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Emotional intelligence: Key to our success

7 min read


I had the recent opportunity to lead a conversation about emotional intelligence, (or emotional quotient — EQ), during a webcast for ATD, the global Association for Talent Development. ATD is a premiere organization that offers extensive training and learning opportunities to its membership of approximately 40,000 executives, managers and associates, and their companies.

The webcast generated great interest with a high number of members participating. Following the webcast, ATD staff and I personally received a great deal of appreciative feedback — people agreed that EQ is essential in the workplace and that EQ is absolutely key to developing high-quality, productive relationships.

There is definitely a thirst for more knowledge about EQ, including how may we get our boss and senior management to recognize that such a focus would improve management and leadership effectiveness.

This led me to write this article, and I very much hope that I do this well. The subject of emotional intelligence is vitally important and essential to our success in business, in our leadership, and also in our happiness outside of our workplace.

Every business is a people business — and business is all about our relationships — whether externally with our clients or internally with co-workers, our internal clients! The better our relationships, the better the quality of our work, and the better our business results.

Of course, these relationships must be genuine; that is, we must really care about our colleagues and want to know their ideas and how they feel, and we have to be encouraging and want to help them succeed.

To improve our EQ, let’s start with the basics. Each of us is comprised of three basic elements: our IQ, our personality and our EQ.

Our relative IQ is stable during our lifetime. If we were born with a potential IQ of, say, 110, we’ll likely die with that IQ, absent an injury causing brain damage. Nor does our personality change. For example, if we are an introvert or an extrovert, we basically will always be. Let’s say I’m really an introvert at heart. I may choose to manage myself, so, for example, I decide that when I enter a crowded reception, I’ll just walk right over to speak with people even though I may be out of my comfort level. Since I know this could be helpful to me, I embolden myself in that moment, even though I am more comfortable in quieter settings.

On the other hand, our emotional intelligence skills can change and be improved. With disciplined practice, we certainly can — and should, I’d offer — build our EQ.

The four basic areas of our emotional intelligence are:

  • Self-awareness: our ability to sense our emotions and understand our tendencies to act in certain ways.
  • Social awareness: our ability to sense the emotions of others, and what they are feeling and thinking, and why, and what they may want and need.
  • Self-management: our ability to use our awareness of our emotions to adapt to our situation and to act as we would like, for example, to respond thoughtfully, not simply react.
  • Relationship management: our ability to use our awareness of emotions, ours, and those of whom we are with, to manage relationships successfully.

It is important to realize that emotional intelligence is the primary determinant of the quality of relationships in our business as well as in our personal lives. Emotional intelligence is often referred to as our soft skills. I have mixed feelings about that, as some may be inclined to downplay the importance of soft skills, and our EQ is very, very important!

Emotional intelligence is having empathy, being able to put ourselves in the shoes of others to sense how they feel and even why they may feel that way. EQ is knowing how to put people at ease, to connect with them and convey the sense that we care. This is how we build genuine relationships founded on respect and trust.

Why is this so important in business?

I’ve read that 70% of people in the workforce do not feel fully engaged, and 40% do not even feel appreciated and valued by their company. Well, how difficult is it to be aware of how our people are doing? To let them know that we do appreciate their work and dedication, and we do want to know their ideas?

Some people in management positions just do not seem to think that they need to let people know that they are valuable team members, and others in management positions are way too busy and do not prioritize internal relations.

And some people in management are pessimists; they view the glass as half-empty. And they carry that negative mindset with them, finding fault in others. Are they helpful and inspiring to their team members? Certainly not.

To be an effective leader, we need to be encouraging and, yes, uplifting. We want to boost people’s confidence and have a can-do attitude. This comes with positive energy, seeing the good and the potential in people, and being enthusiastic. Our EQ skills help us to truly be a highly effective leader.

So, how do we improve our EQ skills? I recommend taking an emotional intelligence assessment. They are readily available online. I have used several and find the easiest to be an online assessment with TalentSmart, whose book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” is a quick easy read. It gives a good basic description of emotional intelligence, offers an assessment that is included with the purchase of the book, and recommended practices to improve specific EQ skills.

I have taken an in-depth EQ assessment and received an extremely thorough analysis summary. Yet, I was satisfied with TalentSmart’s quick assessment. In fact, I felt it was not only easier, it was quite helpful. It gave me a baseline measure of my EQ skills so I could consider which skills were most important for me to strive to improve as that would help me in my business and my relationships.

Another very helpful resource that I highly recommend is “EQ Fitness Handbook: You In Relationship,” published by Learning In Action Technologies. It includes 300 daily practices to help strength our EQ. A few of their provocative descriptions of character traits of good and bad bosses are listed below. These should certainly get our attention!

Good Boss Bad Boss
Great listener Self-centered
Encourager Arrogant
Empathetic Bad temper
Humble Not trusting
Shares authority Intimidates

Both of these books could well be helpful to all of us. Once we have our assessment, we can make a decision. First, do we accept that our emotional intelligence skills will affect our relationships in business and in our personal lives? Secondly, are we ready to make a commitment to be a better teammate and a more highly effective leader? Finally, which skill(s) should we try to improve?

The practices are easy and rewarding, for example — breathing more slowly, smiling and laughing more, listening consciously and patiently, visualizing ourselves succeeding, controlling our self-talk, observing body language, seeking feedback, and numerous other practical steps.

I hope you find this helpful. This is part of my mission as a leadership consultant and coach: to help us all realize that emotional intelligence skills are key to our success and to motivate ourselves to assess our present levels of competence and how we may strive to improve.

John Keyser is the founder and principal of Common Sense Leadership. He works with executives helping them develop organizational cultures that will produce outstanding financial results year after year, and a striving for continuous improvement, theirs and their team’s. E-mail him or call 202-236-2800.