19 October 2017Last updated

Features | People

How to boost your EQ

In today’s fast-changing entrepreneurial world, traditional factors such as technical knowledge and academic intelligence alone may not be enough to help you climb the career ladder. Your emotional quotient may be crucial too, says Sarah Gibbons

Sarah Gibbons
2 Sep 2016 | 12:00 am
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If you’ve held any kind of leadership role in your organisation, the chances are you were selected on the basis of your technical skills and intellectual background. For the past 100 years, organisations have been keen to focus on the IQ of those they hire, particularly into managerial positions.

The thinking has been that if you’re clever, you’re ‘smart’, and a suitable candidate to help lead the firm to future success.

But what if less intelligent people were actually better for a company and its chances of outperforming its rivals?

Cue the rise and rise of EQ – emotional quotient – and a realisation that in the modern, entrepreneurial world such as the one taking a firm hold in the UAE, traditional intelligence might be overrated and quite often is a distraction from the skills you really need to get to the top.

In their book, The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, psychologist Dr Steven J Stein and psychiatrist Howard E Book described EQ, a measure of an individual’s levels of emotional intelligence, as ‘the set of skills that enable us to make our way in a complex world – the personal, social and survival aspects of overall intelligence, the elusive common sense 
and sensitivity that are essential to effective daily functioning. It has to do with the ability to read the political and social environment, and landscape them; to intuitively grasp what others want and need, what strengths and weaknesses are; to remain unruffled by stress; and to be engaging. The kind of person others want to be around and will follow.’

Essentially it is about being aware of your own feelings and those of others, regulating these feelings in yourself and others, using emotions that are appropriate to the situation, self-motivation, and building relationships.

And looking around us at successful colleagues, or considering those bosses who are good managers of people, it is easy to see how those features manifest themselves in our work lives.

And stepping outside the boardroom or indeed, any work environment, we can see how it’s possible to transfer those qualities to social and family situations too.

Historically, leading companies have believed in hiring the cream of the crop, the brightest sparks from the top universities. But increasing numbers of smarter organisations are now going down the ‘blind selection’ process – ignoring a candidate’s education history and focusing on other elements of his/her personality that shine through in the application process.

And any fears they had about a lower calibre of new recruits have been unfounded as their workforce has developed a different – but at least as successful – dynamic.

Bosses have started to realise that any connection between academic success and extraordinary job performance is limited.

‘From the shop floor to the top floor, people need EQ,’ says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology 
and health at Manchester Business School in the UK.

‘Organisations shouldn’t go for the iconic degree status in applicants, but unfortunately a lot still do. EQ should be a major characteristic you’re looking for if you’re hiring someone for any kind of managerial role. Most organisations have fewer people doing more work so having emotional intelligence is more important when they are under enormous pressure.

‘People need a sufficient amount of knowledge for a job but the added thing they need to manage people effectively is EQ. Too much emphasis has been placed on performance and technical skills but they have often been gained through fear management – command and control.

‘This gets results in the short term but isn’t sustainable for staff retention and development and the costs to an organisation are huge in terms of staff rehiring and training.’

Research conducted by the Carnegie Institute of Technology in the US concluded that 85 per cent of one’s financial success is due to skills in ‘human engineering – personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead’ while just 15 per cent is based on technical knowledge.

Says international management expert Keld Jensen: ‘The understanding and appreciation of EI and behavioural economics is still lacking when hiring individuals.

‘A famous quote says that you are hired on skills and fired due to lack of communication.’

IQ, basically a measurement of cognitive ability, tends to develop up to our teenage years and then remains static. It might help you personally, but not necessarily those with whom you interact on a regular basis.

Good decision-making and personal relationship-building require more than this trait. However, EQ can continue developing and, indeed, can be trained in individuals to help enhance the ways they interact with others.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of the international bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, says effective leaders succeed by building relationships, recognising their own emotions, responding to the needs of others and by revealing their own mistakes. People with high levels of EQ are optimistic, self-aware, empathetic, don’t exhibit knee-jerk reactions, and are able to see things as they are, not as we want them to be.

If it’s a leadership role you crave, try some of the following tips suggested by experts:

Be observant: Look out for clues suggesting any kind of emotional turmoil affecting those around you, such as appearing distracted or quieter than usual.

Ask questions: If you notice any of those clues, ask the individual if they’re OK. They might say everything’s fine – but equally, they might just open up to you.

Walk a mile in another person’s shoes: If that person shares their issues with you, stop to think how you’d feel in that situation.

Value people – and let them know: Express concern, interest, understanding.

‘If you’re just setting out on the career ladder, expose yourself to any training opportunities where you’ll find out about yourself,’ says professor Cooper. ‘Courses on mindfulness, for example, make you reflect on who you are’.

Recognising, developing and maximising these traits in yourself and your staff is how great leaders emerge and help leave the competition languishing behind.

Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t, even if the likeable person is offering a lower-quality product or service at a higher price.

And there is a tangible benefit to an organisation’s bottom line, Keld Jensen says. ‘Many studies prove that companies with a focus on EI outperform companies solely focused on IQ.’

Professor Cooper adds: ‘When we perform workplace well-being audits, you can see EQ levels instantly. You can see how one division/team perceive their manager and compare it with another to see the levels.’

Tips for recruitment managers

Professor Cary Cooper and Keld Jensen both recommend group interviews over one-to-one or panel Q and As.

  • Keld says: ‘There are a number of very good EQ assessments that really describe the candidate very well. Besides that, role play or tasks are often more efficient than only basing a decision on an interview.’
  • Cooper says: ‘Group interviews are a good way to measure EQ. You can set a role-play scenario for applicants or give them a task and see how everyone reacts to each other and managing them.’ It’s difficult to fake it – ‘real characters come out very quickly.’
  • Recruitment managers, say experts, should be on the lookout for people exhibiting self-awareness – they recognise how their feelings affect them, those around them and their performance at work; confident yet aware of their own limitations.
  • A good interview question is to ask about a time that the interviewee got carried away by their emotions and did something they later regretted. The self-aware person will be open and frank with their answers. Be aware of those who stall or try to avoid the question, seem irritated, or frustrated by the question. An ability to self-regulate emotions is a strength you should seek in an applicant – someone who reacts upon their negative feelings will be a disruptive influence and create bad feelings in the team.
  • Look for someone showing reflection, comfort with change and who doesn’t have all the answers. He/she will take a 
little time before answering interview questions.
  • Empathy is another important trait to look for when recruiting. Someone who has empathy will have an awareness of the feelings of others and take into consideration the impact they’ll have. Ask a candidate about a situation where a co-worker was angry with them and how they dealt with it. Look for a willingness to understand the reason for the colleague’s anger, even if they don’t agree with it.
  • Highly developed social skills are vital in the workplace as they encourage and enhance teamwork and networking. To assess social skills in an interview, ask questions related to projects and difficulties encountered around varying agendas, temperaments, and getting people to buy in. And for those already in an organisation, professor Cooper says it’s important to offer training to develop levels of EQ – for the benefit of individuals but also the bottom line.
Sarah Gibbons

Sarah Gibbons