What is Emotional Intelligence?
What is Emotional Intelligence? Why does it matter so much for modern managers and leaders? Why does it make good sense to get a handle on it?
Some people get it and thrive. Some get it and for one reason or another don’t use it. Others don’t get it at all and never will. I spent many years of my life clueless about EI and it showed. Life was a mystery because I didn’t get people and they didn’t get me. If anything worked well it was more through dumb luck than skill. Fortunately, I was introduced to the concept of EI and my life changed for the better.
Knowing about something isn’t enough. I had to understand it, embrace it and apply it. It’s a work in progress and I’m no guru. Just someone doing the best he can in a complex world.
In relation to EI and the workplace, there are four types of people involved. The ones who have high EI already often assume everyone else already understands it; they therefore feel no real need to explain it. There are the ones who don’t have it and couldn’t care less about anyone else anyway. Then there are the ones who do get EI and are keen to inform and help others and there are the ones who want to get it but don’t know where to start. This whirlwind tour article is for the last two types and especially the last type.
The definition of Emotional Intelligence we’ll use:
In a nutshell, I define having well-developed emotional intelligence as:
“Possessing a well-developed ability and willingness to closely and honestly monitor our internal emotional states and take full control of them and full responsibility for them. At the same time, we need an ability and willingness to monitor the emotional states of other people and to take full responsibility for carefully managing our relationships with those people.”
That’s it really. Were you expecting more? It is easy enough to define but takes a lot of effort to get right. So many people don’t get it right because they can’t be arsed to put the work in. It’s an ongoing commitment toward excellence.
One of the most important words in that definition is “willingness.” If you can’t be bothered with the work and effort, then please stop reading this right now and search elsewhere for the lazy route. There is no magic-bullet and no easy answer. EI is indeed a learnable skill; but the process of learning takes effort and commitment. You really do need to be motivated.
A down and dirty look at Emotional Intelligence
Again, the article is a whistle-stop tour of the four elements of EI and is designed to provide some awareness to get you started. I have produced four more articles to expand on each section.
Take emotional intelligence very seriously. Nurture it and develop it in yourself and others.
Why does Emotional Intelligence matter to you anyway?
Emotional intelligence is vital for everyone. It defines how well you know yourself and control yourself and it defines how well you get on with others. If you’re any sort of modern people manager or leader, you’ll be expected to possess an elevated level of emotional intelligence. You should ideally be constantly looking to improve it. You are also expected to identify and nurture EI in your staff and teams. The measure of your emotional intelligence level is known as your Emotional Quotient or EQ. This measure of EQ is now considered more important than the traditional measurement of intelligence or IQ.
From an organisational perspective, emotionally intelligent people are seen as more influential, better team leaders, more politically astute, calmer under pressure, better decision makers, less stressed, more creative, more self-confident, more self-driven and more able to drive others. They see people with these attributes as the rising stars and the people with the most potential. You’d like some of this right? Absolutely. The answer is to become more emotionally intelligent.
The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learnt and developed by almost anyone. If you do this you will possess a remarkable set of transferable set of skills and mindsets. Elevating your EI levels will have a positive benefit throughout the whole of your life.
The effects of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace
Here’s the problem. Many of the professional people I encounter in my coaching and training work have a poor understanding of their own emotional intelligence levels. They also have a poor understanding of what is meant by Emotional Intelligence as a concept. This is a real concern as the negative effects can be highly detrimental and costly. Get it right however and the positive benefits are huge.
The organisational effects of low Emotional Intelligence
Managers and leaders with low levels of emotional intelligence tend to handle people poorly and have little understanding about other people. They tend to create high stress levels, high staff turnover rates, low productivity and low quality of output. They can even create elevated levels in sickness and HR legal problems. At work, this costs you or your business real money. They generally, but unfortunately not always, do poorly themselves.
The organisational effects of high Emotional Intelligence
Good managers and leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence tend to do the exact opposite. Such managers and leaders can make you or your business real money. They are generally more successful in their own right as well.
On a personal level a high level of emotional intelligence enables us to negotiate life with more ease and success. We understand ourselves well, we can curb our excesses and we can play to our strengths. We can build solid relationships and people both like us and want to be with us. Life is generally better with high emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence in a nutshell
There are four main components or pillars to EI:
- Understanding others
- Managing relationships
That’s it, plain and simple. These four elements cover pretty much everything you do in your life and work regarding interpersonal interactions and self-development. All well and good but what can you do in the real world now you know this? What does this mean for you?
There is a lot of complex theory, ideas and downright nonsense flying about regarding emotional intelligence. I’ll make this information as plain and straightforward as I can and keep it on a practical level.
This is the first pillar of emotional intelligence and it is the key to it all. You are the centre of your universe. If you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and fully acknowledge and accept your true, warts and all, self then the rest of your life will be inauthentic at best. Even if you learn to get on well with others, your lack of knowledge or ownership of your own core being will leave you with a sense of incompleteness and imbalance. In my experience others can sense this fundamental lack in you and they will treat you differently as a result.
It can be scary diving into our self
This search for true self-awareness takes courage, commitment and massive honesty. I’m not suggesting you go and sit cross-legged on top of a mountain to meditate for years on end. I am suggesting you begin to identify your true strengths and weaknesses, your true values and beliefs and your true desires and fears. Work with a coach, friend or trusted adviser if you need to. Seek honest feedback and accept it with gratitude. Do whatever you need to do to learn more about the true you because it will allow you to move forward.
Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it even possible? Well, I’m still searching for my true self, so I can’t answer that one for you I’m afraid. In truth, you may never find the absolute true you. However, if you try hard enough, you will find enough truth to work some wonders with.
The second pillar of emotional intelligence is the regulation of oneself. Once you begin to discover and uncover this true version of yourself, you will then begin to realise certain behaviours, thoughts and emotions which are somewhat less than helpful to both you and others. You may discover beneficial traits and thought processes which you might not have realised you had. In order to improve your emotional intelligence, you will now need to work on regulating or controlling any unhelpful attributes and ideally boosting your more helpful attributes.
There is always something to work on
Once again, this is easier said than done. Do you have a lack of focus or attention? How about procrastination? What about really needing to lose weight or get fitter? Are you a perfectionist? Maybe a little too passive-aggressive perhaps? Are you lonely? Perhaps you lose your temper easily? Do you need more assertiveness? What about your fear of conflict? How are you going to address these and any other issues you might have?
What really stops you doing what you know needs to be done? Is it time? Is it money? Or is really laziness? Perhaps it is all three or even none of the above. Only once you become aware of your deep true self, which we looked at in the previous section, can you work on the true core issues?
The third emotional intelligence pillar is developing an understanding of others. When you get right down to it, other people can be confusing and strange. It can be hard enough to try and figure out what makes us tick but once other people get involved in any part of our lives and work, it can get very messy and complicated. Life would be technically easier without other people, but it would be a lonely and essentially pointless existence. We need other people and generally we like other people, so it makes sense to understand them.
The big problem is that everyone is as unique in their way as you are in yours.
There is always some good news
The good news is, although each one of us is truly unique, we can also be usefully categorised and bundled in quite general ways. These broad-brush definitions and classifications are not truly accurate, but they are incredibly useful ways to inform our own thoughts about and behaviour toward the other people we interact with. They could be said to be intentional and well-meant stereotypes. With a little study and practice you can become very adept at recognising these broad categories. At this point you can then adapt your communication and behaviour to get the best from any encounter with them.
Even if you don’t like other people very much, learning to understand what makes them who they are can greatly elevate you as a communicator and leader.
Managing relationships with others
Managing relationships with others is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence.
“No person is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent.” John Donne said this, although I have changed the quote a little for reasons of gender correctness – the 16th and 17th century world of John Donne was markedly different too our enlightened utopia.
Relationships really do matter
The truth of his statement is unaltered. You need to build solid and effective relationships with other people in all areas of your life and work. All of us need to develop strong personal and professional networks. We also need to be able to operate effectively as key elements in the networks of others.
When the first three pillars of emotional intelligence are firmly in place we can then begin to create and successfully manage such relationships and networks.
Our friendships, family connections and working relationships can define us. Modern life is nigh on impossible without them. Even if it were possible to live entirely alone and isolated, for myself at least, it would be a miserable and pointless life.
Begin at the beginning
The order the emotional intelligence elements are in place is the order in which to then develop them for best results. Firstly, make sure that every element is in place then try and balance them in terms of level. If you are poor at managing relationships for example and relatively happy with the other key elements, then start by developing your ability to manage relationships. Completeness and uniformity of ability is the first step.
Secondly, once the elements are in place and broadly level, you can begin to consider bringing the level of all four up to as high a level as you can without overdoing any one area.
There will always be a tendency to lead and lag on elements in any such endeavour but don’t stick to your favourites or strong areas at the expense of others. Using the relationship element again, if you hate talking to new people or even talking to friends and colleagues, don’t let it hold you back. Do not simply become a very self-aware observer of others. Be brave and break through your barriers. Make connections with them somehow. Seek tuition, coaching or support and force (or regulate) yourself to get out there and do it anyway.
This is a basic introduction. It is a practical overview at best. There is always more to learn and absorb. Like life itself, developing emotional intelligence is a journey of discovery.
I’m going to be blunt here. Leaders are readers so educate yourself and become informed. Learn all you need to know about emotional intelligence and its implications. This applies to all your life.
Life isn’t a spectator sport
Don’t wait to be spoon fed. Too many people do that so stand out from your crowd and get the knowledge. If printed books are not your thing then get audio book versions. If video is your thing then seek out the information on www.TED.com or YouTube. Go on a course or hire a coach. Whatever you do, make sure you get the information you need. You owe it to yourself and your staff to be the very best leader and manager you can be.
I recommend you start with the work of Daniel Goleman who popularised the rise of EI with his book Emotional Intelligence then seek out the myriad of associated online resources.
Once you have the theoretical knowledge, start to experiment and grow. Begin to apply the knowledge practically in the real world. Make mistakes then reflect, learn and move on. Try new things out. Seek coaching and training and try them out again. Seek feedback. Increase your own emotional intelligence and help others do the same. The effort is worth it.
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