Emotional Intelligence – the key to success?

You hear people talk about emotional intelligence, or EI. What does it really mean? And how is it relevant to job success?

In any social or professional relationship, what’s important is an ability to understand what others feel about you, what you feel about them, and why. That, at heart, is what EI is about.

EI became a buzz-term when Dr. Daniel Goleman started writing about it at the time that neuroscience was really taking off thanks to the ability to map brain processes and emotional states. Goleman divides EI into five components:

  1. Self-awareness (awareness of emotions, knowledge of strengths and limits, sense of self-worth).
  2. Motivation (drive, commitment, initiative, optimism).
  3. Self-regulation (self-control, conscientiousness).
  4. Empathy (understanding and helping others).
  5. Social skills (listening to others, communicating well, building bonds, collaboration).

At Interview Advantage, we’re firm believers that EI trumps intellectual ability and expertise as the essential ingredient of job success. The key attributes that employers really want, such as interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate, initiative, motivation and ambition, are rooted in EI.

Looking at it another way, if you were to come up with a list of strengths that you would like others to have on a project or in the workplace, you might mention some of the following, all of which derive from strong emotional intelligence: a person who facilitates communication, listens well, cooperates and understands what people want; a team member who knows what they can contribute and takes initiatives; a leader who is assertive without being stubborn and ensures that others are heard; a colleague who has empathy, self-control and is reliable; someone who is adaptable, confident, optimistic calm and persevering. You will recognise yourself here at least in part, and don’t worry if you don’t tick all the boxes: nobody does. The good news is that what’s missing can be learned.

Take optimism and hope as examples. These characteristics are key predictors of success. Some people are naturally optimistic and hopeful. What of those of us who aren’t? Can we become optimistic and positive? It’s to do with the stories we tell ourselves to explain our successes and failures: those stories reflect our inner state of optimism or resignation. Research shows that you can change those stories, and your inner state, if you deliberately go outside your comfort zone and try different things and ideas. As you achieve mastery of those new things and come to terms with, and integrate, those ideas, you will gradually build a more optimistic outlook. Go out there and try things. Talk to people you don’t know and ask them questions. Small wins build confidence.