Spiritual Intelligence

by Cindy Wigglesworth

Introducing the concept of SQ at work

A great way to introduce spiritual intelligence at work is to point to drama in the workplace. If you ask people if they’d like to have less drama and ego at work, most will reply, ‘of course!’ Then you can say, ‘Well, then, you need more spiritual intelligence at work.’

The next thing you might encounter is resistance. People sometimes get nervous when the topic of spirituality comes up in the workplace. In fact, because religion can be a controversial topic, it is often taboo in organisations.

Distinguish between spirituality and religion

Ease people’s fears by making it clear that spirituality and religion are not the same thing, although they are related. Spirituality is the innate human need to be connected with something we consider divine or sacred. Religion is a specific means (a set of beliefs and practices) by which many people meet that need. People can and do meet their spiritual needs outside, as well as inside, religion.

So how can you clear up anxiety about this topic in your workplace?

Use faith-neutral language

People vary widely in their preferred terms for spiritual concepts. When talking about SQ, it’s best to avoid polarising language or faith-specific terms, which can turn people off or create unhealthy conflict.

Using the faith-neutral and faith-friendly language of SQ can help people to get comfortable talking about the topic of spiritual intelligence. With this language, people from different religious backgrounds can talk to each other about spirituality without creating or inflaming tension. This language has been successfully used with people of all major faith traditions and with agnostics, secularists and atheists. The language transcends those differences.

Use generic words (such as love) and provide synonyms so that your message transcends and includes specific faith traditions. When you establish, for example, that for you, ‘Source’ or ‘Higher Power’ includes many other terms, such as ‘God,’ ‘Spirit,’ ‘Universe’ and so on, you create a common middle ground.

  • Ego (generic term):

Synonyms = personality self; lower self; human nature, selfish self; the ‘nafs’ (Islam).

  • Higher self (generic term):

Synonyms = Soul; Spirit; Christ Consciousness; Buddha nature; Atman (Hinduism=Soul), Essential Self, Authentic Self, True Self, the Tao/Dao within.

  • Source or higher power or the divine (generic):

Synonyms = God; Jesus, Jehovah or Holy Spirit (Christianity) ; Elohim or Adonai (Judaism, Adonai=Lord – the name YHWH or ‘Yahweh’ is not pronounced out of respect); Allah (Arabic for God, Islam); Brahman (Hinduism); OverSoul; Cosmic Soul; the Mystery; the Void; Ein Sof (Judaism-Kabbalah); Essence; All That Is; The Universe or Life or Consciousness (capital letters used to show the link to the Divine or Source aspect of that word); Gaia; Divine Mother (Hinduism and modern spirituality); the Goddess.

Focus on skills and behaviours, not beliefs

Beliefs are wide-ranging and can be a source of endless dispute. A broadcaster recently estimated that there are more than 1200 Christian denominations in the United States alone. Each of these denominations disagrees with all the others on some points or they wouldn’t be separate.

Beliefs are personal judgments about what is true – and that’s why it’s a good idea to avoid talking about them. It is important to acknowledge that people have a right to their own beliefs. We do not have to agree with each other’s beliefs, but we do need to treat each other with respect.

Instead of talking about beliefs, keep the conversation focused on behaviours (for example, displaying humility by sharing credit for achievement or staying calm in the face of a colleague’s anger) and the distinction between ego self and higher self. Using the language of emotional and spiritual intelligence is useful here, because the terms come from the realm of skills, competencies, and behaviours, which are easier to talk about at work.

Speak to different world views

In most organisations, you will find three basic approaches to spirituality, described below, each of which stems from different values and worldviews (ways of seeing and interpreting the world and our place in it). You will be most effective if, when you speak about spiritual intelligence, you honour all three.

  • Traditionalists or conservatives:

The core values here are around protecting tradition, the past, the ‘good things’ that faith traditions teach us. For people who hold these values, the language of patriotism, religious faith, duty, honour and loyalty are important. The good of the group is often more important than what any one person wants. Security is important. This group may value a presentation on spiritual intelligence that is not shy about acknowledging the importance of religion. They may say they want a ‘faith-friendly’ workplace where they are comfortable reading sacred scripture on a break or honouring religious holidays.


A subset of people in this group may want to proselytise (evangelise) at work, so it will be important to set strong boundaries around that behaviour.

  • Achievers or modernists:

The core values of this group focus upon modernisation, technology, science, rational thought, self-determination, the freedom of the individual and (in workplace settings) merit-based achievement. In terms of spiritual intelligence, this group will be most interested in logical explanations about why it matters for leadership development and for the productive success of the company. People in this group are sometimes very uncomfortable with religion in general – or at least with the dogmatic varieties – and may become uncomfortable if there is too much talk about faith. For this group to feel comfortable going forward with a conversation about spiritual intelligence, it will be important to set strong, clear policies around no harassment and no proselytising.

  • Pluralists or post-modernists:

The core values of this group include honouring diversity, respecting different belief systems and creating harmony among people. They often prefer to consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’. They will emphasise how spiritual intelligence can contribute to a more harmonious and pleasant work environment and can connect their jobs to a greater purpose in the world. Setting strong, clear policies around no harassment and no proselytising will be critical for this group to feel comfortable. Once such boundaries are clearly created, members of this group are often great allies in implementing ‘less ego, more higher self’.

Because these worldviews are frequently present in the room at the same time, it is important to touch on all three sets of values and not linger on any one too long. Repeatedly stating all three together creates a vision for how SQ can work for everyone. For example:


We are here today to talk about whether or not we have an interest in exploring spiritual intelligence and its importance in the work place. Some of you may feel like you have to check your soul at the door when you walk into an office setting. Until now, this has been a taboo topic, but it doesn’t need to be. We just haven’t known how to talk about it before.

You may be a person of deep faith, or you may be an atheist or agnostic. Regardless of how we describe ourselves, we all have a deep human need to feel that our life makes sense... that our life serves some purpose. I believe that we can find purpose in our work, live out our deepest sense of meaning and have a more fun and productive work environment, all at the same time. We can enjoy our work more and be more successful. We can go home at night glad that we work here...

When you are interacting with a single person, you can speak to that person in his/her dominant value set, if you know it. But even then, touching on the other two value sets will help that person better understand the other forms of value-structures that his/her co-workers might hold.

Connect SQ to organisational goals

If you want to develop SQ in your organisation, it’s a good idea to start with a conversation about why it’s important and how it ties in with organisational goals.

Make a list of all the key performance indicators that the organisation already tracks. These may include employee surveys, customer surveys, employee turnover numbers and market share. Add to this list all the items that perhaps the organisation should be tracking – things that would make the organisation more successful or show as an indirect measure that it was becoming healthier and more sustainable.

Next, take a highlighter and highlight all the measures that, by any stretch of your imagination, might be positively impacted by improving morale and productivity, reducing drama and so on. Consider measuring emotional and spiritual intelligence. And then fearlessly measure these. The best proof that these interventions can work is the data! Take a base-line measurement before you start any intervention... then measure again at one year and two years later.

As with any culture change initiative, it is often useful to engage an external consultant who can see the culture from outside and is not wrapped up in the implicit assumptions within the culture.

Read a case study of applying SQ at work.