Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial in Business

The good news is that anyone can increase emotional intelligence.

How can I be emotionally intelligent? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

How can I be emotionally intelligent?

This is a crucial question for businesses to tackle. Emotional intelligence makes leaders more successful. It’s a key leadership skill. Executives with higher emotional intelligence are more likely to transform their organizations.

To understand how to increase emotional intelligence, we first have to understand what it is and why businesses are struggling with it.

A helpful definition comes from Psychology Today: “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” It’s a combination of emotional awareness, the ability to harness and apply emotions to tasks, and the ability to manage and regulate emotions.

It’s also set to become more important than ever over the next decade. As artificial intelligence and machine learning transform how businesses operate, people will need to focus more on uniquely human skills like empathy and awareness. So not only is emotional intelligence a competitive advantage for the businesses of today, it’s also a necessity for the businesses of tomorrow.

But right now, things are moving in the wrong direction. The higher up the ranks you go inside a company, the lower the EQ scores (measures of emotional intelligence) drop. A study of 1 million people by TalentSmart found that CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace.

Of course this is the case. To understand why, we can look at two helpful examples: poor people and President Obama.

Research shows that as people’s wealth increases, their compassion and empathy go down. Poor people are more likely to be generous with money and to stop for pedestrians in the street. They may depend more on interpersonal relationships, and therefore be more attuned to them.

This same idea applies with power in the workplace. As people work their way up to the highest ranks, they lose touch with the daily challenges and aspirations of people in the lowest ranks. They start to see people in large groups, rather than as individuals. They treat people as problems to solve, rather than fellow human beings to relate to. This helps explain why research finds power reduces concern for others.

There’s also the matter of time. As leaders take on big efforts to guide an entire enterprise, they rarely pause to connect with many others on an emotional level. As President Obama said after his first year in office, “(W)e were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values.”

For business leaders, these conversations need to take place frequently, and in both directions -- with leaders listening as much as they’re speaking.

Here are some of the ways I encourage leaders to build up their emotional intelligence:

Share power. Be unafraid to let your reports take on projects and leadership. Don’t “helicopter parent” them. Giving them room to succeed builds trust and confidence, and allows for much greater emotional connection.

See everyone as equal. Having different levels of responsibility in the workplace does not remove the inherent equality we all have as human beings. As top executives make decisions that can dramatically change people’s lives and ability to support their families, it’s easy to lose this sense of equality. Executives need frequent reminders that when it comes to one-on-one interactions, they should treat people with equal concern and emotional awareness.

Be conscious of unspoken communication. Leaders need to notice body language and facial expressions. Go into meetings with a specific plan to observe how people are sitting, standing, etc. Try to conclude what they’re thinking. After the meeting, feel free to bring up one-on-one any questions you may have about what they were thinking and feeling. For example, say, “I got the impression that you may not be fully on board with this idea. Is that the case? What might we do to help get you on board?”

Encourage people to question you. Some leaders don’t like to be questioned. But if they reject or put down people for doing so, they’re missing out. Many people ask questions simply to understand. Or they may want to offer ideas. Always welcome this, and have the confidence to encourage it.

The good news is that anyone can increase emotional intelligence. Though it takes time and effort, the payoff is worth it.

This question originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora:

* Emotional Intelligence: What can men do to support women in the workplace and at home?

* Understanding Emotions: Why do I feel empathy for almost everyone?

* Gender Differences: Are women naturally kinder than men?

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