Situational Emotional Intelligence

May 5, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (also called EQ) is your ability to understand emotions and your skill at using that insight to manage yourself and your relations with other people. A high EQ is a prerequisite for good leadership because Emotional Intelligence governs the ability to work well with people. Many people view EQ as a static quantity within each person, similar to IQ. In reality, EQ is a dynamic quantity that changes and grows as we gain life experiences.

I participated in an online discussion while teaching a graduate course recently that highlighted the dynamic aspects of EQ. I was asking students to rate their current level of EQ. One person got back that he was strong in EQ, but because of his military background, that skill was not as developed as it might have been. He believes EQ is less important in the military because of the command and control nature of the service. People expect to be ordered around and do not take umbrage at the drill sergeant for yelling. That same behavior in the corporate world would cause instant revolt.

EQ is really situational; it morphs depending on the current circumstances and prevailing culture. That is actually good news, because it means we have some control over our level of EQ and are not stuck with our current level forever.

Suppose a man who had spent most of his adult life as a mediator for contract negotiations in the corporate world decided to change and become a Jesuit priest. Would his perspective on the emotions of other people change with that transformation? In Rochester, New York, Rev. Edward Salmon made that exact conversion. Salmon admits that in many ways running a local Catholic High School is similar to corporate work, but the whole framework of challenging the youth to be all they can be takes a much deeper skill of listening and sensitivity.

As we go through life, our skill at using Emotional Intelligence becomes developed and changes with each new situation. For example, the EQ skills required to convince an ornery teenager to do his homework are not the same as those required to coach a 99-year-old blind man to remain optimistic when confined to a nursing home. Some of the psychological thoughts would be similar, and the values might be roughly the same, like following the Golden Rule, but the emotional framework in the two environments is vastly different. A different set of tools is required to succeed in each of these situations.

I suspect the skill of EQ and how to apply it would be different in unique cultures around the world. For example, one’s behaviors toward other people in the USA might be totally different than that person would show if he or she was brought up in Japan. The cultural differences would drive unique opportunities and challenges.

We know that there is a big difference between how men and women experience Emotional Intelligence. In “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” John Gray describes the gender paradigm differences that cause men and women to deal with emotions in totally different ways. For example, women will consult with other women to analyze and resolve problems, while men would rather retreat to their “cave” to deal with difficulties.

It is widely believed that the Corpus Callosum in the female brain is larger than the same organ in a male. The Corpus Callosum is the “highway” in the brain that connects the right side (limbic, or emotional system) to the left side (rational brain). That allows women to process emotions into logical thought much faster and easier than men.

Your background, skill set, and even gender, along with the environment you experience will determine how you employ Emotional Intelligence in a way that is unique to you. That application of EQ will morph as you go through life in ways that nobody else on the planet can experience.


Boost Your Emotional Intelligence

January 14, 2012

Can you improve your Emotional Intelligence by plowing your driveway? I think so, and I will explain a fascinating analogy later in this article. I read a recent book on Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves entitled Emotional Intelligence 2.0. If you have not been exposed to this book, perhaps my article will whet your appetite to purchase it.

The authors start out by giving a single sentence definition of Emotional Intelligence (which is abbreviated as EQ rather than EI, and proves that whoever invented the acronym did not have a high IQ). Emotional Intelligence is “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.” This leads to a description of the four quadrants of EQ as described by Daniel Goleman in 1995.

1. Self Awareness – Ability to recognize your own emotions
2. Self Management – Ability to manage your emotions
3. Social Awareness – Ability to understand emotions in others
4. Relationship Management – Ability to manage interactions

The book contains a link to an online survey that lets you measure your own EQ. This is an interesting exercise, but it lacks validity, because people with low EQ have blind spots as described by Goleman. You might rate yourself highly in EQ when the truth, in the absence of blind spots, is somewhat lower. Still it is nice to have a number so you can compare current perceptions to a future state after you have made improvements.

Most of the book consists of potential strategies for improving Emotional Intelligence in any of the four quadrants described above. You get to pick the quadrant to work on and which strategies (about 17 suggestions for each quadrant) you think would work best for you. The approach is to work on only one quadrant, using three strategies at a time for the most impact. The authors also suggest getting an EQ Mentor whom you select. The idea is to work on your EQ for six months and retest for progress, then select a different quadrant and three appropriate strategies.

The most helpful and hopeful part of the book for me is where the authors discuss the three main influences on performance: Intelligence, Personality, and Emotional Intelligence. The observation is that it is impossible to change your IQ (Intelligence) and very difficult to change your Personality, but without too much effort, you can make huge progress in your EQ.

The trick is to train your brain to work slightly differently by creating new neural pathways from the emotional side of the brain to the rational side of the brain. This is where plowing your driveway comes in. We are bombarded by stimuli every day. These stimuli enter our brain through the spinal cord and go immediately to the limbic system, which is the emotional side of the brain. That is why we first have an emotional reaction to any stimulus. The signals have to travel to the rational side of the brain for us to have a conscious reaction and decide on our course of action. To do this, the electrical signal has to navigate through a kind of driveway in our brain called the Corpus Callosum.

The Corpus Callosum is a fibrous flat belt of tissue in the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres. How easily and quickly the signals can move through the Corpus Callosum determines how effective we will be at controlling our emotions. This is a critical part of the Personal Competency model as described by Goleman. Now the good news: whenever we are thinking about, reading about, working on, teaching others, etc. about EQ, what we are doing is plowing the snow out of the way in the Corpus Callosum so the signals can transfer more easily. Translated, working with the concept of EQ is an effective way to improve our effectiveness in this critical skill.

After reading the book, my awareness of my own emotions has been heightened dramatically. I can almost feel the ZAP of thoughts going from the emotional side of my brain to the rational side. Oops, there goes one now!

Given that roughly 60% of performance is a function of Emotional Intelligence, we now have an easy and almost-free mechanism to improve our interpersonal skills. I hope you will go out and purchase this little book, particularly if you are a leader. For leaders, EQ is the most consistent way to improve performance and be more successful.


What If You Are a Jerk But Don’t Know It?

February 27, 2011

It seems impossible, but you could actually be a jerk. You may think you are a perfectly normal, fun-loving person that other people just love to be around, but you could be dead wrong and not even realize it. People might have low respect for you because of any number of bad habits or insensitive things you do or say.

Let’s have a little fun with this analysis and see where it leads. Let’s suppose there is a great bell-shaped curve in the sky that shows the distribution of official jerks. The center of the bell shaped curve is neither a jerk nor a wonderful person. To the left of the center are increasing levels of jerkiness. Individuals far to the left of the mean would be categorized by most people as jerks. The rest of the population are not necessarily jerks, and the ones to the right of the mean are great people.

Now, we separate out the jerks and put them all in a line. Maybe you’ve seen them at the grocery store in the express line with 20 items in their basket. We bring each person into a room individually and ask the person if he or she is a jerk. Note: At this point I am going to switch to the male pronouns “he” and “him” to avoid awkward construction. Actually, the tendency toward being a jerk is probably gender neutral, but I am not going to get into that!

In a high percentage of the cases, the individual will honestly not believe he is a jerk. Reason: this person knows why he is acting the way he is and believes it is the right thing to do in every case. If he believed something else was right, he would do that. In other words, our friend on the low end of the scale would be deceiving himself that he is not a jerk when he actually is one according to other people.

If a person was at the extreme left on the jerk scale, then he might have a clue that he is really rubbing people the wrong way most of the time. He would know that because of the body language and feedback he gets from others. That still does not stop him from being a jerk; it just means that he knows about it.

Now comes the fun part. We add the element of time. Since we can act like a saint one moment and a devil the next, we may be perceived by others as being a jerk sometimes and not other times. Of course, we normally do not know the difference between these two states, so we figure we are basically OK most of the time. Behind our back, people talk about our “problems” and the fact that very often we act like a jerk. What a conundrum. How can we find out when we are acting like jerks? (Ironically, only those people who aren’t jerks would care!)

Enter Emotional Intelligence (EI). The essence of EI is that people who have high levels of this trait have the ability to see themselves more accurately. These individuals have a special mirror that lets them view their own behaviors as others do. In other words, people with high Emotional Intelligence may act like jerks for some small percentage of the time, but they have the perception to know they are doing it. People with low EI have a huge blind spot and cannot detect when they are acting poorly.

This phenomenon is most easy to see in organizations at the leadership or management levels. Leaders with low Emotional Intelligence believe people are responding to them in a different way from what is actually happening – hence the blind spot. So, one cure for the conundrum is to get a higher level of Emotional Intelligence to eliminate the blind spot. Can you buy that stuff at a drug store? No! So how can you get higher EI?

In my leadership classes, students often ask if EI is basically inherited or if it can be learned. I say EI most definitely can be learned. Why? Well, because teaching EI is my occupation: I see significant results when helping leaders gain higher levels of Emotional Intelligence through training and coaching. One thing anyone can do is read about the science of Emotional Intelligence. Start with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Another highly effective way to gain EI is to obtain a great mentor who is really high on the scale of Emotional Intelligence and is willing to pass on to you what it means and how to interpret the signals coming to you from other people.

Higher EI would mean you become more adept at reading body language and become more openly curious about how people are really reacting to the things you say and do. It would mean building trusting relationships with many people who will do you the great kindness of telling you when you are acting like a jerk. The only way to get people to do that is to reward them when they are honest enough to reflect what you are really doing at any given moment (good or bad). These trusted friends can save you from having a blind spot about your own behavior, which automatically increases your EI. Collectively, they form the surface of the mirror that allows you to see yourself as others do. From that point on, you might still be a jerk for some part of the time, but at least you will know it.