to be proactive instead of reactive and how to use emotions to work for you, instead of against you. (It’s also the topic of my upcoming book.)

I recently came across some advice from a colleague of mine and wanted to share it with my audience.

Victor Cheng is a strategy consultant who began his career with McKinsey & Company many years ago. He’s since authored several business books, made numerous TV appearances and now works independently advising small businesses and Inc. 500-caliber companies.

Part of the reason behind Victor’s success is his firm grasp of emotional intelligence and its benefits.

Here’s Victor:

The #1 way professionals with high IQs destroy their careers is by having low emotional intelligence (or “EQ” for short).

The workplace is a place where both logical and emotional interactions take place between you and others. High IQ people tend to overvalue the importance of IQ and undervalue EQ.

If you have ever wondered why you’re smarter than your boss, yet you’re working for him or her–you may understand my point. Stated differently, many companies (including McKinsey) hire for entry-level positions based on IQ, then promote people based on EQ. You need to have a brilliant IQ to be a good engineer, but to be a leader of engineers, your EQ matters more than your IQ.

IQ is the intellectual ability to manage ideas, knowledge and thoughts.

EQ is the ability to manage relationships with other people.

At McKinsey, the number one reason a new consultant would get fired was usually due to low EQ reasons. This would occur when a new consultant completely misread the interpersonal dynamics with a client or a partner–and offended them.

I’ve mentioned that consulting (as is true with most of life) is a relationship business.

When you have a pattern of blowing up relationships, it’s hard to succeed.

When you aren’t able to nurture relationships with others, you make it very hard for others to promote you.

When you have the IQ to make good intellectual decisions and the EQ to build relationships with those around you, the sky is the limit.

Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence

So, what’s the first step to developing your EQ?



In every 1:1 conversation, meeting or email, the communication takes place at two levels. The first level is logic. The second level is emotional or relational.

If you’ve only ever noticed the logical parts of a meeting, recognize there’s a significant portion of what transpired in the meeting that you are completely unaware of. Realize much of what happens in your workplace that doesn’t make logical sense to you occurs because of this secondary channel of communication that you may not be accustomed to tuning in to.

When you watch a good movie, what you see and experience on screen differs significantly from what is written in the script. The script is a literal transcription of the words the actors say. The performance you see on screen conveys what the actors mean, which often differs from the literal words they say.

In Hollywood, they have terms to describe this difference.

The words in the script are known as the “text.”

What the actors actually mean emotionally, regardless of what they actually say, is known as the “subtext.”

Someone with high IQ and high EQ is acutely aware of both the text and the subtext she is conveying to others. She is also aware of the text and subtext being conveyed by others. She sees the complete picture of what is transpiring between people in a meeting or an organization.

Smart people get into trouble when they don’t realize the message they are inadvertently sending via subtext. They get confused because the text they convey is logically correct. (“Why are others having such a negative reaction to me? Why don’t people like me? Why do people avoid trying to work with me? Why do people who aren’t as smart as me keep getting promoted instead of me?”)

The answer is simple:


Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on