So much has been written in recent years about emotional intelligence, that rather elusive human quality that impacts upon the bottom line in the workplace. Emotional Intelligence Quotient, or EQ, is a term being heard more and more in human resources departments and even in executive board rooms. From time to time, we hear stories like that of the highly capable young CEO in the banking industry who was forced to resign – his only shortcoming being poor emotional intelligence.
Fine. But what exactly is emotional intelligence? Perhaps the clearest and simplest definition I have seen is that of Maurice Schweitzer, a Management professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania:
“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize emotions and understand how they operate and also the ability to manipulate and change them. If I have emotional intelligence, I know what the right time to talk to my boss is. I know that my new partners had a terrible flight and lost their luggage and and aren’t going to be receptive to what I’m saying, so I shouldn’t make my pitch right now. Or I know that, if I take them to this particular restaurant or I buy tickets to this Indy car race, I can shift their emotional state to feeling more gratitude toward me and listening to me.”
Professor Schweitzer adds that skilled negotiators tend to have high levels of this kind of aptitude, and they apply it in small subtle ways when they are doing their work. They might for example, during a particularly tense moment, call for a break, go get a soda and also bring something back for the people on the other side of the table.
Schweitzer’s words appears in a Wharton report of research he conducted together with Francesca Gino of Carnegie Mellon University.
The study confirms what we probably already know: that one’s emotions at a particular point in time influence people’s receptiveness to advice. This applies even when the emotions have no link to the advice or the adviser.
And our moods and feelings may systematically distort not only our receptiveness to the information we are receiving, but also the rationality of our reactions. For example, an investor may be angry about losing a bet on a ballgame and thus may underestimate the value of a stock recommended by an analyst. Another may be elated about the birth of a child and overestimate it.
See here for how I was once the “victim” of rather poor emotional intelligence, according to Schweitzer’s definition, on the part of a boss of mine – who was otherwise a very nice guy. (I changed some details in the story, but the “Mr.Thompson” referred to was really me!)
Azriel Winnett is the author of the highly acclaimed, eye-opening book How to Build Relationships That Stick. An enhanced edition is now available as a paperback.