Emotional Intelligence: What It Is + Why You Need It

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Emotional intelligence has its roots in the concept of “social intelligence,” a term coined by psychologists in the 1920’s to refer to the ability to understand and effectively navigate social relationships.

The study of emotional intelligence gained traction in psychology beginning in the 1980s, but it was Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, that popularized emotional intelligence (EQ) outside of academia. In the nearly 3 decades since, countless books, articles and research studies have been published about the importance of emotional intelligence in various aspects of life, including personal relationships, work environments, and leadership.

So what exactly is emotional intelligence?

The psychologists who pioneered research into emotional intelligence defined it as the ability to identify, understand and utilize emotions effectively – both one’s own emotions and those of others. Goleman has created a practical framework for understanding and cultivating EQ, made of up 4 core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Let’s talk about what each of these is, and why it matters in the workplace.

Self-awareness is a familiarity with one’s inner landscape: one’s values and preferences, motivations and fears, strengths and limitations. Someone who is self-aware not only knows the geography of their inner landscape but is also attuned to the interior weather patterns at any given moment. They are aware of subtle barometric shifts in their emotional state, which is a crucial prerequisite for the next competency of EQ: self-management.

Self-management is the ability to consciously direct one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior and specifically to redirect impulses, moods and behaviors that are disruptive or otherwise detrimental. Someone who is aware of the subtle shifts within will notice the brief space that opens up “between stimulus and response,” the space that Victor Frankl says holds our “power to choose our response.”

While 95% of people consider themselves to be self-aware, less than 15% actually are, according to research by organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich. This prevalent lack of self-awareness not only creates stress within work teams but also creates a 50% reduction in productivity according to Harvard Business Review.

Self-awareness and self-management are the necessary foundation for the next two competencies of EQ – social awareness and relationship management – which are externally focused.

Social awareness is the ability to recognize others’ emotions and read a situation appropriately through recognizing emotions and non-verbal cues and understanding social norms. This naturally paves the way for the fourth competency: relationship management, which is the ability to cultivate and maintain good relationships. Relationship management involves skills like active listening, clear communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution.

Emotional intelligence holds immense value in the workplace, offering benefits such as enhanced interpersonal dynamics, effective communication, and a positive organizational culture. Individuals with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to cooperate with  diverse personalities, navigate conflict with empathy and understanding, adapt to change, manage stress, and make sound decision even when the stakes are high.

The result is that EI-rich organizations realize a plethora of quantifiable benefits:

“Various studies on EI in the workplace suggest a retention rate of 400% higher, employees who feel 50% more inspired by their work, up to a 50% decrease in lost-time accidents and more than 40% improved productivity. In fact, in one such study, the ROI of EI training was nearly 1,500%.”

It’s no surprise, then, that over 75% of Fortune 500 companies invest in emotional intelligence testing and training for their employees. In our April Newsletter (coming soon!), you will find some additional — and valuable — resources for evaluating and enhancing EQ, either for yourself or for those you lead. As always, if you are feeling stuck and aren’t exactly sure what to do next, Traci and the team at Human Potential Advisors are here to help. Contact us today — let’s begin! 

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