If you’re yet to come across emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, it probably won’t be long before you do.
A relatively new concept, EQ has been growing in notoriety in professional and academic spheres since American psychologist Daniel Goleman popularised the term in his eponymous 1995 bestselling book. Furthermore, backed by impressive marketing budgets, multinational companies are also extolling the virtues of EQ by integrating it into their staff development.
What is EQ?
Simply put, EQ is the ability to identify emotions (both in yourself and others), to understand their powerful effect, and then to use that information to guide thinking and behaviour. “It’s about managing emotions so they work for you, instead of against you,” says Justin Bariso, a columnist for Inc.com and the author of the forthcoming book Proactive: A Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence for Everyday Life.
Meanwhile, Daniel Goleman has proposed an EQ framework consisting of five key elements:
- Self-awareness: Understanding your emotions and trusting your intuition. Being able to honestly self-evaluate for strengths and weaknesses.
- Self-regulation: Controlling your emotions and impulses. Able to think before acting.
- Motivation: You love a challenge, you’re also productive and effective. Willing to defer short-term results for long-term success.
- Empathy: You can identify with and understand the wants, needs, viewpoints and challenges of others. Probably the second-most important point behind self-awareness.
- Social skills: You’re a good team-player who is easily liked and keen to put the success and development of others before your own. Good at managing relationships and excellent at communicating.
Yet despite the obvious appeal of such virtues in professional and personal life, EQ is still poorly understood by many, with even experts disagreeing on its application, says Justin. “It differs from other strategies in that it addresses a basic building block: not only do we all have emotions, but those emotions play a large part in everyone’s daily decision-making. So strategies for sharpening EQ really can and should be applied by anyone.”
EQ in action
There are many ways in which having EQ can be a positive force, including improving leadership skills, making you a better team-player, helping you fit in with differing cultures across organisations and by generally making you a more likeable colleague (and, more broadly, person).
Yet while it’s an easy enough concept to grasp, EQ can be extremely challenging in practice. “You’re dealing with behaviors that have been formed over years, it definitely requires constant work. But change is possible and it can make a huge difference in our lives,” says Justin.
Such as making you more likeable? “Yes, definitely,” he says. “But people will use EQ in different ways; it’s all about managing emotions to reach your personal goals. For example, few people would classify Apple’s late founder Steve Jobs as emotionally intelligent, because of the reputation he had for critical behavior. But Jobs knew how to use emotions to reach a large audience, and to inspire the people working for him… although I’m not sure those close colleagues would have called him likeable.”
As for making you a more accomplished leader, increasing your EQ can help you inspire others by saying and doing just the right things at just the right times, says Justin, and in contrast, learn how to keep yourself in check, which reduces those “what was I thinking” moments.
A few caveats
EQ does not come without a few misconceptions and warnings. There is a dark side to EQ. It can be used for bad just as easily as it can be used for good. “A despot may be extremely skilled at playing on others’ emotions. Of course, this is manipulative and deplorable. But it’s also another reason we should each work to increase our own EQ, so that we don’t become victims,” says Justin.
How to improve EQ
As Justin mentions, EQ is universally accessible but requires continuous attention. There are plenty of resources online to help you learn more about EQ. But for the beginner, career coaching specialists MindTools have identified several first steps you can take to begin improving your emotional intelligence:
- Observe how you react to people
- Look at your work environment
- Do a self-evaluation
- Examine how you react to stressful situations
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Examine how your actions will affect others before you take those actions
Justin Bariso is an award-winning author and management thinker. LinkedIn named him one of the Top Voices for management and culture for 2015. He’s also a columnist for Inc.com and the author of the forthcoming book Proactive: A Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence for Everyday Life.
Justin’s free newsletter sign-up: http://www.insight-global.de/newsletter/
Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.