Emotional Intelligence and Soft Skills in the Workplace

The integrated approach in company 4.0

The globalisation of markets has radically changed the face of the world of work. 

In modern societies, work has taken on new meanings compared to those it had in the past. The social and corporate evolution of recent decades has brought to light, with increasing intensity and frequency, new themes such as team, group size, relationships within business organisations, business success linked to intellectual capital and emotional intelligence 

According to this new perspective, work is then seen as an element that promotes individual fulfilment, participation and involvement in the life of companies. 

The recognition of the value of these issues stems from the awareness that both in the professional sphere and in everyday life, the individual, a social animal as Aristotle already claimed, relates to other people and establishes relationships that will then affect his behaviour.

Emotional Intelligence

It is then that the deepest component of every man, becomes more important than the rational and cognitive part: it is therefore essential to possess a type of intelligence other than the cognitive one, which is called Emotional Intelligence, a term introduced in the 1990s by two American scholars Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, which identifies the ability to manage emotions. 

Emotional intelligence in the professional sphere, especially in the last decade, assumes a role considered fundamental, because it is able to guide resources towards success through skills, not necessarily technical, such as empathy, creativity, listening, the ability to react to failures and self-esteem. 

To better understand how a work organisation based on Project Management is better suited to support the rapid changes required by the new production reality, we met with  Stefano Cera a lecturer of the  Corporate Education Courses at the Rome Business School who said:

Based on my professional experience, I can undoubtedly say that possessing emotional intelligence is a requirement that determines a difference in approach. This aptitude makes it possible to face and solve the most diverse and complex situations, both personal and professional; it predisposes one to listen to others and leads to the awareness that from everyone and in any circumstance one has the possibility to learn something, because every human interaction is and can be a small gym, a small laboratory. It is clear, from this point of view, that there are people who are more sensitive, who have a greater predisposition to emotional intelligence and people who have little or no emotional intelligence, but this aptitude can be learned, developed and trained.  

Howard Gardner, an American professor at Harvard University, author of important texts on educational psychology and world-famous for having developed the ‘theory of multiple intelligences’, also spoke on the subject of personal skills linked to emotions.”

Interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence

Howard Gardner in his studies initially distinguished 9 types of intelligence used by humans in the course of their various activities.  In particular, he identified two belonging to the personal sphere: interpersonal intelligence – relating to the management of relationships – and intrapersonal intelligence, which relates to self-management.  This distinction has proved fundamental over the years and has formed a solid basis for subsequent studies on the subject.   

One must always start from Gardner’s assumption concerning the existence of interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. No one can claim not to have interpersonal intelligence: if we feel we lack it, we must work on ourselves and open ourselves up to listening to the other.  It is the famous Italian anthropologist, Marinella Sclavi, who with ‘The Art of Listening and Possible Worlds’ teaches precisely how active listening, dialogue and asking for feedback help to change perspective, to be ready to get involved, to get to know oneself.

Feedback should not be feared because all of them, even those that may initially seem negative, enrich our skills. That’s why I believe that emotional intelligence is a meta-skill, which comes before the others.”  

Daniel Goleman

The American psychologist Daniel Goleman takes up and reworks the concept of emotional intelligence in his texts, the most famous of which is ‘Emotional Intelligence’ from 1995, and by analysing concrete cases of business experiences, he comes to the conclusion that sometimes failure and underperformance are due to the mismanagement of emotions, rather than to a lack of technical skills.  

“Goleman talks to us about self-knowledge in his 4-step theory of emotional intelligence. The first step, the most important and significant one in my opinion, is that of awareness of one’s own situation and emotional state. Self-awareness of one’s own emotions brings us to a pivotal concept represented by empathy, which he states in one of his famous phrases: ‘the ability to recognise one’s own feelings and those of others, to motivate oneself and to manage emotions positively, both inwardly and in relationships’.

Moreover, Goleman recognises a deep link between emotional intelligence and the acquisition of skills, because its possession represents the ability to learn and develop other skills.”

Soft skills, emotional intelligence and leadership

The term ‘Life Skills’ generally refers to a range of basic cognitive, emotional and interpersonal skills that enable people to function competently both individually and socially. 

In 1992, in Bulletin No. 1 ‘Skills for Life’, the World Health Organisation, identified, for the first time, those skills favoured for promoting health education in the school and personal spheres, which would help individuals to adapt and adopt positive attitudes in order to cope effectively with the challenges of everyday life.

These are the skills of Problem Solving, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Effective Communication, Relational Competence, Self-awareness, Empathy, Stress Management and Decision Making.  

In Italy, it is the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (Miur) that, with Decree 139/2007, identifies soft skills as key competences for lifelong learning.

I believe that empathy, the ability to communicate and build interpersonal relationships – the interpersonal skills – and awareness, management of emotions and stress – the emotional skills – can be counted in their own right as emotional intelligence. 

We are also talking about the ability to build interpersonal relationships, which I would detach from the ability to communicate, understood in the strict sense. 

In this scenario, then, we cannot fail to address an important and very topical issue in the life of business organisations and closely linked to emotional intelligence: leadership. Here too, a 2004 volume by Daniel Goleman ‘Being a Leader. Leading others through emotional intelligence’ shows us the way. Nowadays, however, the manager also possesses the coach capability, i.e. the one who stimulates reflection through questions, who is able to make others grow, who makes people work in a maieutic way and knows how to enhance resources even during smartworking. 

In this respect, the American anthropologist William Ury, in his book “Getting to Yes” from 1981, also calls for confrontation when experiencing emotionally difficult situations: because relating to others induces a change of perspective when reflection prompts us to look at things as a person not emotionally involved in that situation would. 

For all these reasons, I have always maintained that emotional intelligence and leadership are intimately linked and can be considered two macro-skills.”

Training in Emotional Intelligence

In 2017, the World Economic Forum listed emotional intelligence as one of ten strategic competencies for creating value in increasingly digital environments. As mentioned, intelligence can be learned, trained and developed. There are many courses: online, in-presence, offered by recognised study centres that indicate courses with certification. One of the most important institutes is Six Seconds, the world’s leading network in the field of emotional intelligence.

“In Italy, the subject can be explored very easily. There are many courses on offer, some for an individual approach, they can also be found as videos on You Tube. However, I would like to emphasise that it is companies that must understand its potential and the importance of designing and implementing training and in-depth courses.

A recent survey by a major research organisation highlighted how in companies today the assessment of resources is now divided into 50% on technical expertise and 50% on soft skills. So the advice I would give to business organisations is to organise many courses, not just technical ones, in which the entire organisation chart, managers, employees, in short all the resources take part in order to have an integrated approach and a connection between the different figures. And always keep in mind that the real work and results come when the course is overFrom that moment on, the fruits of the work undertaken are reaped.”


Graduated in Political Science. Senior trainer, speaker and coach specialised in experiential and metaphorical learning (e.g. cinema and music) and in personal and organisational development. In particular on the topics of effective communication (in presence and at a distance), public speaking and dispute management. He is President of the Lazio Regional Board of Directors of AIF (Ass. Italiana Formatori) and Scientific Responsible and accredited trainer at the Ministry of Justice for courses on Civil and Commercial Mediation. Author of Ciak… Motore… Form_Aaaazione! Filmic Vademecum for the unconventional trainer (Palinsesto, 2016).

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