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People Skills: A New Yardstick for Growth

“People Skills: A New Yardstick for Growth”

Emotional intelligence can help gauge workplace success.

Emotional intelligence may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s no joke. Emotions convey a wealth of information, and tapping that reservoir can enhance your business decisions, management savvy and creative thinking. In fact, some experts believe that emotional intelligence is what separates high-growth entrepreneurs from mediocre ones.

Throughout the centuries, there’s been ongoing tension between reason and emotion. The stoics of ancient Greece regarded feelings as being too individual or self-centered to be reliable; in their opinion, the wise person admitted no emotion. That’s quite a contrast to 18th century European romantics who believed feelings could produce insights that logic couldn’t.

In the workplace, emotions traditionally have been stifled and viewed as disruptive. But there’s a growing recognition that highly successful businesspeople aren’t merely smart or technically competent, but possess special "people skills." Though vague, "people skills" boils down to emotional intelligence — the ability to reason with and about emotions. It’s a set of abilities, separate from general intelligence, which helps you recognize and understand your feelings and the feelings of others.

Purists vs. Popularists

Psychology professors John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey pioneered the study of emotional intelligence with an academic paper in 1990 that contained the first formal definition of emotional intelligence. They explain emotional intelligence as: "the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual thought."

In 1995 Daniel Goleman popularized the topic with his book "Emotional Intelligence," and since then, dozens of other authors have jumped on the bandwagon.

Yet popular authors have stretched the definition of emotional intelligence to include other personality traits such as persistence, optimism and warmth. Purists view this as using a new term to sell old-fashioned personality research and prediction.

Popular authors also have inflated the impact of emotional intelligence, suggesting that it’s a magic bullet — as important, or even more important, than general intelligence. Yet there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Purists say that brains and technical competency are still important, but high emotional intelligence can give you a competitive edge.

Another point of contention: Popularists maintain that emotional intelligence can be learned, while purists compare it to IQ. You may not be able to raise your score, but you can learn new emotional skills.

Both camps agree that emotional intelligence broadens our understanding of what it means to be smart. It’s an integration of head and heart, an important new aspect of personality that hasn’t been assessed before.

Four Branches of E-IQ

Mayer and Salovey break down emotional intelligence into four branches. An individual might be high in some branches and low in others.

  1. Identifying emotions accurately. This is the starting point. You can’t analyze feelings if you’re not tuned in to them. What’s more, you must be able to accurately identify emotions. Many people consider themselves to be emotionally perceptive, but they’re actually reading the wrong message.

    Emotions register in facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and even works of art. For example, you may be involved in a meeting where someone is trying to negotiate a deal. Something tells you that the other party is not leveling with you. Perhaps the person seems nervous; the look in his eyes doesn’t match the smile on his face. Whatever the cue, it raises a yellow flag in your mind. If you have high emotional intelligence, you can trust that gut feeling.

  2. Facilitating emotions. This is the ability to create and use emotions to achieve a certain outcome or improve your cognitive processes. Charismatic leaders score high in this branch; they are able to motivate people or get them to rally behind a cause.

    Different tasks require different moods. If you’re brainstorming about new product ideas, you need an upbeat mood. However, if you’re working on a budget, you’ll want to be more subdued. Indeed, emotional intelligence isn’t about being happy and having a smile pasted on your face. Being negative can sometimes be the intelligent thing to do.

    Facilitating emotions is also important for empathy. Being able to generate a feeling that someone else is experiencing can help you see things from their point of view — an important skill for managers to possess.

  3. Understanding emotions. Being able to comprehend the cause of emotions and how they can shift gives insight into human nature and relationships.

    Sometimes people can be angry and happy at the same time. Suppose a customer calls to tell you about a problem with a delivery. As you listen, your blood pressures rises. But the customer also says that if the problem can be resolved, he’d like to place an even larger order — information that makes you happy, even though you’re still irritated with your operations manager.

    An individual who understands the complexities of emotions can handle challenging situations. Suppose you’ve hired a new chief operating officer from the outside, instead of promoting an internal candidate. The next staff meeting could be a hotbed of emotions: Your new COO is excited and ready to roll, whereas your sales manager (the person who everyone thought would get the job), has a sour look on his face. You could ignore the gamut of emotions in the room. But by understanding each participant’s feelings, you’re better equipped to diffuse potential conflicts, motivate employees and improve team interactions.

  4. Managing emotions. This is the highest branch and involves managing both your own feelings and the emotions of other people. Regulating emotions helps you devise effective strategies to achieve a particular outcome.

    The appropriate response to an emotion can vary. Perhaps you’ve negotiated a highly profitable deal, but you want to contain your elation. If you jump up and down, the other party may want you to reduce the price.

    Similarly, if you’re angry, you may not want to act on it immediately. There are both short-term and long-term reactions to emotions; it’s important to consider how those possibilities could play out.

    The ability to regulate emotions does not mean that you suppress feelings. Rather, you moderate negative emotions and enhance positives ones — without ignoring the information that those feelings convey. If you’re frustrated, angry or disappointed, find out why so you can solve the problem. If you’re happy, find out why so you can repeat the success.

Assessing and Enhancing E-IQ

Like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be measured objectively, which provides a new assessment tool for predicting success in the workplace. Instead of using self-report methods, Mayer and Salovey’s Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS) measures a person’s actual performance on emotional-intelligence problem solving.

Testing not only identifies problem areas, it also points out special talents. Employees may be performing adequately in their current role, but moving them to a position that takes advantage of both technical competencies and emotional abilities could increase their job satisfaction — and help your company grow faster.

Similar to general IQ, there is controversy over whether you can raise E-IQ. But you can enhance it by acquiring new knowledge and skills.

Training is both knowledge-based and experiential; it involves discussion, reading, role playing and implementing strategies in the work environment.

Costs vary. Individual coaching ranges from about $2,000 to $4,000 for 10 sessions. Group workshops start at about $2,500 per day. Some workshops are open to the public and charge a per-person fee, which typically ranges from $200 to $2,500.

Emotional-intelligence training can be a great gift for you or your staff. However, men are often reluctant to embrace emotional-intelligence training.

The reality is that emotional intelligence involves hard skills. "The most complex system you’ll ever run across is people," points out HR expert David R. Caruso. "Managers who focus on technical skills don’t manage. They’re just in charge."

Indeed, many CEOs make the mistake of not reading a room. When there’s a staff meeting, they get right to their agenda. Bad move. Look around and see what emotions are prevailing among your staff. Even if you’ve worked with employees for years, you don’t know how they’re doing on a particular morning.

Emotional Intelligence in Action

It’s tough to quantify the payoff of emotional-intelligence training. But one way to gauge benefits is to look at all the costs associated with replacing an employee, such as severance, recruiting and lost productivity, not to mention your time. For a senior manager, costs could easily exceed $100,000.

Case in point: One of Caruso’s first coaching cases involved a divisional president of a large company. Though popular and good at his job, Paul (not his real name) was ready to leave the company. When tested on emotional intelligence, Paul scored high on every branch except understanding emotions. This hurt him because he couldn’t comprehend how people could say one thing and do another. For example, a top salesperson had alcohol and drug problems, and Paul was continually blindsided by him. Paul failed to understand the salesperson’s true motives.

After a few months of coaching, Paul was able to understand his emotions better — and how other people could be influenced by conflicting emotions. Instead of leaving, Paul fired the salesperson. Paul also confronted his CEO, who had been engaged in unethical behavior. When the CEO was asked to step down, Paul moved into the spot. Under Paul’s leadership, net profits soon jumped 40%, a significant achievement because the company had a history of either flat profits or red ink.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Emotional intelligence may be a key predictor of whether you’re cut out to be a high-growth entrepreneur.

People usually become entrepreneurs because, in addition to a particular passion, they have certain technical expertise in some area, points out psychology professor John Eggers. Yet as companies grow, emotional intelligence becomes increasingly more important to their success. Lifestyle entrepreneurs can hit the $1 million benchmark pretty easily. But once revenues start climbing beyond $20 million, you can’t do it alone. "You need other people, and you need to get them to stick it out," says Eggers.

High emotional intelligence can foster a positive corporate culture, whereas low emotional intelligence can drive employees away — and into the arms of your competitors.

Emotional intelligence isn’t just about other people. It also leads to a better relationship with yourself. Suppose that your venture capital investors wanted to bring in their own CEO and make you an adviser. If you’re in touch with your emotions, you’ll be able to recognize what bothers you about this arrangement. Perhaps it’s an ego issue, such as not being quoted in the press. Realizing that, you could then negotiate to remain as company spokesperson.

Unless you’re in touch with your emotions, you’re not in control. Your emotions are controlling you.

Writer: TJ Becker