Why Employees With High Emotional Intelligence Thrive
Before Dan Goleman, a prolific author and science journalist, popularized the concept of emotional intelligence (E.I. or E.Q.), it was a skill set largely ignored in the workforce where I.Q. metrics reigned supreme.
Goleman writes on his website about discovering the research around E.I. in 1990 and being “electrified by the notion.” A lot has changed. A term once misunderstood has now become a household phrase, accepted widely as key to personal and professional growth.
But, if the last two decades have witnessed the gradual acceptance of the science behind emotional intelligence, it may be we are only now beginning to realize its practical applications and benefits.
Ellen Leanse, a leadership coach in Silicon Valley and author of the book "Happiness Hack," argues we have yet to reach “peak E.I.” in our society or in the workforce. She believes there is still much to learn about how to sharpen our own emotional intelligence and turn it into a powerful tool for positive change.
Here are the signs that you have high E.I. and why it matters:
You Are Self-Aware
“The foundation of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Are you aware of the emotions that drive your behavior and what impact it has?” says Bill Benjamin, a partner at the Institute for Health and Human Potential, a Chicago-based research and consulting company that trains people around the world on emotional intelligence.
“We have to be aware that we have emotional responses to setbacks or what people say or feeling overwhelmed,” he said
This self-awareness begins with mapping and understanding your emotions. Do you know what kind of interactions bring joy, anger, sadness, fear?
Benjamin suggests constantly observing your own behavior in the workplace, in order to identify your trigger points and blind spots. It also means testing yourself.
IHHP's assessment to measure a person’s core competencies in EI includes comparing their self-perception with the perception of others in their life.
You Can Manage Your Emotions
“The most important thing about a career is how you build relationships, and if you’re a leader how you build teams,” Benjamin said. “So it’s all about managing the emotions that come up when there’s tension and conflict. The people who excel at that, research shows, are those with high E.I.”
While it’s normal to feel anger, anxiety and other strong emotions in the workplace, the most effective workers know how to deal with their reactions and how they can affect the people around them.
Benjamin suggests asking yourself the following questions: “When there’s tension and conflict or pressure, can we manage our emotions, so that we can step in and be skillful? Can we have a sense of urgency, but not with panic or anxiety, and instead be solutions-focused and confident?”
Other questions include :
- Am I aware of the emotions that are driving my behavior?
- Can I manage my emotions in stressful situations?
- Can I make difficult decisions that involve a lot of emotions?
- Can I empathize with others in order to motivate and inspire them?
- Am I able take ownership of my behavior?
A "yes" to these questions add up to a leader strengthened by emotional intelligence.
You Can Handle the Hard Talk
According to research from the IHHP, 80 percent of qualities that make for an exceptional leader are in the domain of emotional intelligence. This includes the ability to have difficult conversations that involve a lot of emotions, such as giving someone negative feedback or criticism.
“Most people avoid these conversations because they’re afraid," Benjamin said. "They don’t want to upset people, they want to be liked. Can they manage those feelings so they can step in where it’s difficult?”
Advancing your career depends on the ability to work through those feelings in order to achieve a goal or cultivate trust.
You Know How to Influence People
To be a great leader means getting your team on board with your mission and goals. One of the most effective ways to do this is to make an emotional connection.
Emotional connection is crucial to spreading influence. People tend to follow and believe those who can speak to them on an emotional level, evoking strong feelings of happiness, anger, sadness. In order for a leader to gather buy-in around a mission, they must spark that connection.
“You need empathy in order to understand the emotions that drive the behavior of others,” says Benjamin, “Leaders can only motivate or inspire if they have a good understanding of these drivers.”
You Score High in Performance Reviews
As most leaders become savvy to the importance of emotional health to a company’s bottom line, low emotional intelligence can be a detriment to an otherwise solid resume.
Recruiters are not only prioritizing E.I. over I.Q., managers are using emotional intelligence metrics in performance reviews. Employees are now increasingly measured by their ability recognize and learn from their mistakes, take criticism, manage their emotions and work under pressure.
Benjamin believes we are still in the early part of the curve, however he is seeing a shift in attitudes.
“We’re seeing more organizations at the very senior level shift from a results-only focus to a set of values that are E.I. based," he said.
You Lead With Presence
Leanse has spent more than three decades advising leaders from the world’s leading tech companies, including Google and Apple. Her recent book also relies heavily on the latest brain science to understand our emotional reactions. She say to lead with EI is to lead with presence.
This means going beyond just being present but actually demonstrating a willingness to listen and make a connection. She looks for presence in subtle signs — a person’s willingness to slow down or pause before answering a question, body language that’s more open and relaxed, a curiosity the demonstrates desire to learn more about the person or situation.
She says, this tells her that the person is actually listening and formulating a response, rather than just giving a reaction. In a society that can overvalue productivity, she argues that the act of presence is an often overlooked yet extremely valuable state.
In cultivating presence, we can better call on our innate leadership qualities.
You Don't Get Sucked Into Drama
Misunderstandings and bad decisions often come from negative emotions running high in a workplace.
People with high E.I. are less likely to be reactive in these emotional situations. This means avoiding getting sucked in the drama created by people around you.
“Emotional intelligence allows us to shift from a reactive mind to a responsive mind, which is the seat of our highest human cognition,” Leanse said.
This means the ability to diffuse feelings that might create drama, by taking a step back, slowing down and watching the mind for its reaction.
You Perform Under Pressure
An office combusting with emotions can result in blowups, meltdowns and fiery disagreements. Emotional intelligence, Leanse said, teaches us to have greater fluency to understand what these emotions mean.
This can help with setting boundaries and navigating the emotional landmines that come with working closely with others while under pressure. Rather than dissuading employees from having emotions, she recommends encouraging them to check in with their feelings and use those feelings as clues to understand what is happening.
This practice can help prevent the emotional clashes that often derail projects and tasks.
You Rely on Emotions to Make Decisions
While others feel uncomfortable with emotions, people with high emotional intelligence tend to use them as a deeper form of intelligence and knowledge. As the workplace becomes increasingly more data-driven, it’s easy to cast aside emotional information as insignificant. However, human connection can yield information as critical to the decision process as facts and figures.
The ability to think beyond logic, evidence and reason by tapping emotional evidence can be a real advantage in the workplace, providing useful insight.
“Emotions are a form of intelligence that guide and navigate us,” Leanse said. “They are as individual and unique as a fingerprint.”
Being in touch with your emotions may have been considered a liability in the past, but research shows that it can actually make you a better decision maker.
“Having empathy for other people’s perspectives allows us to be more complex thinkers, troubleshooting our flaws and thinking in order to avoid unintended consequences," Leanse said.
You Understand Your Customer
EI is perhaps most valuable when trying to understand the people you are trying to serve. While it takes a lot of hard data to analyze results, it takes heaps of empathy to understand the different emotions that can drive those results.
“What is business but people doing stuff for other people?” Leanse said.
If you want to expand your relevance to a larger audience, use E.I., she added. Your emotional connection to the people who will use your work will also help in the development process of that work, avoiding potential mistakes and missteps.
You Value Equality and Diversity
A workplace that lacks equality and diversity can often be fraught with tension and filled with emotional barriers.
Karen Fleshman, founder of Racy Conversations, specializes in facilitating discussions around such contentious issues. She says people with high emotional intelligence tend to embrace equality and diversity because it leads to a more productive, creative and healthy work environment. They don’t shy away from bringing their true selves to work and invite other people to do the same.
“When people are able to communicate honestly with each other, people are more at ease and they have more fun at work," she said.
You Know how to Ask For a Raise
Asking for a raise can be especially difficult for people who feel marginalized or powerless, Fleshman said. She’s a big believer in tapping emotional intelligence to gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your values and your worth.
When you negotiate with self-awareness, you can do so with the kind of ease and conviction that come with knowing exactly what you want — you come off confident but not arrogant.
High emotional intelligence also sharpens your ability to read the emotions of the person you’re dealing with, which helps with formulating an effective strategy.
You Know how to Be a Team Player
Many emotions can arise when working with a group of people with different backgrounds, personalities, intentions and motivations. These emotions can feel like a maze for someone without the tools to process them.
People with high emotional intelligence don’t shut down when navigating this maze, instead they use the emotions to help them better listen and collaborate.
They understand this leads to better results and productivity.
You Know Your Work Style
You can have all the talent and skill in the world but if you’re in the wrong environment, chances are you won’t be able to flourish. This is when the self-awareness that comes from E.I. becomes extra valuable.
Being in tune with your emotions means you understand how you react to different work conditions. It’s important to pay attention to how you feel in different situations, so you can do your best work.
Do you thrive in chaotic or quiet environments? Are you more productive when you’re alone or working in a team?
These are some of the exercises that Fleshman uses in her workshop to help people find a working style that is most suited to their strengths and preferences.