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Have you ever known someone who was highly intelligent, yet struggled socially and seemed to get in their own way when it came to their career progression? Now, think of the opposite. That person who seems to effortlessly navigate even the trickiest social situations with grace, has a way of making other people feel comfortable (by picking up on unspoken communication cues) and can turn a chance meeting into an opportunity. It’s likely that these two differ in their emotional intelligence.
Psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman popularized the term in his 1995 book and describes emotional intelligence as encompassing both personal competencies (Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation), as well as how we handle relationships with others (Empathy and Social Skills).
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the quality that enables you to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as those of others. By identifying our own emotions and recognizing the impact your behavior has on others, you are empowered to use this knowledge to facilitate more effective communication with those around you, both in personal and professional settings.
Solid communication is the foundation of strong relationships and F4S research shows that a high motivation for affective communication (the level of sensitivity and importance you place on tone of voice, gestures and other non-verbal expressions and communication) correlates with higher emotional intelligence.
Former Morgan Stanley investment banker James A. Runde described emotional intelligence as “…the secret sauce to career success” in his 2016 book Unequaled: Tips for Building a Successful Career Through Emotional Intelligence.
A Yale-led study in the Journal of Creative Behavior (2020) found that leaders who exemplified emotional intelligence fostered happier and more creative employees.
Given the importance of EQ to effective leadership and communication, let’s consider what are the 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence, the benefits of each and how to develop them.
Self-awareness refers to the ability to recognize your emotions and understand the potential impact of your behavior on others. You are introspective and able to step back and evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and try to unravel how your emotions affect your interactions with others.
Michael Scott from The Office is a perfect example of a character without self-awareness, which leads to an endless array of awkward situations. This serves as the basis of the cringeworthy humor that makes the show great, but would not be something a professional would want to emulate.
Dr. Goleman outlines the benefits associated with self-awareness including having confidence and being receptive to constructive criticism.
When someone is self-aware, they see themselves as continually evolving and are open to learning ways to improve. This is important in the workplace where professional development is vital to employees, especially with such uncertainties in the global economy. Recognizing areas where you can improve can be part of your career growth strategy.
We all have bad days and are not expected to be robots unaffected by the stress life throws at us, especially during these unprecedented times. However, someone with emotional intelligence has the insight to recognize when they are stressed and then consider how it’s not the stressor that matters, but their reaction to it that makes a difference. Which brings us to the next component of intelligence: self-regulation.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” - Benjamin Franklin
While Franklin said that in the context of fire prevention, the saying holds true in social contexts as well. A person high in emotional intelligence excels at not only identifying their emotions (self-awareness), but also managing (self-regulating) those emotions as well. They take the time to consider the impact of their emotions and behaviors on others and how this could affect their relationships going forward.
Dr. Goleman explains that individuals high in self-regulation are flexible and not afraid of change. They demonstrate resilience and grit, and are skilled in conflict management and negotiating tricky situations.
These self-regulators are high in conscientiousness and express themselves, but they have a sense of how and when to do so in an appropriate manner for the circumstances at hand. They see their impact on others and maintain accountability for their own actions.
Self-regulation is like a social insurance policy, that can prevent you from getting yourself into sticky situations, rather than necessitating damage control after you explode and attempt to pick up the pieces.
Building trust with friends and clients takes a while, but it can be compromised in a fraction of the time. By thinking before you speak, you could save yourself from some proverbial fires.
It’s not enough to say, okay, I’m angry because I’m stuck in traffic and about to miss a big meeting. Self-regulation is about what comes next. There’s the course of action the frustrated version of yourself might feel like (yelling, honking the horn, taking it out on unwitting the person who calls you at a bad time) or a more constructive way to handle the situation (identify the frustration, talk yourself through it, problem solve).
Once you are calm, you could call the meeting members, explain your situation and offer to conference in via phone from the car or reschedule the meeting time. When calm, you are in a much better position to think strategically and navigate a tricky situation.
Emotionally intelligent individuals have a firm sense of the intrinsic motivation that drives their decisions. They are motivated by internal rewards like a sense of purpose or accomplishment, and they understand this about themselves and others. They thrive when pushing themselves to do something they didn’t think they could do, like run a marathon.
Think of entrepreneurs launching a business. A founder will dedicate all of their free time to pursuing a dream that may never materialize, yet they are propelled in their endeavor by a sense of passion and belief in what they are doing.
Empathy is an essential component of emotional intelligence and describes the ability to identify and understand how another person is feeling and imagine yourself in that person’s situation. In addition, empathy entails acting on this information. For example, when you hear that a co-worker lost a beloved pet, you would think back to how you felt when you lost your childhood dog and would offer consolation based on what helped you when experiencing that situation.
Empathetic people make an effort to make someone feel better. They are open to viewpoints beyond their own and avoid making judgments.
Individuals high in empathy understand the dynamics of social situations and are skilled in navigating the nuances of workplace business relationships.
Executives who possess emotional intelligence incorporate empathy into their leadership style and do not subscribe to Machiavellian constructs that suggest employees fear their boss. Rather, empathetic leaders are secure in their role. They value their team and know that respect is earned, and people will work harder for someone they respect.
By taking time to understand their team and demonstrate concern, they learn more about them and gain insights into how everyone can work together most effectively, which will improve performance.
Even if empathy does not come naturally to you, it’s a skill that can be developed. Here are some exercises to help:
Emotional intelligence and social skills go hand in hand. People with effective social skills excel at communicating with others and are known as team players. They thrive when cultivating relationships and are genuine in their interactions.
Individuals with great social skills make others feel valued and understand the importance of sincere connections both in business and personal interactions.
You can develop your social skills through practice, even if you tend to be shy. Intentional communication is key, as well as making an effort to connect with others.
Developing your emotional intelligence is an important way to take your career to the next level and realize your true potential.
Tiffany Franklin has been a career coach since 1998, guiding over 6,000 job seekers of all levels and industries through the finer points of a job search. In 2011, Tiffany launched her executive coaching business and has helped hundreds of clients, ranging from recent grads to those with 30 years of experience, mid-level career changers and everything in between. Her clients are based around the globe and are from industries including consulting, finance, IT, engineering, healthcare, entertainment, communications, public affairs, and criminal justice. She currently works as Associate Director for Career Services at an Ivy League university where she helps freshmen through master’s students with all aspects of their career search. Previously, she worked as a Recruiter for the largest creative staffing firm in the United States.