Management by Coaching
What's your EQ?
Emotional intelligence ranks with intelligence, technical skills and hard work
By Kimberly Paterson, CEC
What if I told you there was a skill that could help you double your income and significantly improve the performance of the people you manage? Whether I've triggered your enthusiasm, your skepticism, or curiosity, take a minute and consider the facts.
No one will dispute that intelligence, technical skills and hard work clearly play a critical role in success. That said, there is mounting evidence that one's emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) is a key determinant of one's performance on the job.
An insurance industry research study revealed that producers high in emotional intelligence generated 53% more in sales than producers who were low in emotional intelligence. A multinational consulting firm found that partners who were high in emotional intelligence were responsible for $1.2 million more in profit than their partners who rated lowest in emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence plays an extremely important role at the leadership level. When Ph.D. Daniel Goleman compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership, nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence skills rather than their cognitive capabilities or technical skills.
The good news is, unlike IQ which is fixed early in life, EQ is a skill that can be learned and increased over a lifetime.
What is EQ?
Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.
Some people believe that emotions have no place at the office. Business is business and we should keep "touchy feely" stuff like "emotions" out of the workplace. Whether we like it or not, emotions are in the workplace. It is well documented that we often make decisions based on gut level emotions and then look for facts to support those decisions.
Emotions influence the behavior we display to others including our tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. Emotions influence our performance. Contrast how we perform when we're feeling bored, frustrated, distracted or annoyed with someone with when we're feeling positive, satisfied or optimistic.
What is important to understand is that, biologically speaking, our brains are hardwired to give our emotions the upper hand. We experience things emotionally before our reason can kick in. That is because everything we see, smell, hear, taste and touch travels through our bodies in the form of electrical signals. They pass through our limbic system along the way—where emotions are produced—long before they reach the place in the brain where rational, logical thinking takes place.
Emotional intelligence is the communication between our emotional and rational brain. The more developed our emotional intelligence skills are, the more effective we are at controlling them and using them to our advantage.
Components of emotional intelligence at work
Various experts and assessment tools label the components of emotional intelligence slightly differently. That said, there are four basic skills that most experts agree on.
1. Self-awareness. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one's emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. People with strong self-awareness are honest with themselves and others. They recognize how their feelings affect them, other people and their job performance. They are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful.
For example, a self-aware agency owner knows he does his best work under pressure. But he also realizes that when he is under pressure he becomes uncommunicative and impatient with the people around him. The self-aware leader recognizes his behavior pattern and the impact it has on his people. He acknowledges his behavior openly and takes constructive action to communicate with staff ahead of time about his inaccessibility during these times. He puts a procedure in place to manage any emergencies that may surface and takes time to reconnect with his people after the crisis is over.
Self-awareness also extends to understanding one' s values and goals. Self-aware leaders know where they are headed and why, and they make decisions accordingly. Persons who lack self-awareness are liable to make decisions that go against their values, which in the long-run creates inner turmoil. For example, take an agency principal who sets a very high bar for performance but, in order to quickly fill a much-needed position, hires an employee who is okay, but not great. That person will never meet her high standards and will likely be an ongoing source of friction.
Self-aware people recognize and are comfortable talking about their limitations and strengths. They know their capabilities and are less likely to set themselves up for failure. They tend to be equally capable of doing the same for organizations in which they work.
2. Self-management. Self-management isn't repressing or denying our emotions. It is being constantly aware of our emotions, controlling them and ideally finding a useful way to channel them. Self-management skills help us stay in control of our temper, keep calm and focused in stressful situations and remain productive when experiencing strong emotions such as anger, excitement and anxiety. It requires that we can put momentary needs on hold to pursue our larger, more important goals. Our commitment to self-management always will be tested.
Although self-management is important for all professionals, it is especially important for leaders. Leaders who are in control of their feelings and impulses are reasonable. They are able to create working environments where there is a sense of stability, trust and fairness. Office politics and infighting are reduced and productivity is high. Equally important, self-management has a trickle-down effect. No one wants to be known as a hothead when the boss is known for his calm, measured approach.
3. Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of others and treat them according to their emotional reactions. Having empathy doesn't mean adopting others' emotions, trying to please everyone or allowing feelings of sympathy to cloud one's judgment. In the workplace, empathy means thoughtfully considering employees' feelings—along with other factors—while making intelligent business decisions.
Consider this example of empathy in action. Two agencies were facing a shortfall in income resulting from the loss of several of their largest accounts. Both felt they had no choice but to let two of their employees go. Depressed and uncomfortable about having to share the bad news, Don, the principal of one of the agencies, gathered his employees together and gave a gloomy speech about the financial challenges the agency was facing and the need to lay off two employees.
When asked who would pick up the slack in the handling of their accounts, Don said they would be divided among the remaining staff and that people were just going to have to work harder and more efficiently. When approached later by one of his department managers who had concerns about employee morale, he responded, "They should be happy that they still have their jobs."
Caroline, the principal of the other agency, took a different approach. Her intuition told her that rumors were already circulating about the impending lay-offs. She had one-on-one conversations with several influential members of the staff to learn what employees were saying and feeling.
That afternoon when she gathered her people together, she began her conversation by addressing what she understood employees were worrying about. She didn't soft pedal the reality of the agency's situation, but she showed that she understood and cared about her employees' feelings. She emphasized that the departing employees would be treated fairly. She stressed that everyone would work together to get through the crisis. She reminded the group about the challenges they'd overcome in the past. She expressed confidence that the agency would overcome the loss and get back on track.
Six months later morale was at an all-time low in Don's agency. Employees were defecting and the firm continued to lose commercial accounts. At Caroline's agency, morale was strong and they were optimistic about winning a very large and high-profile account in their community. Both principals faced the same reality, but their vastly different levels of empathy led to dramatically different results.
4. Social skill. Social skill is a person's ability to manage relationships with others. But in the context of emotional intelligence, it's not just a matter of friendliness. Here, social skill is friendliness with a purpose—moving people in the direction you desire, whether that's enthusiasm for a new technology or agreement on new sales goals. Social skill is essential in leading change, persuading others, and in building and leading teams.
Socially skilled people tend to have a wide circle of acquaintances, and they have a knack for finding common ground with people of all kinds and building rapport. That doesn't mean they socialize continually; it means they work according to the assumption that nothing important gets done alone. Such people have a network in place when the time for action comes. Social skill is the culmination of the other dimensions of emotional intelligence. People tend to be very effective at managing relationships when they can understand and control their own emotions and can empathize with the feelings of others.
Increasing your emotional intelligence
Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves have tested 500,000 business professionals for emotional intelligence. Their research shows that only 36% of people tested are able to accurately identify their emotions as they are happening. That suggests that two-thirds of us are controlled by our emotions and are not yet skilled at spotting them and using them to our advantage.
In my coaching experience with insurance professionals, most have a significant opportunity for increasing their emotional intelligence. They may have good skills in one area, but a very small percentage of professionals have strong skills in all four.
Just how skilled are you and your key people when it comes to emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence has become a huge topic in business circles as well as in academia. As a result, there is a wealth of resources from free, simplified assessments you can take online to more detailed and personalized assessments. There are also workshops, books and articles on the subject.
In tough economic times, emotional intelligence is a critical skill for leaders in attracting and keeping quality people and motivating people to perform at their highest levels. In a competitive marketplace where price and product differences are hard to find, a producer's emotional intelligence skills are often the difference between winning and losing. It once was thought that the components of emotional intelligence were "nice to have." But we now know that these are ingredients that top performers "need to have."
Kimberly Paterson is a business and Certified Energy Leadership Coach. She is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com), where she works with insurance organizations to build the vision, strategy, customer insight and leadership skills to energize people and achieve outstanding results. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.