Some years back we realized there was more to success than just IQ and the personality traits we measured. We noticed clients—successful clients—were contacting us for a different reason than we previously encountered. These clients seemingly had everything going for them. But they could not get along with their team and were not liked. They had high IQ’s, were well-intentioned, sociable, hardworking, direct and all offended the heck out of people. Being psychologists, we had to know why? Why do these good people, who score in the solid executive range on personality and intelligence tests, find that people don’t want to be around them?
Of course, we knew about emotional intelligence. The term was coined in the late 1990’s, but we never really focused on this one aspect of personality and how it affected success. Even back then, it wasn’t just psycho-babble. The whole EQ concept had good validity and practical application. In fact, researchers now agree that while IQ is important, accounting for as much as 20 percent of success, our success also depends on other things, including our ability to deal with emotion. The bad news is, to some extent, natural EQ ability is hardwired. Like musical ability or athleticism, our genetics and early experiences really matter here. We can get better than we are, but for most of us, medaling at the Olympics will never be an option. The good news is there are things we all can do to improve our ability to identify and manage emotions.
Importance of EQ
We know that people who score higher in EQ are more resilient in many ways; they respond better changes in their social environment and build social networks. And in our experience, executives more often fail because of “interpersonal issues” rather than a lack of technical inability. Good interpersonal skills require the ability to read feedback. How can we serve customers if we don’t know what they like—or hate? How can we know how to behave with others if we don’t read ourselves or others well? While a good deal of EQ is likely inflexible, research and experience suggests there are things we can do to improve each key area. And we’ve never met anyone who couldn’t improve.
EQ Broken Down
EQ has four parts. The first two focus on the internal: self-awareness and self-management. Do we understand our own emotions and how they affect others? Do we know how to manage our emotions? Not being emotional is not an option; emotion is as much a part of our life as needing oxygen.
The next two parts of EQ ability refer to our dealings with other people: social awareness and relationship management. Social awareness is our ability to read other people. Relationship management is handling other people’s emotions so that we can be effective in dealing with others.
This is perhaps the most critical of all EQ skills because it allows us to manage our responses. Research shows most of us have an over-inflated view of our intelligence and are even less accurate in judging our EQ. So what is the key to being more self-aware? First, seek honest feedback and admit your shortcomings. If we are sensitive or defensive about any weaknesses, we tend to blame others. I’m not impatient. People just don’t move fast enough. Second, understand the effect you have on others. When we talk in a loud, irritated voice, other people tend to reciprocate. Then we wonder why they are yelling. If we can’t take a hard look at ourselves, we won’t know who we are or the recognize the ripple effect of our behavior.
We are all in a bad mood sometimes. You may be more or less so than other people, but everyone is sad, worried, angry, frightened, or irritable occasionally. When you find yourself angry for example, go into problem-solving mode. Talk to yourself in the second person, Take a deep breath, you can handle this and don’t respond until you’ve thought this through. Remember you are your own boss and your own employee, so while you may need to cool off, don’t withdraw for too long. As cliche as it may sound, you need to make sure you are managing the most important factor in your success – you.
3. Social Awareness
This one may be the hardest. Some of us can easily see what’s going on with others while some of us can’t even read others if we’re told directly. But you can get better. One of the single best ways to improve is simply to listen. Many of us don’t really listen. We spend our time between speaking waiting for the other person to stop so we can jump in. Really listening means focusing on the other person. Use clarification questions like, Are you saying_____? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When people are being unreasonable, try to imagine things from their point of view. If you are a highly verbal person, you may get irritated when others ramble repetitiously, but instead ask yourself, Why is this person repeating themselves? What are they trying to get me to hear?
4. Relationship Management
This EQ subcategory is the one the other areas serve to support, the one with the biggest payback for those who are in—or aspire to—executive roles. Once you understand and control your emotions and picked up on what people are feeling, how do you manage those people?
We all have been guilty of not listening because we knew we were right. To improve your relationship management, you have to continue to engage, talk and listen objectively to feedback, see things from a different point of view and consider that you might not have all the answers.
Let people know you respect them and what they have to say. Put your smartphone down and take notes while the other person is talking. Doing this keeps you focused on them instead of what you are going to say next. Showing people respect means we need to consider their needs, e.g, What can I do to help you get there? And sometimes we need to be confronting. No, I do not agree with that. Getting along with others does not mean being a doormat. That benefits no one and is counterproductive to good relationships in the long run. Respecting yourself means you should also take care of yourself, e.g., Here’s what I need you to do for me.
EQ is not easily moved because, let’s face it, you have been the way you are for many years. But it is worth looking at for the reasons above. And here’s another good reason to improve. Research also shows that improving your EQ is not confined to work. Improving your EQ leads to better mental and physical health, increased happiness, improved personal relationships, and decreased stress. I think we’d all take some of that.
Robyn Porterfield is Managing Principal and Bob Rose Principal of Dallas-based Rose Porterfield Group. They consult to executive teams in a wide range of business areas dealing with people at work.