Tech & Work

Emotional intelligence: What you don't know may cost both you and your company

The most important e- term you may learn this year is emotional intelligence. Experts say it can make or break careers, even in IT. So what are the best and worst emotional intelligence moves you can make?

You’ve read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You’ve tried assertiveness training, team boot camps, and that whole left-brain/right-brain thing.

Now comes emotional intelligence: the ability to gather data from your emotions and the emotions of others and translate that into useful information.

”Great,” you’re thinking. ”One more touchy-feely trend. But can this stuff be taught? And does this have anything at all to do with my job?”

According to Barbara Bailey Reinhold, author of Toxic Work, research indicates that emotional intelligence is a key factor to career success.

For example, TechRepublic member and e-commerce consultant Anna Trevitt said she has seen many IT experts miss or ruin opportunities because they didn’t have the emotional intelligence (EI) skills necessary to work with others. Unfortunately, they don’t always understand that a low “EQ” was their downfall, she said.

“My experience is that many technical staff have only average social interaction or EI skills, despite their high IQ,” Trevitt shared. “This may not be a problem as long as they stay in the 'back office,' but often pay is linked to promotion, so they need to be promoted to managerial or customer-facing roles to avoid a glass ceiling on their salary.”

So, as a CIO, how can you use emotional intelligence to get the most out of yourself and your employees? Here’s what the experts say:

A different kind of code
Emotional intelligence can be difficult to grasp for those in technical fields, according to Hendrie Weisinger, author of Emotional Intelligence At Work. Weisinger is a licensed psychologist who teaches emotional intelligence and other management-related skills for executive education programs at numerous universities, including The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Weisinger found that because technical workers tend to view the world in absolutes, they often try to impose such expectations on their personal relationships, which tend to be imperfect.

Weisinger suggested that viewing emotional intelligence as a concept, not a “to-do” list, will allow you to create your own strategies.

“It is the idea of using your emotions, your feelings, and your moods, and the emotions, feelings, and moods of others, as a source of information and to use that information in a way that will help you navigate through life more effectively,” he said. “It also involves creating emotional states that allow people to act more productively, to act more intelligently, to act more creatively.”

Poor EI = unhappy employees
Consider this: Management’s lack of emotional intelligence could cost your company up to $750 per employee each year, Reinhold said.

“When you don’t listen to people and when you stay encased in your little capsule about data and forget about people, you cost the company a minimum of $750 a year per employee,” Reinhold said. “When you yell at them and make them stressed day after day, what do you think is going to happen in two or three weeks? They’re going to get the flu and be out for a week, and where will that have you?”

Management is not the only culprit. Employees who have poor EI can also contribute to the downfall of their own well-being. Ayman Sawaf, an industrial systems engineer and co-author of Executive EQ, personally experienced the debilitating effects caused by ignoring the messages emotions give you.

Though he was a successful engineer who spoke numerous languages and held several degrees, he never paid attention to emotions because education combined with hard work was what had gotten him to the top of his field. “I was a jet setter flying all around the world like a zombie, maniac guy until I collapsed and almost died with health issues,” Sawaf said. “I retreated from business and spent seven years researching everything on the planet about emotions and energy and how people get spirited and soulful, because for me, emotions are the modem of the soul.

“If we do not have that modem connected, if you’re not a feeling person, that connection is severed.”

Poor EI = bad decision-making
Weisinger said setbacks can lead executives to make major emotional intelligence blunders because they allow their emotions to lead them rather than using their emotions as informational clues.

When people encounter stress, they tend to regress into adolescent coping mechanisms, such as lying about or covering up problems. An emotionally astute person, however, would recognize the stress and assess the situation rather than having a premature and potentially immature reaction. The emotionally astute person would then be free to deal with the problem in a more positive manner.

Another emotional intelligence trap executives fall into is arrogance and narcissism.

“Too many executives tend to be too narcissistic, ego-centralized and therefore they’re just looking at themselves as the center of the universe rather than recognizing that they’re just the center of their universe,” Weisinger said. “The arrogance inhibits their awareness and, with little awareness, it prevents them from growing, as well as listening to those around them and using that as information that, again, can help them make better decisions.”

Changing poor EI to good EI
Weisinger recommended that employees could develop their emotional intelligence by learning to listen to the clues emotions provide about themselves and others.

“If every executive and every employee enhanced, applied, and developed their own emotional intelligence, you’d have a more effective organization. The problem is too many people think, including executives, that this is good for other people, but what about themselves?” he said. “The best thing they can do is to develop their own awareness which means, for example, soliciting criticism.”

Accepting criticism takes a bit of training, too, said Weisinger, whose recent book, The Power of Positive Criticism, provides information about giving and accepting criticism.

Those in the technical field tend to view criticism as an accusation that they are doing something wrong, he said. When an executive who holds this view then has to criticize someone, it leads to anxiety. An emotionally astute leader would recognize that emotion and learn from it.

“One of the points we know about emotional intelligence, one of the components of it, is being able to understand the information that your emotions give you. In the case of anxiety, anxiety communicates uncertainty,” he said. “So, ‘I’m anxious to criticize you’ would really mean ‘I’m uncertain about how you’re going to respond.’”

EI: not an optional skill
Like it or not, EI is not an optional skill, experts say. As much as 90 percent of career success can depend upon your ability to deal intelligently with emotions and people, according to Reinhold.

“I have to tell you as somebody who counsels the folks who get fired from places, they don’t get fired because of what they don’t know about the content of their jobs,” Reinhold said. “They get fired or they’re miserable because of what they don’t understand about themselves and other people.”
What’s the most emotionally stupid act or statement you’ve seen a co-worker or boss make? Post below or e-mail us.

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