It’s February, the month we associate with love and relationships. Both are more successful when the parties have a healthy dose of emotional intelligence (EQ), defined as the ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of others. EQ is also a key leadership skill improving relationships at work. People with high EQ are not only cognizant of another’s emotions; they are able to respond appropriately and connect with people at a deeper level making them better executives and better romantic partners.
Emotional Intelligence is also set to become more important given our increasing dependence on technology. Artificial intelligence affects how those in business operate and how those in relationships communicate. As we lose the ‘human touch’ in the name of efficiency, we need to consciously create connections by being aware of how others might feel and being empathetic. Using these uniquely human skills cements a bond between lovers and creates a competitive advantage in business. While significant today, it is imperative for success tomorrow. However, things are currently moving in the wrong direction. The higher up the ranks you go inside a company, the lower the EQ scores. A study of 1 million people by TalentSmart found that CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace.
Research also shows that as people’s wealth increases, their compassion and empathy decrease. Those highest on the ladder of life, lose touch with the daily challenges, aspirations and emotions of people at lowest rungs. This explains why research finds power reduces concern for others. Poor people are more likely to be generous with money and to stop for pedestrians in the street. Little surprise – they’re often more in touch with what it means to struggle and to be without a car.
Some (including Obama) believe that having more women in leadership is the answer. In Dec 2017 he was quoted saying that “men seem to be having some problem these days”. His comments are valid as many studies show that women have more emotional intelligence than men.
Why would this be? In the same way that people with wealth and power don’t have to worry about other’s feelings so their EQ goes down, women have depended on men for safety and sustenance so their EQ has gone up. Living with an inferior position in a patriarchal society means that women’s very survival has depended upon what is going on in another’s mind so they have paid keen attention. I can vouch for this, having worked for nearly three decades in a corporate environment. Underlings spent a good deal of time trying to infer the whims of the king (or CEO) while every action and example proved that he was only thinking of the world from his perspective.
Additionally, from the time they are born girls are programmed to openly express their feelings while boys are socialized to ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ and repress theirs. Being empathetic means that you can understand another’s emotions but if you have been trained to ignore your feelings because they are considered ‘weak’ it will be hard to identify with how another might be feeling and reacting. Thus, men are at a disadvantage and women’s higher EQ is not due to their nature, it has developed in response to their socialization and environment. The good news is that this isn’t set in stone. Anyone can improve their EQ and here are a couple of suggestions to do that:
1) Show Others You Care – While there are many ways to increase your EQ, the most basic element is to take the time to show others that you care. Ask how they are doing and then… really listen to the answers. In group meetings at work, rather than passing others over to reach a resolution or decision, try instead, to draw out thoughts from those less vocal co-workers. The increased time spend conceptualizing is likely to pay long-term dividends because of the wider range of ideas that will be available to you. Also, make active-listening a priority in your personal life. Really focus on what your partner is saying and write it down if need be. There is nothing more validating than being heard.
2) Be Conscious of Unspoken Communication – Start noticing body language and facial expressions. People in positions of power generally like a mental challenge, so I encourage leaders to go into meetings with a specific plan to observe how people are sitting, standing, etc. Try to conclude what they’re thinking and feeling. After the meeting, don’t be afraid to bring up any questions you may have about their reactions on a one-on-one basis. For example, a leader may say, “I got the impression that you may not be fully on board with this idea. Is that the case? What might we do to help get you on board?” Most of us demonstrate greater EQ when we are speaking to children. If you want to be in their comfort zone, and coax a shy little person, you’ll want to lower yourself to or beneath their eye level, tilt your head a little to the side and use a soft voice. This body language was used successfully in the Hollywood cop thrillers of the 80’s and 90’s. After a brutal interrogation by the ‘bad cop’ the ‘good cop’ would show up and using a nurturing approach coax the information out of the suspect. The ‘good cop; plays well in personal relationships as well.
Emotional intelligence is not only associated with better performance at work, it can provide more satisfying personal relationships as well. Though it takes time and effort, EQ has the capacity to provide the long-term lasting relationships that each of us wants for Valentine’s Day. The payoff is worth it both at work and at home.