Why Emotional Intelligence is the Most Valuable Professional Asset

Why Emotional Intelligence is the Most Valuable Professional Asset


Intelligence, as a human attribute, was first measured in 1904, with a standardised test developed by French physiologist Alfred Binet. Commonly known as IQ, it’s used to explain conceptual abilities across a number of cognitive fields. But IQ doesn’t tell the whole story, and managers looking to hire star performers would do well to look beyond the test.

In the 1990s, researchers noticed that people with average IQs out-performed their high-IQ peers about 70% of the time. Investigating further, they discovered a different form of intelligence: Emotional Intelligence. The original researcher, John Mayer, defined it so:

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions.”

Those abilities are valuable in the workplace, because people with high emotional intelligence measures (EQs) are able to synthesise social cues and context, and influence others with their ability to connect. That makes them effective and efficient in circumstances where a high-IQ but low-EQ person may not shine. Even better, leaders who showed strong empathetic skills, a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence, strongly correlate with impressive financial performances.

The good news? Emotional intelligence is at least partially a learned skill, so there’s always room for improvement. Here are the five traits of emotional intelligence and how each is valuable in the workplace, especially for leaders.

1. Self-awareness

This is the ability to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses, and understand they impact others. Understanding your own flaws allows you to pursue constant self-improvement, as well as making it easier to allow for the flaws in others. Conflict resolution becomes less fraught when the individuals approach the interaction with a sincere respect for the other point of view.

2. Self-regulation

People with high EQ have insight into their own emotional state and can self-regulate their feelings. That prevents them from becoming overwhelmed by negative emotions and making decisions based on fear or panic.

People who are practicing this skill make it a point to step outside their first reaction to a situation, and consider multiple explanations for someone else’s behaviour. Offer yourself alternatives if your Plan A doesn’t work out. This reduces the temptation to take things personally, helps to calm emotions and gets you away from black and white thinking.

3. Motivation

High emotional intelligence enables you motivate yourself and motivate others to do and be the best they can. The deeper understanding that comes with a high EQ allows you to get at the heart of what inspires your team, and allows you to create trust and companionship within the group. This, in turn, inspires intrinsic motivation in your staff. Use the emotional diversity within your team to build a stronger sense of unity, and you should see motivation soar.

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of others (cognitive empathy) and to share in their feelings (affective empathy), which also helps us towards greater self-awareness. If you’re managing employees through a difficult period of change, or experiencing frustration with someone who seems to be stubbornly clinging to a wrong opinion, empathy can help you break through that barrier and connect.

5. Social Skills

Good social skills are one of the most valuable assets any person can have, and if you’re in any sort of management position, they’re even more crucial. Studies show that in communication, only 7% is the words we speak, with the remaining 93% being made up of tone of voice, body language and other non-verbal cues. Self-awareness and regulation help us to control our own body language so that our projected message is consistent with our words, and empathy helps us to receive the same information from our interlocutor. Social skills also impact teamwork culture, mutual cooperation and workplace happiness, all of which have a positive effect on the bottom line.

What do you think?

Is emotional intelligence valued adequately and prioritised for development in your workplace? Are the leaders in your organisation self-aware, motivated and empathetic? Comment to share if and how emotional intelligence plays an important role in your professional life.

This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Academia, HBR, The Conversation, Ciphr, Success and Inc.

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