Emotional intelligence is a buzzword that has taken the corporate world by storm. Small startups in Silicon Valley tout its values alongside larger, more established businesses. Despite its popularity, few people know exactly what emotional intelligence is, much less how to harness it for their departments and organizations.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence refers to a set of soft skills that determine a person’s ability to successfully interact with others. Traits like self-awareness, relationship management, and social competence determine whether someone has a high level of emotional intelligence. For example, an employee might have a brilliant plan for improving efficiency in the company, but if they can’t rally their peers to help them implement it or convince employees to adopt the strategy, then it will never succeed. The tools needed to motivate and work well with others combine to form emotional intelligence.
According to TalentSmart, the term emotional intelligence first appeared in the business world in the mid-1990s, when psychologists discovered that employees with average IQs outperformed those with the highest IQs 70 percent of the time. Both researchers and office managers struggled to understand why someone who is certifiably brilliant struggled against their peers. The answer was the soft skills, or emotional intelligence, that made average employees better co-workers and better leaders.
Since the 1990s, companies have started to understand the value of emotional intelligence in their new hires; some companies actually test for it to determine whether or not an employee would make a good fit within their team. A Fast Company article relates how Google offers emotional intelligence training courses to make engineers better collaborators and leaders.
Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial for Engaged Employees
There’s a common saying in business that employees don’t leave companies, they leave their managers. Gallup recently proved the saying by surveying 7,200 employees on their current management situation.
The Gallup results are mentioned in a Fortune article, which found that more than 50 percent of employees said they left their jobs to get away from their managers. Employees who agreed with the saying “I feel like I can approach my manager with any type of question” also had the highest engagement ratings out of all the respondents. Through this data, the message is clear: Managers can either help their employees grow by creating a helpful and comfortable environment for them or drive them away and increase turnover for their organizations.
If you want your business to have a competitive advantage over other companies, emotional intelligence is key. Employees need to trust their managers to actually help them. If a manager is perceived as having low emotional intelligence, your employees are likely to disengage and leave.
Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence Are Difficult to Teach
Each employee comes to a company with his or her own levels of hard and soft skills. Hard skills, like knowledge of software or how a machine works, are easily taught. Employees who have highly developed soft skills, like listening, critical thinking, and curiosity, typically pick up hard skills easily and apply them to their jobs.
In a LinkedIn survey reported by Newsday, 59 percent of hiring managers said they struggle to hire people with the right soft skills. This gap is expected to grow as automation replaces jobs that don’t require soft skills such as communication, empathy, and critical thinking. A machine can retrieve an item from a shelf or test bacteria levels, but it can’t provide quality customer service or meet with clients to review their needs — at least not yet.
Along with soft skills being in demand, they’re also hard to teach. The majority of the managers in the LinkedIn survey felt their organization did a poor job of training employees on soft skill basics. This could lead managers to want to hire employees with higher emotional intelligence levels to reduce the burden of internal training.
The top five soft skills that employers look for are good communication, organizational skills, teamwork capabilities, punctuality, and critical thinking. Employees without high emotional intelligence typically lack (at the very least) teamwork and good communication. Managers will continue to struggle to find the best talent to fill these positions as long as employees lack emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Training Can Improve Your Business
Companies that invest in emotional intelligence training for their managers and employees can see a variety of improvements within their organizations. According to Inc, emotional intelligence can improve communication and overall team performance, especially when employees feel like they’re listened to or that they’re receiving all of the necessary information to do their jobs well.
Additionally, emotional intelligence can increase a team’s ability to function under pressure. Employees with low emotional intelligence levels might lash out at others, take credit for themselves, or place unfair workloads on their co-workers without realizing it. These actions create a toxic workplace and can cause companies to miss deadlines or under-perform. When members of a team are aware of their co-workers’ feelings and emotional reactions, they can work together to balance workloads and find solutions that help everyone.
It isn’t necessary to restaff teams with employees who have high emotional intelligence, but managers should consider investing in training that will help all team members grow their emotional IQ. Some companies offer courses annually that refresh soft skills to improve the workplace. Even employees who have high levels of communication and empathy can learn new ways to communicate with others and solve problems internally.
When it comes to choosing between two candidates, organizations are still more likely to hire the one with a higher emotional IQ. However, companies are improving at training employees whose soft skills are lacking.
You can learn more about emotional intelligence as you develop your skills as a manager. To learn more, visit the New England College Master of Science in Management online program. The management tools you learn can prepare you to train employees in emotional intelligence while elevating your own emotional IQ.