Emotions at Work

Emotions at Work

We are emotional beings first and intellectual ones second, say researchers. That’s why developing your emotional intelligence is so important

Reader ROI

  • Why emotional intelligence is an important skill for managers to cultivate
  • How EI can help an organization's productivity
  • A quiz to test your EI

Emotional intelligence and "soft" skills are musts for today's CIOs and other IT workers. From entry-level coders to those in the C-suite, few people have the luxury of a lone wolf mentality. Research shows it's your soft skills and emotional intelligence (EI) that determines everything from whether you get promoted to how happy you are at work. Luckily, with knowledge, awareness and practice, you can boost your EI.

Although we may think we don't or shouldn't bring our emotional selves to work, the truth is a bit different. For one thing, people want to hire, promote and simply be around people they like, those who are confident, even-keeled, optimistic, committed, trustworthy. Think of a boss you loved and one you hated and think why. Chances are in neither case was technical ability the determining factor of how you felt, says Daniel Goleman, co-chairman of The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. "One had EI and the other didn't."

Scientists continue looking into the nuances of emotional intelligence in the workplace, but by the late 1990s research had established its baseline importance. For example, one-third of the difference between average and top performers was due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds was due to emotional competence, according to a study by Goleman of 200 companies worldwide. In top leadership positions, that difference was four-fifths. In another study of a global food and beverage company, divisions led by emotionally intelligent senior managers (as measured by Goleman's research tools) outperformed yearly earnings goals by 20 percent. "If you look at specific abilities, competencies that set star performers apart from average ones, technical skill is not even in the top three," says Goleman.

Think about what you have seen at work. "A lot of people write code," says Richard Boyatzis, chairman of the department of organizational behaviour at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. "But who gets listened to? Who is asked to work on the product development team? It's not the brainiest, but the person who works well with others." Start talking C-suite and the soft side matters even more.

"A lot of promotion is based on technical ability," says Jim Clemmer, leadership consultant and speaker, but "the higher on the ladder you go, the more important soft skills and emotional intelligence becomes".

None of this implies that everybody should be exactly the same or that you must be "touchy-feely" or even that you need to be an extrovert (although some outgoingness helps to connect with others). Not everybody will have the same strengths in the same way. As Boyatzis notes, "There is an intervening issue called style."

"At its most basic, emotional intelligence is, literally, the intelligent use of emotions," says Boyatzis.

That may sound easy, but when harried by deadlines and traffic or faced with your own or someone else's unpleasant emotions, being emotionally intelligent can be easier said than done.

Structured programs exist to boost emotional intelligence. They typically include a special 360-degree review or observations of you by specialists, as well as targeted workshops. The Emotional Intelligence Consortium is a good resource for emotional intelligence research information, including programs that focus on boosting an organization's emotional intelligence. But other endeavours can help you in the quest to use your emotions intelligently and strengthen your soft skills. Here are four to start with.

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