The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Career Success.
Emotions are data - how can professionals use them to help career and leadership success?
Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) is a set of personal emotional and social skills that help us develop better relationships, greater wellbeing and quality of life, and better personal effectiveness. Unlike Cognitive Intelligence (the IQ) which is more or less fixed, Emotional Intelligence can be learnt and developed.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
There are several formal definitions, for example:
Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way (EQ-i 2.0)
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour (Salovey & Mayer)
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions, and recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others (Goleman)
The Goleman definition is easy to grasp, but I particularly like the EQ-i 2.0 model because it splits EQ into fifteen specific facets that can be examined one by one. The different components can also be compared, because often EQ is best when different aspects are in balance with each other. The fifteen domains are
Emotional self-awareness: be aware of and understand one’s feelings and their impact
Self-regard: respect and accept one’s strengths and weaknesses
Self-actualisation: improve oneself and pursue meaningful objectives
Emotional expression: express one’s feelings verbally and non-verbally
Independence: be self-directed, free from emotional dependence on others
Assertiveness: express feelings, beliefs, thoughts in non-destructive way
Interpersonal skills domain
Interpersonal relationship: develop and maintain mutually satisfying relationships
Empathy: recognise, understand, appreciate the feelings of others
Social responsibility: contribute to society, one’s social group, and to welfare of others
Decision making domain
Impulse control: resist or delay and impulse, drive, or temptation to act
Reality testing: remain objective by seeing things as they really are
Problem solving: solve problems where emotions are involved using emotions
Stress management domain
Flexibility: adapt one’s feelings, thinking, and behaviour to change
Stress tolerance: effectively cope with stressful or difficult situations
Optimism: remain hopeful and resilient despite setbacks
What is Emotional Intelligence not?
Emotional Intelligence is not:
IQ. IQ is about cognitive intelligence and quickness of metal comprehension, rather than ability to understand and manage emotions. IQ sets and peaks around late teens, but EI increases with age and can be developed. EI and IQ are not well correlated, and the stereotype highly-intelligent person with poor social skills will be known to many.
Personality. Personality is the distinctively different characteristics or sum total of a person including their behaviour and character traits. Personality is much more fixed than EI.
How does Emotional Intelligence matter?
Emotional Intelligence might seem like a recent invention, but has actually been around for millennia. It is easy to see how emotional self awareness and management could improve quality of life, and how social skills help us create better relationships. The corporate world is greatly interested in Emotional Intelligence, because of its link to workplace individual and team performance, leadership, and ultimate financial performance and success. The internet is full of “Return on Investment” studies showing the benefits of EI in recruitment, training and development of individuals and teams at multiple levels.
Emotional Intelligence is responsible for 27-45% of an individual’s success in a given job, whereas IQ can only predict on average 6% (Wagner 1997). When looking at start performers in an organisation, EI accounts for 85% of their performance and IQ/technical skills for only 15% (golemanei.com). And in a survey of multi-millionaires, the top 5 factors listed as most responsible for their success were all reflections of emotional intelligence (Stanley 2001). Further discussions around EI can be accessed here.
A key concept for me is the idea that emotions are data. Rather than being ruled by emotions, we can use emotions as a source of data to help us. Emotions can tell us about our needs and values. For example, not being invited to a group tells us that our need for belonging is not being met. Being unjustly overlooked for career progression tells us that our value of fairness is being challenged; thus, emotions can be used to help us know what our values are. We can use emotions to influence others also: anger breeds anger, whereas smiles create smiles!
What can developing Emotional Intelligence help me with?
Developing Emotional Intelligence is about your performance as much as your emotions. Advantages of developing your Emotional Intelligence include (Neale et al 2009):
All leaders have emotions. Catherine Sandler broadly splits people into three types (life is of course more complex than that, but the three types are a useful heuristic to look at leadership emotions).
Hot leaders are task focused and passionate, but at times of stress they go into fight mode and can be seen as bullies. They have an underlying low self esteem and constantly need to prove themselves. The hot leader needs to learn that being challenged is not a threat, it's OK to be wrong, and they need to remember the good job that they are doing.
Warm leaders are people focused and inclusive. However, they cannot deal with the idea that not everyone likes them, so at times of stress they run away incapable of making tough decisions. They need to learn that it's OK not to be liked by everyone, and that tough decisions have to be made.
Cool leaders are data and task focused. However, they are intensely private and struggle to deal with their own emotions and the emotions of others. At times of stress they go into freeze mode; their team sees them as cold and they feel abandoned. They need to learn that it's OK to have and show emotions, and indeed that sometimes the team needs to see them as a human being with human emotions.
The model is perhaps most useful because it highlights how all three leadership styles can achieve great things, but they can also become derailed. So the emotionally intelligent leader is one that has developed the flexibility to be able to work in all three different modes without the accompanying derailment.
How can I improve my Emotional Intelligence?
EQ comes up in coaching a lot in many areas when discussing career performance, career satisfaction, leadership, life balance, and other topics. It is thus a theme that permeates all aspects of professional and personal life.
When it comes to your own emotions, the first thing that needs to happen is that you need to notice your own emotions. Meditation and mindfulness can help you develop the ability to notice what you are thinking and feeling, so you notice this rather than acting on impulse. Developing awareness of body sensations is important too.
Once you have noticed an emotion, you need to understand what it is, specifically. Developing the ability to differentiate the different emotions can be helped by having an understanding of the different emotions that exist, so that you are able to, for example, differentiate anger from frustration and being disheartened. What's the purpose of this emotion? What does this emotion say about the situation and the kind of person that you are? That then is about using emotions as data.
Finally, you need to manage your emotions. There may well be an instinct that you wish to follow, but this may not be the same as what the reasoned you wishes to achieve. So here, ask yourself what the consequences of this behaviour is? What do you really want? What kind of person do you want to be. What do your values say you should be doing?
When it comes to noticing and understanding the emotions of others, pay attention to what is said, but also to how it is said, what is not said, and what their body language says. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to understand the situation from their point. What can you do to help them? If nothing else, listening and demonstrating that you heard them is a powerful tool to help you manage the emotions of others.
EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence questionnaire
In my coaching I often use the EQ-i 2.0 self-administered instrument. This is a psychometric test that helps coachees better understand their EQ. Importantly, EQ-i 2.0 is a developmental tool rather that summative assessment, so it's not about showcasing how good or bad one is, but looking at areas for development. Further, a key aspect is exploring how different aspects of EQ are balanced, because using too much of something can be as problematic as not having enough.
“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” — Seneca
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