EQ is Not Enough: Why You Need to Learn Relational Intelligence

By Dr. Adam C. Bandelli, Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates and


A client recently asked me, “What is the difference between EQ and relational intelligence? I’ve been told I have high EQ, but how is this different from having strong relational intelligence?” This is a great question, and one that I often get from many of my clients. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as “a form of intelligence that involves the ability to understand and monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”1 The concept was first introduced by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990 at Yale University. However, it wasn’t until Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, that the concept generated unparalleled interest in both the business world and the academic community.

Goleman’s competency model defined EQ as a “set of abilities that motivates one to survive in the face of frustrations, control impulses and delay gratification, manage one’s moods and keep distress from having an impact on one’s ability to think, and show empathy towards others.”2 Since I began studying EQ over twenty years ago in graduate school, I found Goleman’s EQ framework to be more of an “umbrella term” for every trait, skill, or behavior outside of IQ. It did not focus exclusively on emotions like Salovey and Mayer originally conceptualized EQ to be. As a result of this, I began looking at other skills that affected how leaders work with their people. This led me to focus my doctoral dissertation on the key behaviors that leaders need to build strong relationships with their employees. The results from my research found that great leaders practice five distinct relational intelligence skills that enable them to build dynamic partnerships with their people to achieve higher levels of job performance and productivity.

Relational intelligence (RI) is defined as, “the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, long-lasting relationships.”3 Our research on RI has found that senior executives who are intentional about building great relationships with their people leads to many positive organizational outcomes. Leaders who consistently practice relational intelligence have employees who are more engaged in their work, are more satisfied with their jobs, and are more loyal and committed to their organizations. Not only that, but when leaders put relationships, people, and culture first it leads greater levels of financial performance and organizational profitability. The bottom line grows when your employees know that they matter and that their work contributes to the greater good. We don’t do business with companies. We do business with people. Business is always human. Relational intelligence is the means through which that human connection takes place.

The five essential skill of relational intelligence include: establishing rapport, understanding others, embracing individual differences, developing trust, and cultivating influence.

  1. Establishing Rapport: This skill focuses on the initial stages of communication between leaders and their employees. It creates a safe environment for people to establish a positive connection. There are many factors that come into play when establishing rapport with your people and teams. Similarities and differences between two people can impact the interaction. The views you hold about yourself affect the way you come across to others. The perspectives and beliefs you have about culture, upbringing, and past experiences have an influence on the way you engage with your people. Verbal and nonverbal cues (e.g., eye contact and body language) show interest in what others are communicating. You cannot progress to further stages of developing lasting relationships unless time has been spent on establishing rapport.
  2. Understanding Others: This skill is about being intentional in putting in the time and effort needed to get to know your employees on a deep level. It is about using EQ to understand your own feelings and the emotions of others. It’s about being a good active listener. This enables leaders to truly take in what their people are communicating. It’s about being curious and inquisitive. Relationally intelligent leaders ask probing questions to learn about the background, history, and experiences of their people. They are empathetic and can put themselves in other peoples’ shoes. Understanding others does not happen overnight. It is an ever-evolving process that must take place over time. Relationally intelligent leaders do this in a genuine and sincere manner. The investment they make during the early stage of relationships sets the foundation for growth.
  3. Embracing Individual Differences: This skill is about acknowledging and accepting that everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences. It’s having a favorable reception towards people who think, act, and behave differently than you do. It’s about appreciating racial and ethnic diversity. It’s acknowledging the differences of how men and women think and the value they bring to the table. It’s choosing to embrace peoples’ sexual orientation. It’s understanding that cross-cultural differences and spirituality/religion impact how you interact with the world. It’s about showing people common decency and treating others the way you want to be treated. Relationally intelligent people know how to leverage their differences from others to reach superior outcomes. It’s about being inclusive and how this translates into greater levels of creativity, problem solving, and innovation.
  4. Developing Trust: This is the most important relational intelligence skill for any successful leader. It is about being vulnerable and taking a risk to be exposed to the actions and behaviors of others. In order to trust others, you must first know, understand, and trust yourself. You must know how you’re wired and how this impacts your relationships. When trust develops, people can let their guards down and open up more. A feeling of psychological safety starts to take place. To develop and maintain trust, people must continually nurture the relationship. Deposits into the bank account of trust must be made on a regular basis. Withdrawals can have a negative effect on our relationships. Small withdrawals are more tolerable than major ones. Trust is also about commitment and consistency. It’s showing up the same way each day for the people that are most important to you.
  5. Cultivating Influence: The fifth and final skill of relational intelligence is the most powerful one. Influence is the ability to have a positive impact on the lives of others. It’s about putting people and culture first before driving results and performance. It’s about helping your employees become better versions of themselves. It’s not about manipulation, controlling people, or authority. Dynamic, life-changing relationships with your employees helps them develop, mature, and grow. When leaders have positive and meaningful influence on their people performance rises, goals and objectives are obtained, and organizations achieve great financial success.

EQ is not RI. The two concepts are different. But, as I’ve highlighted above, EQ does play a role in understanding others. You need to understand your emotions, and the emotions of others, if you are going to learn about your people and build strong, long-lasting relationships. If you do not have high EQ, it will be hard for you to build positive connections with your employees. There is another major difference between EQ and RI. EQ can be used for self-serving and manipulative purposes. We have all seen narcissistic and/or Machiavellian leaders who know how to use emotions to get what they want from employees. They know how to use their emotions to leave a positive and flattering effect on people. They can elicit and trigger certain emotions in others to use people as means to their ends. They can manage their emotions in-the-moment to get what they want out of a situation.

Relational intelligence cannot be faked our used for personal gains. The essence of RI is about having a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of others. You cannot build strong, long-lasting relationships with people if you try to manipulate, control, or use them. Because cultivating influence is about bringing out the best in your employees it cannot be self-serving. Servant leaders are a great example the types of people who have high RI. They put their employees first and look for ways to help their people develop and grow.

So why do you need to learn relational intelligence? Why is it important right now to the business world? We are sitting in the middle of the Great Resignation/Realignment. Employees are leaving companies not just for pay, title, and compensation. They are leaving organizations because they do not have strong connections to their managers and leaders. There’s the saying, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit their bosses.” This is why leaders need to learn and practice relational intelligence in today’s business landscape. Employees want to work for organizations where they know that their leaders genuinely care about them. They want their work to matter. They want purpose and meaning in what they do. The employees who are the most alive, driven, and fulfilled are those that seek to lead a life of contribution and service to something greater than themselves. Relationally intelligent leaders understand this at their core. And it is these types of senior executives that are leading some of the most engaged, loyal, and committed workforces in today’s market.


  1. Salovey, P. & Mayer, J.D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-200.
  2. Goleman, D. (1998). Working with Emotional Intelligence: New York: Bantam Books.
  3. Bandelli, A.C. (2022). Relational Intelligence: The Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life-Changing Relationships. New York: Covenant Books.

About the Author

Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is the Founder & Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a boutique consulting firm focusing on leadership advisory services and organizational effectiveness. He is the author of the books, RELATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life-Changing Relationships and WHAT EVERY LEADER NEEDS: The Ten Universal and Indisputable Competencies of Leadership Effectiveness. For more information, visit the firm’s website at www.bandelliandassociates.com.