Emotional intelligence — or EQ, short for emotional intelligence quotient — is defined as the ability to use one’s emotions to full advantage. Emotionally intelligent people have full command of all their social skills (including self-awareness, empathy and the like) and when placed in leadership positions respect others’ views while inspiring outside-the-box thinking.
Additionally, businesses are starting to take notice of the impact that EQ can have on employee productivity and engagement. While gauging “soft skills” during interviews has always been a part of recruitment efforts, many teams are now finding methods of quantifying emotional intelligence and determining if a candidate is a fit for a job based on these factors in addition to practical competencies.
The value of recruiting emotionally intelligent employees makes a lot of sense — turnover can be costly for a company, and retaining an unproductive employee can be just as bad. High-EQ employees are more flexible and easier to slot into teams and adapt to new situations. Agility is a buzzword often bandied about in reference to a business leaving room to innovate and respond to change, and employee agility is the foundation for making this happen.
Defining emotional intelligence can be subjective — particularly in the context of an interview. Even so, there are a few factors to be on the lookout for when evaluating a new candidate. In most cases, it’s easy to apply questions about EQ to the job in question, and the answers to interview questions that are already the industry norm can reveal much about the way an individual would handle an emotional situation.
Contrary to what one may think, stoicism is not the hallmark of a high EQ. On the contrary, individuals with a high EQ are able to express their emotions in a mature manner without letting them get in the way of their decision-making or spurring them to act rashly.
Being able to self-manage empowers individuals to avoid stress and burnout as well as motivate themselves for reasons beyond a simple paycheck. Often, the best self-managers are high performers that are able to operate autonomously.
Every individual is a product of their social conditioning through their upbringing, education, personal connections, and interests. Nobody is completely free of bias, but everybody has the power to critically assess themselves and realize where their blind spots are in regard to their existing mindsets.
While the interview question, “what is your greatest weakness?” has become something of a joke, the idea behind it certainly is not. Instead, a better way to evaluate self-awareness is to ask a candidate about a learning experience they went through or how they believe they improved at something over time.
In any position that requires interaction with other humans, empathy is critical to understand opposing perspectives and connect with others. This is a skill that can be learned and is especially critical for leaders in business. The difference between empathy and being “nice” is that the latter strives to keep up appearances while the former strives to actively understand the other person.
Empathy is also a huge component of relationship management, though more goes into this as well. Social awareness, conflict resolution, and mutual respect can help keep a business moving. In fact, the ability to resolve issues in the workplace succinctly can prevent productivity time lost to hearsay and gossip.
New Ideals for Business
Attitudes toward careers have changed greatly from preceding decades, with modern employees seeking fulfillment from their jobs, not just stability, advancement and earnings. And if they don’t have a position they like, they’re more empowered to leave than ever, as evidenced by the fact that 30% of workers change careers or jobs every 12 months. As the breadth of available career opportunities has widened, younger individuals are more inclined to find a place where they feel committed. Toxicity from leadership and coworkers can sour a job and send employees looking elsewhere.
Business leaders with high EQ can make a workplace more welcoming and meaningful for employees. And again, it’s not just about befriending employees. Leaders should be willing to have difficult conversations with employees and respond to them with empathy even in situations where they’ve made mistakes. In fact, a report from Development Dimensions International (DDI) noted that leaders with empathy scored 40 percent higher in most key management skills.
Be warned that probing into emotional intelligence is not the end-all-be-all for assessing the long-term viability of an employee. EQ can be improved over time and with practice, and often, just taking time to think critically can go a long way. Furthermore, tests tend to be subjective, and careful consideration from businesses is necessary to evaluate the strengths and value of a given candidate or employee.
In any case, an awareness of EQ is crucial to building a strong team and helping leaders connect meaningfully with employees. The modern career is changing, and more than ever, individuals need leadership that fosters a positive environment for them.
Tim Noonan, CEO of Lockton Pacific Series, the world’s largest independent insurance brokerage.
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