Why Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace Shifted from Being an Option to Being a Necessity

By Paula Cardenau

When we started with the Emotional Intelligence Program at Arbusta, most of our team members who were invited to the workshops thought: “Could it be that they think I am sick, since they are inviting me to this emotions thing?” Today, after three years of having implemented our Emotional Intelligence program at the company, no one doubts that it is an essential skill for our evolution as people, and as professionals. It has stopped being a luxury, or an option and has become an evolutionary necessity.

Today we realize that this program has grown to be an even more essential resource for the company in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, in which life changed us all from one day to the next.

Emotional Intelligence at Arbusta - Medellín, Colombia


The need for an EI Program arose, like many things at Arbusta, from intuition and from paying attention to specific situations:

  • A person who quit because one day he got angry with a colleague, and his anger generated a lot of shame for him,
  • Another person who was very anxious about having an upcoming conversation with a client,
  • Someone who was living a sad personal situation at home and did not share it at Arbusta because “work and personal life are not to be intermingled”.

These and other situations highlighted the need to address these issues through a cultural change in the whole organization. When I started investigating the subject more in depth, I realized that the big global companies were also having this same conversation. Google, for example, started a program called Search Inside Yourself 13 years ago. It was put together by one of its engineers, Chade-Meng Tan, and is focused on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and neuroscience. It was so successful that, over the years, it became an independent leadership institute that today is a global benchmark on the subject.

At Arbusta we connect with our emotions because we seek to be more whole as persons and become experts on ourselves, on our lights and on our shadows. Emotions put us in touch with ourselves and with others. They give us information about what matters to us and what affects us, they help us to deal with our relationships.

We accompany this program with a clear declaration that part of our culture involves integrating ourselves as people. For this reason, one of our seven company values is “We are Whole”, an invitation to self-awareness and an opportunity for personal evolutionary development.

What are those emotions that we need to understand in order to deal with them effectively? A difficult negotiation with a client may scare me. Not reaching my goals can make me anxious. The fact that my mentor does not mention the areas in which I am improving may make me feel insecure. The fact that the project that I wanted gets assigned to someone else, generates mixed feelings of happiness for the person, but also jealousy because I wanted it.  Not being able to share at work that I am dealing with a very difficult situation at home has me stuck and feeling disconnected.

At Arbusta, we are getting used to the fact that there is nothing wrong with feeling these emotions. The important thing is to recognize them, drain them, and act. And to do so with a new knowledge and power over ourselves and in our relationships with others.

Emotional Intelligence in the workplace has to do with not hiding behind a role, with finding the courage to say what we want, with turning a “difficult conversation” into an opportunity for growth, with maintaining a keen awareness of our relationships with one another and with others.  It has to do with getting to know each other more deeply and, using that knowledge, discover our power and learn to feel comfortable with it. 

At Arbusta we make a culture of this. We are invited to hack into ourselves, to be whole, to discover our power by integrating the circumstances of our lives into our daily jobs providing world-class digital services.

Emotional Intelligence - Arbusta

We are a company that identifies talent, and emotional intelligence generates exceptional leadership. Of the 6 most important skills for top performers – focus on results, ability to influence others, conceptual thinking, analytical ability, initiative and taking on challenges, and self-confidence – only conceptual thinking and analytical ability are intellectual skills. The rest are emotional skills.

We provide services in the technology industry. Every day technology is becoming less and less a tool and is instead becoming a social experience.  Although technical skills are relevant, they change over time and learning them is a constant: what we know today may be obsolete in 5 years. Cultivating our emotional intelligence, in this context, becomes essential.


We learned that emotions tell us about ourselves, what happens to us and what matters to us. They help us deal with our relationships. There are no bad emotions or good emotions.  All of them – even those that make us uncomfortable, such as jealousy, fear, anger, envy, and especially the essential ones such as love, gratitude, and appreciation – bring us a gift and invite us to action. We also learned that one of the great lessons of our lives is to have the courage to understand our emotions intimately – neither to be overtaken by them, nor to repress them.

Another takeaway is that Latin American centennials have a high level of emotional intelligence which only requires some moderate incentives to unblock and be displayed. This was a particularly relevant finding, since it allowed us to design an effective program based on “acupuncture points” that do not involve a heavy workload, in a context that is so challenging in this regard.

Another lesson is that although “emotionsmay seem related to personal life, at work we have countless situations in which our emotions are put into play – fear of a difficult conversation, anxiety about not meeting expectations, shame for making a mistake, pain for not being considered for an opportunity, or because my efforts are not recognized, sadness because a colleague changed projects, not being grateful or appreciating the work of others, to name just a few. Recognizing these emotions, knowing how they affect us, and taking action speeds the unlocking of our potential and our ability to expand our relationships.

We also learned that in the context of a pandemic and confinement, having an organizational culture and specific programs related to emotional intelligence already implemented made us strong and agile, and in, turn allowed us not only to “sustain” but also to grow our revenues and our team by 50% from September 2019 to September 2020. During the pandemic we closed new contracts with clients, brought in new people, both as trainees and in more managerial roles. Innovating. Collaborating. Recognizing what happens to us. Going through some organizational situations that generated deep pain, and others that spurred great joy.

Even in a virtual environment – a situation which, taxing my own beliefs, was great -, that community which embraces and supports us becomes even stronger.

A lot of what we do, and what we are at Arbusta, has to do with our relationships and the quality of our bonds with co-workers, with clients, with leaders, with ourselves, and our development of talent and personal evolution.

This article was originally published on New Ventures.


Almost twenty years as an entrepreneur in the field of global impact innovation. She launched the Social Business Initiative in Ashoka as Director for Latin America and Regional Director for the Southern Cone. She is part of the founding team of the Argentina Social Investment Fund, a World Bank public program that stimulated demand-driven community initiatives in low-income rural districts.