The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace
by Sasha Seddon
“Emotional self-control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness – underlies accomplishment of every sort”
Daniel Goleman (author of ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ’)
There are different schools of thought concerning the value of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Some people passionately advocate hiring based on this quality, while others believe emotional intelligence pales in comparison to cognitive intelligence and is a concept as light and fluffy as soufflé. Then there are others, who don’t really know what it comprises. So, before questioning whether it really has value, we have to first ask the question: what constitutes emotional intelligence?
Cooper and Sawaf, the authors of ‘Executive EQ’ describe emotional intelligence as “the ability to sense, understand and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source for connection, collaboration, influence and inspiration”.
Louise Altman, a Partner at Intentional Communication Consultants, a consultancy group which aims to improve the relationships, culture and communication inherent in the workplace, has outlined several clusters which emotional intelligence encompasses:
intrapersonal skills – self-awareness (our awareness of ourselves and our influence on our environment), self-management (our ability to identify our emotional state and make a decision about how to deal with this)
relationship abilities – social intelligence (the ability to empathise and to foster trust), relationship management (the ability to relate to others to optimise your objectives in both your work and personal life)
Within this second cluster, the aptitudes of listening, maintaining the right level of assertiveness and politeness, and effectively managing conflicts are emphasized as key competencies.
But has emotional intelligence contributed to real success within the workplace? And is this even quantifiable?
L’Oreal incorporated emotional intelligence competency tests into their hiring process, and the salespeople favoured by this selection criteria sold an average of over $90,000 more than candidates hired by the traditional methods. The former group were also 63% less likely to leave in their first year than the latter (Spencer & Spencer, 1993; Spencer, McClelland, & Kelner, 1997).
The firm Egon Zehnder International analysed over 500 senior executives, from Latin America, Germany and Japan, and found that those who were predominantly strong in emotional intelligence were more likely to be successful than those with high IQs or previous work experience relevant to the sector – and this result was the same for all these cultures.
Ways to improve emotional intelligence
The psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal has described several ways an individual can improve their emotional intelligence:
Allow time to process feelings and try not to repress or edit them.
Try to find associations between your emotional state and similar situations from the past.
Listen to the feedback given by your body, e.g. why is your stomach knotted or heart racing in a certain context? This concept has some resonance with the James-Lange theory of emotion, which postures that a physiological change occurs first and then the brain’s interpretation of this bodily response gives rise to an emotional condition.
Try asking others what your emotional state is – other people can be very perceptive.
Another way to improve would be to practice controlling how you react, so that you can respond with empathy or diplomacy, and not end up snapping or erupting at someone.
It is important to remember that, akin to honing cognitive development, developing these skills is something that takes a long time, and everyone has room for improvement. The former involves encouraging the growth or strengthening of new neural connections, with neuroplasticity being the property of the brain which allows this to occur. The latter – emotional development – involves altering the psyche or mind, which is not necessarily more malleable than the physical brain itself. A lack of control and understanding of emotion can manifest itself in an individual’s body as a physiological sign, or in their life as a barrier to success in their relationships, and it is important to harness the power of emotional intelligence in order to be healthy in the workplace and out of it.