3 years’ ago, I decided to move back to Bristol and had to start thinking about what direction I wanted to take my career in. I wanted to research what were deemed the most valued skills to have in the current and future workplace. The first few articles I read highlighted the rising importance of emotional intelligence, with entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck claiming,
“we are on the dawn of an era where emotional intelligence is about to become the single most important trade”.
I will admit that in the past I always knew the majority of my skills fell within the “soft skills” category which always made me cringe slightly. For some reason it made me feel that I was less successful or valued as someone who had all the hard skills. It didn’t feel tangible to me.
When I was working in the Police as a civilian, I started to become aware of how my “soft skills” played a very important part of my success there. Therefore, when I started to read these articles about the rise in importance of emotional intelligence my first reaction was “phew!” but I wanted to understand a bit more about what emotional intelligence is and how it could continue to help me build a successful career.
With 2020 behind us there is no doubt that the year has been one of, if not the most, challenging we have all faced both personally and professionally, so this blog seems even more relevant.
The term itself was created by psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey in the 1990’s, but it’s use quickly spread into other areas including business and education.
It is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as
“the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”
Sometimes referred to as EQ ("emotional quotient") it is a person's ability to recognise, understand, manage, and reason with emotions. This ability also involves utilising this emotional understanding to make decisions, solve problems, and communicate with others. It is a critical ability when it comes to interpersonal communication and while it was a hot topic within psychology it’s now becoming even more prevalent in the business world.
Psychologist and science reporter Daniel Goleman was exposed to Mayer’s and Salovey’s work and took the concept of emotional intelligence a step further, suggesting that there are five components critical to emotional intelligence.
So how do these levels impact us in the world of business?
The awareness that emotional intelligence is an important job skill has been growing in recent years and in some cases, it even surpasses technical ability.
In 2018 it was ranked sixth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the top 10 skills that employees will need to possess to thrive in the workplace of the future.
Emotional intelligence is the ingredient that computers lack. So in the world of work where we are seeing greater competition, increased speed, huge levels of change and increased levels of pressure, emotional intelligence is an important skill to hone. The pace of life is faster, working hours are longer and so understanding our uniqueness and individuality has never been so important.
Emotional intelligence is a vital consideration in the workplace for many reasons but there are two that are more prominent:
Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ introduced a whole new perspective on predicting and analyzing employee performance. Goleman suggested that there is more to being successful than high levels of cognitive intelligence, that it is twice as important as cognitive intelligence for predicting career success with far too much emphasis on traditional predictors of employee performance. He suggested high levels of emotional intelligence improve working relationships, help to develop problem solving skills, increase efficiency and effectiveness and invoke the development of new strategies.
“IQ can show whether you have the cognitive capacity to handle the information and complexities you face in a particular field. But once you are in that field, emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful, because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do once we are in a given job.”
Goleman identified five pillars of emotional intelligence and why they correspond to a successful career:
Self-awareness: A self-aware person is in control of their emotions. Those with self-awareness can identify shifts in emotion within themselves as well as the triggers, both internal and external, that cause them; criticism from a boss or a personal problem can result in varying emotions which affect our reasoning ability. Those with high EQs can view these occurrences from a rational stance, which results in an improved reasoning ability.
Self-regulation: This is all about keeping emotions in check which is vital at a workplace. Every person must deal with a multitude of emotions on a regular basis and it is essential that they do not dictate your behavior. The ability to act logically, while resisting impulsive behavior, is a highly valued trait.
Motivation: People with a high EQ are self-motivated. They aren't driven by money or job titles though; they weigh the emotional rewards of each action and are fueled by an inner ambition that is surprisingly resilient to disappointment and failure. Employers have always faced the challenge of motivating their employees and so those who do not need to be motivated are highly valuable in the workplace.
Empathy: Emotionally intelligent people are not only aware of their emotions, but they can sense those of others as well. They have the ability to view situations from the other person's perspective. Arguments fueled by anger are easily resolved by people with high EQs because they understand the other person's issue and can genuinely respond to their concerns.
People skills: Emotionally intelligent people get along well with others. They find it easier to build rapport and trust with their colleagues. They also steer clear of office politics — things like backstabbing, bad-mouthing, and undermining others — for which they are quick to gain respect and credibility.
I am sure after reading the above all of us would admit to needing improvement in a few areas. Luckily EI is a skill researchers say can be improved with training and practice.
Goleman argues that individuals adopting these characteristics give themselves a far greater chance of being successful than individuals that do not. However, individuals are not simply born with these skills and they can be learned.
I found an interesting article in Forbes about how EI can be improved. It is not rocket science, but it does highlight how making small initial adjustments in our approach can have an impact in how we perceive situations and react to them.
It is clear I have only scratched the surface of EI but for me personally I have learnt to realise that the vast majority of my successes within the workplace have been down to my “soft skills”. No feeling of cringe this time, I am now proud of it, but I am always looking at how I can improve and look at the mistakes I have made to develop both personally and professionally.
Our emotions heavily influence how we think, behave, and communicate with one another. We should take this time in lockdown to reflect what we have learnt about ourselves and to look at our relationships within the workplace when we return to the “new norm” and not return to the robots that we are probably all guilty of falling foul of at some point in our work and personal life.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”