IQ vs EI: Which is Better? By Debra Nelson

You may work with these people every day or see their personality types on display during your volunteer board meeting or at your next sorority gathering. You see it in the executive who barks orders and slams a report across a desk; a co-worker who is too timid to speak up in meetings; the team leader who micromanages assignments and stifles the creativity of the rest of the team; or the colleague who always appears to have a good attitude, despite everything going on around her.

Each of these personality types illustrate the various ways emotional intelligence shows up in the workplace and your everyday life. Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as the ability to identify and understand emotions in yourself and others, and the skill to use that information to inform, guide and manage behavior.

Whether by birth, life experiences, self-learning, or years of study in academia, intelligence is an expected human attribute. Back in the day, having a high intelligence quotient (IQ) that was near or on par with noted scientist Albert Einstein was a desired goal, especially among the smart kids. I recall taking annual IQ tests in grade school where the scores either verified my bookishness or brought me within range of the honor roll elite. While there was focus on intelligence generally, there was little discussion about emotional intelligence.

Today there is increasing focus on EI. Also known as EQ, this competency is considered by recruiters and employers alike during job searches. Gatekeepers recognize that resumes alone don’t provide the full scope of a candidate’s capabilities. An applicant with high emotional intelligence may have the tipping point in the hiring selection process. And because emotional intelligence is reported to be a great indicator of future performance, managers are using EI competencies to help inform professional development and promotion decisions. Your ability to master emotional intelligence could have a significant impact on your career.

It should be noted that having a high IQ does not guarantee emotional intelligence. This reminds me of the story of a high school student who was awarded a four-year scholarship to a large university. The scholar’s brilliance led his classmates to believe he would excel in college. No one considered the impact of his transition to an unfamiliar environment, located hundreds of miles away from his home and family. No one discussed his lack of social intelligence skills, although most knew that he was an extremely shy person. Subsequently, the star student left the university and was reportedly living on the streets. While there is no record of what later happened to him, I often wondered whether he was emotionally and intellectually equipped to handle the challenges of his new life.

I must admit, my own emotional empathy has not always been great. While navigating my way through corporate America, I often turned off my sensors to protect myself from hurt and disappointment. I suppose that, as a woman and person of color, my experience is not unique. For that reason, there are likely several situations and relationships I could have handled differently had I been more emotionally adept. Had I recognized and understood those personality types – the type that disrupts, the one that goes with the flow, or the one who creates a positive environment for others – I may have reacted differently and had better outcomes.

Over the years I’ve learned that it is not enough to be smart, experienced and talented, it is also important to develop, refine, and tune in to emotional intelligence capabilities, too.

Emotional intelligence is a psychological concept created by researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. The concept gained traction in 1995 following the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman found that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be taught and cultivated. Together with organizational theorist Richard Boyatzis and Korn Ferry Hay Group, Goleman researched, refined and developed teaching models and materials that are used today in academic settings, corporations, and numerous large and small organizations and institutions.

While there exists significant additional research on this topic, Korn Ferry offers four competencies of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself with complete honesty and transparency. This means you have a clear perception of your personality and behaviors, including your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivations and emotions. Symbolically, I believe this is comparable to video recording your every move while also having access to instant replay and editing capabilities, enabling you to immediately see and change anything that doesn’t project your best behavior. Unfortunately, this isn’t a real-life option. Thus, it is critically important to see ourselves as we truly are and to understand how others view and experience us, too.

2. Social-awareness is the ability to sense the feelings and perspectives of others and to respond in emotionally appropriate ways. Consider the co-worker who is shy and slow to interact with the team or the employee who is having a difficult time completing a work assignment. As managers and leaders of teams, an effective strategy might be to first see and understand the level of anxiety without judgement, and then apply specific tactics to help employees overcome their challenges.

3. Self-management is the ability to keep disruptions and emotional impulses in check. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples where lack of self-control plays out in society: blow-ups on the sports field, road rage, angry outbursts and offensive gestures. Individuals who are successful at managing their emotions usually know their triggers, i.e., words, behaviors or situations that provoke negative feelings in them. With this awareness, they are better able to practice and control their reactions, thereby preventing emotional responses that could be detrimental to themselves and others.

4. Relationship management is the ability to influence, inspire and guide individuals and groups to mutual outcomes. Successful coaches most often exemplify this competency. These individuals negotiate and resolve conflict and carefully navigate self-interests for the good of the whole. They help each team member feel as if he or she is contributing,

Of the four competencies, self-awareness may be the most important competency to master. According to Korn Ferry, emotional self-awareness lies at the heart of emotional and social intelligence. Without mastery of this core competency, goals related to job performance, career mobility and company profitability may be derailed. The ability to effectively work with and lead individuals and teams will also suffer. Keep in mind, the higher you rise in your corporate career, the more dependent you become on others to produce the results necessary for continuing success.

To help you achieve emotional self-awareness, consider these tips:

 Learn to listen. This means you must proactively seek feedback about how you are showing up. After all, it is not enough to rely solely on your own understanding. Instead of discounting undesirable information, use it to learn and adjust your behaviors. As a byproduct, listening provides the opportunity to discover unspoken clues and the motivations of others. Also, pay attention to your own intuition. You are wiser than you know.

 Discard assumptions about how you should be as a leader. More often than not, our leadership cues come from observing and listening to the people who hold positions above us. Unfortunately, many leaders are promoted into management roles with little training or skills for leadership. Therefore, it is important to recognize whether their behaviors and practices align with who we are and how we want to present ourselves to employees, co-workers, bosses and clients. Whether you have a title or not, take the time to discover and invest in your own leadership style and skills. You should become very intentional about this.

 If you can’t change a situation, change how you think about it. By altering your thoughts, you’re more likely to influence your own emotions, which subsequently will impact your behavior. With practice, you’ll develop skills to help manage your reactions to uncomfortable and negative situations. This strategy is a tool of self-management, another important EI competency.

 Know your triggers. As humans, we are the sum of our experiences. Everything that we’ve heard, touched, believed, or seen, comprises who we are and how we show up in the world. These influences can have both positive and negative impacts. Become aware of the words, behaviors, and situations that are likely to bring out the worst in you, then take the time to anticipate, plan and rehearse your responses so that these situations get the best of you.

So, which is more important, IQ or EI? If you’re intelligent, you already know the answer.

Debra Nelson is President of Elevate Communications, a professional development and communication services firm. A coach and a certified facilitator of Korn Ferry’s Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), she also speaks and consults on topics related to diversity and inclusion, leadership, employee engagement and women’s empowerment.

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