Behavioral EQ: The Next Generation of Emotional Intelligence

Recent research has led to a newer-generation EQ model that emphasizes behavior—the outward actions that others notice and respond to and that create objective, measurable benefits.

By Dr. Casey Mulqueen, Director, Research & Product Development, The TRACOM Group

Almost everyone has heard of emotional intelligence, or EQ. Within the last 20 years, there have been a handful of best-selling books devoted to the topic, and a plethora of training programs that have promised to increase workers’ EQs, along with their company’s bottom lines. However, the early promises of EQ programs often have failed to meet expectations. One of the problems with EQ has been its emphasis on “emotional” intelligence. Many EQ programs have focused too much on understanding one another’s emotions. While this is an important aspect of learning about EQ, other elements of personal effectiveness often have taken a back seat to interpersonal awareness. This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. First, it is difficult to develop better emotional awareness. Second, and more to the point, emotional awareness is not related to better work performance.

Recent research has led to a newer-generation EQ model that emphasizes behavior—the outward actions that others notice and respond to and that create objective, measurable benefits. There is now a distinction between emotional intelligence, which is primarily emotional self-awareness and recognition of others’ emotions, and behavioral intelligence, which represents skills that directly influence others, affecting both individual and team effectiveness. Emotional intelligence is internal—it happens inside people’s brains—while behavioral intelligence is external; it is what people can see and respond to. Not only are behaviors related to work performance, but by learning and practicing these behaviors, individuals can increase their EQ—their emotional awareness and attitudes. This happens because our attitudes and thinking are heavily influenced by what we do—our behaviors. Recent research on neuroplasticity shows we can literally alter our brains and thinking processes through practicing new behaviors. By altering behavior, we alter our perceptions and attitudes. Practicing behavioral intelligence increases emotional intelligence.

Another problem with earlier EQ models is that they contained a multitude of competencies. Such models can be overwhelming, since the implicit message is that people should be effective at all these skills. However, most of us mere mortals aren’t like this; we simply can’t be good at everything. But we can improve on a limited number of behavioral skills, and this will heavily influence effectiveness. The newer model of behavioral intelligence is focused on behaviors that research has shown matter the most at work. These behaviors have a measurable impact on effectiveness, above and beyond emotional intelligence abilities. The good news is that behavioral intelligence skills can be learned and developed much more easily than emotional intelligence. In fact, the best way to improve effectiveness is by practicing only one single new behavior at a time. Working on just one behavior at a time, such as “influencing others,” can significantly improve performance.

Focusing on only one behavior at a time creates a “spill-over effect.” Working on one skill actually influences people’s perceptions of a person’s abilities in other areas. So, if a person decides to work on influencing others, others begin to respond to that person differently, and they also will perceive that coworker as more creative or optimistic, for instance. Initially, training in behavioral intelligence is useful to help people understand the concepts and gain strategies for the specific actions they can take every day in light of their particular work context. The primary goal is to give people a clear idea of where they should focus and a concrete, manageable plan for doing this. For a supervisor, for instance, it can be as simple as giving a daily compliment to one of her employees. This seemingly insignificant act can measurably enhance perceptions of her optimism, which leads to a more engaging and productive work environment. This simple change also provides the supervisor with an “easy win,” which increases her confidence to improve in other areas of behavioral intelligence. The key is to pick one behavior and practice it consistently for one month. Research shows that when this simple strategy is followed, people realize lasting change and benefits. It is simply a matter of making small changes in daily habits.

Despite mixed findings on its effectiveness, emotional intelligence can benefit individuals and organizations, but the most effective way to ensure that this happens is by developing behavioral intelligence. By developing a small set of behaviors that are related to workplace performance, individuals will simultaneously increase their emotional awareness and ability to interact effectively with others. This, in turn, will enhance productivity and engagement and reduce unproductive conflict.

Emotional Intelligence (Internal):

  • Ability to perceive and understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others
  • Having insight into oneself, and awareness and empathy for others


  • Emotional Awareness
  • Self-insight
  • Self-confidence


  • Emotional Perception
  • Empathy/Openness
  • Listening

Behavioral Intelligence (Observable):

  • Ability to recognize the impact that emotions have on one’s own behavior and the behavior of others
  • Ability to use this awareness to manage personal behavior and relationships


  • Self-control
  • Stress Management
  • Conscientiousness
  • Optimism


  • Building Relationships
  • Influencing Others
  • Motivating Others
  • Flexibility
  • Innovativeness

Dr. Casey Mulqueen is the director of Research & Product Development at The TRACOM Group. He has authored a variety of materials including books, book chapters, and peer-reviewed journal articles. Dr. Mulqueen has an M.S. in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology. For more information, e-mail or visit

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