Construction Managers: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

Studies show that having a high level of emotional intelligence can help you be a better manager.

Studies show that having a high level of emotional intelligence can help you be a better manager. Effective managers possess more than just smarts. Think of someone you consider to be the best of the best. How would you describe him or her? Chances are good that, in addition to knowing the job, they have intangible qualities such as “people skills,” adaptability and even optimism.

That’s according to Brent Darnell, an emotional intelligence expert, who leads an emotional intelligence training program for the AEC industry.

In an interview with Engineering News-Record, Darnell said he sees one main type of manager in construction: a person with high self-regard (confidence), high assertiveness and high independence (“that cowboy mentality”). Those same managers tend to have relatively low emotional self-awareness, low empathy skills (lack of understanding of others), low social responsibility (which means they don’t work well in groups or teams) and low interpersonal relationship skills. Darnell noted, “It’s really scary how consistent it is.”

The characteristics these managers lack all are components of emotional intelligence, which is important in any business and perhaps especially important in construction.

“I get a call once a week about ‘alphas’ who are some of the best builders, but no one wants to work with them,” Darnell told Project Uptime. Hard skills get you only goes so far. You have to be willing and able to deal with people — and that means having some emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is understanding and managing your emotions and those of others for the best outcome, according to Darnell. "Sometimes that means being empathetic, and sometimes that means being assertive,” he explained.

If you want to increase employee engagement and productivity and reduce turnover and absenteeism, you might want to consider how your emotional intelligence affects those around you.Studies show that having a high level of emotional intelligence can help you be a better manager.

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How do you know if you are emotionally intelligent?

Emotional intelligence affects every aspect of our lives, from our health and well-being to our long-term relationships and our effectiveness as leaders and managers, according to Darnell. All of that is dictated by how we perceive and manage emotions in ourselves and others. 

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, who is known for his work on the subject, established five components critical to emotional intelligence:


When you’re self-aware, you can observe how your emotions, strengths, weaknesses and values impact others.


This skillset means you can navigate difficult emotions and impulses. It also relates to the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Social skills

This involves the capacity to interact well with others, nurture relationships and understand the emotional needs of your employees.


If you have emotional intelligence, you can be empathetic or understand the emotional makeup of other people. You’re also more likely to understand and consider other people’s feelings.

Internal motivation

When you are emotionally intelligent, you possess a drive to achieve, you take initiative and you stay optimistic regardless of what comes your way.


“These are teachable, learnable skills and they are vital skills that we need in this collaborative work environment like lean and IPD.”

Brent Darnell, Emotional Intelligence Expert

Can you improve your emotional intelligence?

Some people may be born with greater emotional intelligence than others, but it’s also something that can be increased. Learning it is not like cognitive learning, explained Darnell. “It takes place in a different part of your brain and is more like learning to play a musical instrument or learning a language,” he said. 

Darnell just completed an engagement in which a 50-year-old superintendent went from being removed from a project to operations manager for the entire country in 10 months by working on his emotional intelligence profile. He worked on increasing areas such as empathy, social responsibility and emotional self-awareness. At the same time, he worked on decreasing his assertiveness and independence.

“It gave him a much more balanced profile and enabled him to be better with people, relationships, motivation and connection,” explained Darnell. “These are teachable, learnable skills and they are vital skills that we need in this collaborative work environment like lean and IPD.”   

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What are some ways to increase your emotional intelligence?

Improving one’s emotional intelligence takes place over time with lots of repetition, application, accountability and follow up. But Darnell said a good place to start is with emotional self-awareness, which you can increase through daily meditation and reflection. 

Dave Fogleman, chief learning officer at business training firm SkillPath, leads a team of learning and development experts who create training curriculums on topics including emotional intelligence. He recommended these four tips for increasing your emotional intelligence.

Think on your own emotions

By identifying your own emotions and reactions, you will be better able to control them.

Ask others for their perspectives

Often the biggest wake-up call is seeing how others view us and our actions or reactions when things are difficult. Ask your crew privately how they view your interactions.

Be vigilant

Once you know how others see your conduct — perhaps they think you’re quick to anger or accuse, for example — watch yourself for those behaviors.

Try to find the “why”

Seeing the situation through another’s eyes demonstrates empathy and compassion. Ask yourself why a person might feel a certain way, and what issues they might dealing with that aren’t apparent.

Don’t get defensive when you’re criticized, but ask yourself what you can learn from it

Most criticism, no matter how poorly it’s delivered, is usually rooted in truth. Instead of getting into an argument, take it as a learning moment and try to improve.

Developing your emotional intelligence takes time and patience. It requires you to look inward at your own emotions, be willing to manage those emotions and show empathy toward others. But once you achieve a higher level of emotional intelligence, your value as a leader will increase, and your crews will experience greater job satisfaction.

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer specializing in business, health, wellness and education. 

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