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EQ in the Workplace: A Driver of Success

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For years, common thought was that emotions should be kept out of business and all feelings checked at the door. But in recent years, mounting studies suggest that emotional intelligence—self-awareness and empathy, among other qualities—is a predictor of success both in one’s personal life and in the workplace.

Christine K. Sobhani of Allegis Partners defines what emotional intelligence really is and discusses how to hire candidates with high EQ. This article was originally published in Hunt Scanlon's 2018 State of the Industry Report: https://huntscanlon.com/talent-leadership-reports/2018-state-of-the-industry-report

Consider these facts about emotional intelligence (EQ):

  • A study by the Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that 85 percent of financial success owes itself to skills in “human engineering,” such as personality, and the ability to communicate with and lead others. The remaining 15 percent is technical ability.
  • By emphasizing the EQ skills of its sales force, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi boosted its annual performance by 12 percent.
  • People with high EQ make an average of $29,000 more per year than people with a low EQ capacity.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

EQ is one of those “intangibles” that can be difficult to sum up in a single sentence. Essentially, it is defined as a set of competencies that encompass one’s ability to recognize the impact of their behavior on others—and manage that behavior in an intelligent and productive way.

“Emotionally intelligent people tend to be self-motivated and not driven by money or title alone,” says Heidi Gerhard, head of talent acquisition & university relations at BASF.

“Employees with a high level of EQ have a good grasp on their own strengths and weaknesses. They are self-aware, honest with themselves and others, and understand how their moods and actions can impact teammates. ”What’s more, high-EQ professionals tend to more easily adapt to new situations and environments.

According to a study by Leadership IQ, 23 percent of new hires fail in their roles due to a lack of emotional intelligence. These individuals may have difficulty dealing with stress and managing co-worker and manager relationships, often resulting in conflict and burnout.

Emotional intelligence becomes even more important the further we go up the corporate ladder. “For people in positions of power, it is even more necessary to be able to control emotions and steer difficult situations toward positive outcomes,” says Brydget Falk-Drigan, CHRO of PeapackGladstone Bank. “The impact of their emotional competence has a ripple effect throughout the entire company.”

Case in point: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. When The New York Times featured an article that painted Amazon as a miserable place to work—with insensitive managers, backstabbing colleagues and unreasonable standards—

Bezos stepped up to the plate rather than hide in his corner office. In response to the Times article, he sent out an internal memo encouraging employees to escalate any problems to HR, and even invited them to email him directly. Instead of aggressively denying the allegations, Bezos sidelined his personal emotions and solicited feedback to improve his workplace environment.

Bezos’ high EQ levels are also evident in his relentless determination to deliver a second-to-none customer service experience. The CEO is reported to include an empty chair during meetings to represent the consumer, reminding the team that their decisions directly affect Amazon customers. The ecommerce giant has been highly successful in distinguishing itself as a “customer obsessed” organization—and it’s a strategy that has paid off in spades.

The Five Components of EQ

According to Brent Gleeson, leadership coach, motivational speaker and author of TakingPoint: A Navy SEAL’s 10 Fail Safe Principles for Leading through Change, there are five key aspects of emotional intelligence:

Empathy. Simply put, empathy or compassion is one’s ability to put himself or herself in the shoes of another. When you are better able to relate to other people, you can understand points of view that vary from your own. This enables you to solve problems and diffuse challenging situations while maintaining good relationships. Empathy is a 21st-century skill that is essential to communicating effectively, gaining a global perspective and embracing diversity.

Is empathy something that just comes naturally? It can for some, but not for everyone. The good news is that, according to Homa Tavangar, author of Growing up Global, “Empathy is like a muscle that can get stronger with practice—and it can be developed from a young age.”

Self-Assessment. This is the capacity to recognize how one’s strengths, weaknesses, values and emotions influence other people. In essence, it means having a solid understanding of who you are, what you’re good at and what you need to work on further. People with strong self-assessment or self-reflection skills are able to continually improve and perform better.

Effective Communication. Being able to convey messages with clarity, grace and honesty helps business leaders forge stronger relationships in the workplace and avoid feelings of confusion and resentment among employees. Individuals with a high level of EQ are aware of their body language when they speak. They talk openly, welcome criticism, express sincere appreciation and above all, listen carefully. Effective communication makes employees feel respected and valued, leading to an overall happier workforce that is invested in the organization’s mission and goals.

Relationship Management. People with high EQ do not associate emotion with being “weak” or “incapable .” They know that when emotions are understood and managed properly, it leads to positive feelings that inspire confidence, forge trust and improve productivity. High-EQ professionals invest the time in building healthy and fruitful relationships that allow them to bring out the very best in people, whether it’s those they oversee or other colleagues.

Self-Regulation. Also referred to as self-discipline, this aspect of EQ involves being able to redirect disruptive emotions—such as anger or anxiety—in order to think and communicate more clearly and rectify a difficult situation. Leaders with high EQ do not let moods control their actions and are not quick to “fly off the handle;” they excel at remaining calm and confident under duress. As a result, they are able to prevent employee emotions from spiraling and stay on track to a positive resolution.

How Do You Hire People with High EQ?

There’s no hard-and-fast method for assessing a candidate’s EQ levels. Personality tests are not recommended for measuring EQ, as people tend to give the answers they think employers want to hear. However, behavior-based interview questions can provide good insight into a person’s emotional competence. Focus your inquiries on people and relationships. For example: 

  • What do you feel are the most important qualities in a leader? How do you embody these qualities?
  • Provide an example of how you handled a difficult situation at work.
  • Tell me about a time you received criticism from your boss. How did you handle that feedback?
  • What would co-workers say they enjoy most about working with you? What do they enjoy the least?

It’s also helpful to speak with references versus simply getting written recommendations or those through an automated service. Use these same types of questions with references; ask for feedback about how the candidate handled conflict or performed in a team setting.

In an era of demanding employees, high turnover and the need for cultural sensitivity, it is even more important than ever to maintain an engaged and loyal workforce. Putting an emphasis on emotional intelligence in the hiring process can help your organization build a stronger foundation for the future.

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