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How emotionally intelligent are you?

Having brains simply isn’t enough when it comes to being successful in life. Having a high level of emotional intelligence (EI) can help you to get ahead of those relying on high IQ alone. Strong emotional intelligence helps people to navigate tricky social situations and manage relationships. In business, it can be a crucial factor in success.

What is emotional intelligence?

Academics John Mayer and Peter Salovey coined the term emotional intelligence in the 1990s and it was popularised by writer Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ, which was an international best seller.

There are two main components of EI. The first is personal competence. This means having self-awareness, which is the ability to acknowledge your emotions and manage them as they change. You’ll also have the ability to self-manage how those emotions impact your environment. Secondly, those with good EI have social competence. If you have this you’re good at being aware of dynamics in social situations and modifying your own mood and behaviour to improve social scenarios and relationships.

One of the best examples of EI is the ability to accurately read emotion in people’s faces. For example, if you can see someone is sad or frustrated without them having to say so, you’ll have a better ability to respond accordingly. Goleman, says empathy and the ability to put down our phones, shut out distractions and truly tune into the person we’re engaging with is incredibly powerful. In his Ted Talk, Goleman points out that empathy and compassion are important characteristics found in people who contribute to society in a meaningful way.

Do we really need emotional intelligence in business?

According to Professor Andrew Noblet, from Deakin University’s Business School, one of the characteristics of high emotional intelligence is the ability to stay calm and see things clearly when under pressure. Prof. Noblet backs Goleman’s position on empathy. ‘When we’re able to understand the emotions of employees we can bring the best out of them,’ he explains.

However, he points out that organisations must be willing to see as much value in EI as they do in IQ. ‘Technical competencies tend to take precedence when companies are hiring,’ Prof. Noblet points out and urges employers to shift their thinking when establishing their workers’ important qualities, giving competency and EI equal consideration.

In particular, he says managers need good EI. ‘If you’re in a managerial role, 60 to 80 per cent of your time will be spent mixing with other people. The ability to form positive relationships is critical,’ he says. In addition, he says people are under increasing pressure, doing more work with fewer resources and balancing many additional stressors in their day-to-day lives. Employers – and anyone required to interact in a workplace are likely to have better workplace relationships if they don’t always put their own emotional needs ahead of their colleagues and staff.

‘You need the ability to empathise, to slow down and understand someone’s perspective and why they’re upset or angry. Being calm and talking through a situation can make a big difference,’ Prof. Noblet says.

How can you boost your emotional intelligence?

Good EI can enhance careers, health and happiness. Anyone who’d like to improve their EI can do so, but it requires a willingness to develop empathy and self-awareness. ‘People need to understand their own emotions, have the ability to manage those emotions and express them in an appropriate way,’ Prof. Noblet says. Most people are aware when they’re feeling down, scared, happy or excited. Once you’ve accepted what it is you’re feeling, you can then ask yourself what’s contributing to that. Self-awareness breeds emotional intelligence. If you can recognise a feeling of anger or frustration; you’ll be better equipped to manage it in the moment.

But Prof. Noblet adds that what matters most if you want to boost your EI is finding the motivation. You have to want to work harder when it comes to considering the position of others. ‘There are many benefits of having positive relationships,’ he says. Those with good EI not only experience most enjoyable interactions and reduced conflict; they’re also likely to be a good team player and therefore could have opportunities to climb the professional ladder, while others are moved aside.

Tips for improving emotional intelligence

  • Work on your frame of mind: a positive outlook can help you to engage with others.
  • In stressful situations, take deep breaths before reacting.
  • Identify your emotions, assess where they’re coming and the impact they have on your environment.
  • Offer empathy to those around you and try to understand what they’re feeling and why.

Discover effective leadership skills and build on your role as a leader with our free two week course on FutureLearn, What is Leadership?

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Professor Andrew Noblet
Professor Andrew Noblet

Deakin Business School, Deakin University
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