human resources

EQ and success at work

Eve Ash /

Emotional intelligence or ‘EI’ (colloquially described as EQ) is essential for human development.  

EQ — skills we can develop

The historic privileging of technical problem-solvers is gradually making way (thanks to the work by pioneer Daniel Goleman and many others) for equally valid social and emotional skills.  

Progress on the work front is piecemeal. I have been told that some organisations, even government, are still testing job applicants for their so-called intelligence quotients (IQ). Whichever way you think about it, this is insufficient for bodies dealing in crucial community policy and governance, or for any organisation dealing with customers, or expecting team collaboration. IQ permits a certain arrogance on the part of those who make the cut, whereas, with EQ, we are all forever developing.

EQ — how is it be measured?

According to a 2016 study, the ideal ratio of EQ to IQ in a workplace should be 80:20, although as Daniel Goleman points out, there is no single ‘test’ of a person’s EQ the way there is for IQ. Instead, Goleman defines four domains for emotional intelligence (his preferred term): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness (empathy) and relationship management (social skills). These domains are then divided into sixteen competencies. Some competencies are immediately recognisable in any workplace, for example, the ability to read people’s emotional crosscurrents, sensing and fostering colleagues’ abilities, and keeping one’s own disruptive emotions from escaping their leash. 

EQ — the desirable skills

Communication, collaboration, relationships, building trust, coping with change, responding to feedback, personal discipline and motivating others — all essential ingredients in the emotional intelligence pudding. These are the skills managers want from their people. They demonstrate recognition of our interdependence, the importance of shared goals and outcomes, the necessity for flexibility, responsiveness and boundary setting, the ripple effect of seeing value in each other.

So far, so good. It’s when EQ definitions are confined to what a ‘rational’ individual does in certain circumstances that poor arguments begin. For example, this article suggests that not managing negative emotions (lower EQ) can exacerbate depressive feelings. But a person bereaved of loved ones might suffer depression awhile. Is this indicative of lower EQ?

People’s situations cannot always be generalised, which means there is sometimes more than one ‘right’ way to respond to emotionally testing moments. More nuanced thinking and research in the EQ field are required.

Leadership EQ

Most highly regarded leaders demonstrate emotional intelligence. One research paper points to a body of work exploring the ability to manage and express emotions as important for leadership. But the same paper points to others who have explored whether leaders really need high EQ to achieve their goals.

We know there are some leaders and chief executive officers who perhaps have their EQ bundled with some other not-so-nice traits (such as the capacity to emotionally manipulate others). We can’t and shouldn’t assume that someone has made it to the top of the totem pole on account of their superior EQ.

The missing C

There is a missing ‘C’: that being ‘context’. What causes a person to respond brilliantly in one skill set may cause them to flounder or self-destruct in another. Upbringing plays an important part as well. 

EQ or sheer opportunism

The late author Truman Capote, when a copy-boy at the prestigious New Yorker magazine, was the only person to make friends with the office dragon who habitually reduced experienced writers to tears. Having grown up with maiden aunts, Capote developed the art of pleasing prickly types, and because the dragon could help him, this made her his friend. 

Was this EQ or sheer opportunism? You be the judge. Capote was a fascinating, celebrated mix of intellectual and emotional acuteness: his unhappy childhood was said to have eventually caught up with him, however, along with being dumped by society friends over his proclivity to gossip.

Capacity for excellent judgement

Perhaps the really salient quality is capacity for excellent judgement. Employment probation periods could be rejigged to provide relevant initial training and upskilling, with tasks devised to allow candidates to demonstrate their potential. You don’t expect a champion athlete to suddenly be great at hurdles, but some tailored training gives that person the opportunity to shine in a new way. Tasks become deliverables, and the employer’s investment achieves mutual benefits larger than imagined.

It’s important to be lifelong learners. We can all improve our emotional intelligence. Balancing social and emotional adeptness with intellect and technical abilities is a clear predictor of potential. Chances of success are enhanced when we are working where we want to be and where there’s strong institutional and societal recognition of the many qualities needed for successful workplaces and lives. 

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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