It’s Not About Test Scores

Emotional intelligence plays a bigger role than IQ in your professional success.

Almost any employee can be an effective leader in their own way, whether they’re a supervisor or a line employee. But many workers mistakenly think they need to be a brainiac with a high IQ to lead successfully or move up the ladder, when it instead requires something far subtler and way more important: emotional intelligence (EI).

The concept of emotional intelligence was developed in the early 1990s by a team of psychology professors, Peter Salovey from Yale University and John D. Mayer from the University of New Hampshire. They defined EI as the ability to “monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

“In other words, emotional intelligence is all about taking a look inside yourself, getting honest and choosing strategies that honor your feelings, but with tact,” says Colette Carlson, a motivational speaker and business communication expert.

On-going research continually reveals that EI is a core common denominator among great leaders. Why? People with high levels of EI create strong relationships, which in turn are critical to accomplishing goals in organizations.

In the book EI — Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, author Daniel Goleman points out that how people handle their feelings in the workplace — or fail to do so — plays a much bigger role in success than academic achievement. To support that theory, he cites a decades-old study of Harvard students that shows men with high college test scores did not outperform their peers in career achievement. In fact, only 25 percent of the study participants had risen to the top of their professions, and the majority enjoyed only average success.

“Without strong emotional intelligence, we increase the odds that we’ll say the wrong thing to the wrong person or miss a cue from someone you manage that needs your support, or even lose it [emotionally] at work,” Carlson explains. “When that happens, our credibility and professionalism take a nice swirl down the toilet, and we get labeled, which limits our future opportunities and growth … sometimes all it takes is an eye roll or a shrug at the wrong time to the wrong person for you to lose their respect and limit your options.”

Increasing your EI also can positively affect your organization’s bottom line. For example, the U.S. Air Force reportedly reduced recruiter turnover to 5 percent from 35 percent — and saved millions of dollars a year in the process — by selecting job candidates with higher levels of EI, Carlson says.

If you feel like you missed the EI train, here’s the good news: It’s a trait that can be developed. To do so, you must recognize the four building blocks of EI, which are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, she explains. Here’s a brief synopsis of each of these competencies:

• Self-aware people always consider how their actions and words affect others. Those who operate with thoughtful self-reflection enable trust to develop; those who don’t erect trust barriers. “And research continues to show that the number one factor people want from their leader is trust,” Carlson adds.

Increasing self-awareness is hard work, because it requires people to thoughtfully assess how their emotional baggage affects their interpretations of situations and how they react to what other people do and say.

“Without self-awareness, our emotions can blind us and guide us to do things or to become people we don’t want to be,” Carlson notes. “If we’re aware of our thoughts, we can choose how we will act or react in a given situation to a certain person. With this choice comes power. Because the more you know about yourself, the more you can skillfully motivate yourself, play to your strengths, limit your liabilities and make the most of any situation.

“People want leaders who walk their talk — who are transparent and authentic,” she adds.

“The more you understand yourself, the more you can choose behaviors and eliminate others that will allow you to build trust, engage others, inspire and motivate teams and bring you more success in a work setting.”

• Self-management centers on the skill of managing feelings and emotions so they help you instead of hurting you. That’s never easy, because emotions can often overwhelm our rational brains and get the best of us, Carlson says.

“Therefore, you have two choices,” she advises. “You can either lose it or you can take charge of your thoughts and accept responsibility for them.” That may mean adopting tactics like not taking rude comments personally, because you recognize it’s less about you and more about the fears and insecurities of the person who said them; or taking a time out and removing yourself from the situation until your emotions abate and you can respond constructively and rationally enough to achieve a positive outcome.

“Emotionally intelligent people listen for the unspoken concerns of others — especially those who are lashing out or being difficult ­— and take that into account for their response,” she says.

• Social awareness requires looking outward and tuning into others’ emotions. In a word, it’s all about empathy — the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. And empathy begins with effective listening skills, which builds relationships and bonds teams together, and taking cues from body language.

“You need to seek to understand the pressures, responsibilities, expectations and demands placed upon other people,” Carlson notes. “If someone says something that sounds a bit ‘off’ or confusing, ask for more information … and explore his or her reasoning. Behind every position and argument is a set of thoughts and feelings that are the underpinning of the position. By seeking to understand the other person’s reasoning, it builds a bridge to understanding.”

• Relationship management focuses on successful interactions with others. As an example, Carlson cites a woman she met at a large corporation who had a problem with male co-workers who constantly walked away with pens after filling out paperwork in her office. As an astute observer of behavior, she started using pens decorated with flowers. From then on, pens made their way back to her desk.

“Through her creativity, she found a solution to her challenge that allowed her to get along with all the guys, rather than nagging them, which only would create more conflict and frustration,” she explains. “She understands relationship management.”

In summary, emotional intelligence is a critical trait for maintaining fruitful relationships at work, no matter how high or low you stand on the organizational totem pole.

“Without emotional awareness — the ability to recognize and value our feelings and act in honest accordance with those feelings — we cannot get along well with others and we cannot get ahead in the world, regardless of how ‘smart’ we are,” Carlson concludes. “Moreover, we cannot make decisions easily and we’re out of touch with our sense of self. If we’re going to lead others, we need to work on our emotional-intelligence skills and put them into practice every day.”


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