Emotional Intelligence in Business
This article explores the effects of emotional intelligence in business interactions. The two main goals of the research were to grasp as much as possible about emotional intelligence and the core skills involved with it and to understand the influence that developing these skills can have on an individual’s work environment. While, in general, Emotional Quotient (EQ) is challenging to measure and test, several studies were found that successfully recorded its impact in the professional world. The evidence collected from the manuals, articles and studies suggests that indeed Emotional Intelligence (EI) is not only a skill that can be sharpened in time but EI skills can actively contribute to four key areas of influence in the professional setting: better business relationships, increased efficacy of business teams, improved leadership development and higher adaptability to change. It was also apparent from the literature studied that EI is becoming a required core competency in the business world. Even though the field of EI is, in general, gaining more and more interest from researching institutions, there are many aspects of EI that need further exploration and understanding.
Aspects and Influence of Emotional Intelligence in Business Environments
Emotional intelligence is a rising interest and topic in modern business literature. The root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb “to move,” suggesting that emotion triggers an impulse to act (Huy, 1999). In the most simple way, EI is our ability to understand and influence ourselves and others (White, 2015). Based on the literature explored for this research, it becomes evident that EI is a core business competency that can be continuously enhanced and that has a major influence in an individual’s ability to adapt to change, perform well in teams and develop leadership skills.
The first step of the research was to grasp as much as possible about emotional intelligence and the core skills involved with it. To quote Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the study and understanding of EI, “Emotional Intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, value and effectively apply the power of emotions as a source of human energy, information, trust, creativity and influence” (2004). Goleman divides emotional intelligence skills into interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, and empathy. These are briefly defined here: interpersonal skills are the competencies necessary to successfully navigate interactions and relationships with other people; “Interpersonal competence… involves the ability to engage effectively in complex interpersonal interaction and to use and understand people effectively” (Erozkan, 2013); and intrapersonal skills, on the other hand, refer more to the inner world of the individual. Lastly, “empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others” (Gentry). These elements of EI describe one’s ability to observe, identify and understand the emotional states they experience. Some of the aspects of intra-personal skills include self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation (Appendix A). Empathy means understanding others, appreciating and accepting their diversity and approaching them from an attitude of servitude. These EI abilities are valuable, not only in personal relationships but also in interactions with business partners, clients, and coworkers. Just by examining the basic definition of EI and the core facets involved with it, it is apparent that the use of emotional intelligence in business skills can make an impact not only on an individual’s personal work performance but also on that of their company and team.
Is Emotional Intelligence something that can be enhanced?
The next step in the research was to identify whether EI can indeed be called a “skill” that can be sharpened and enhanced, or if it is a stationary trait that one is born with to a certain degree. While one’s intellectual intelligence quotient (IQ) is proven to be static (it cannot be increased or decreased), someone’s EQ can be developed and perfected throughout their life (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014). According to Goleman, EQ can at times be more important than IQ: “Many people with IQs of 160 work for people with IQs of 100 if the former has poor intrapersonal intelligence and the latter have a high one” (Goleman, 2004). It seems that certain individuals are born with higher sensitivity and awareness of emotions than others, but that all have the ability to increase our EI with practice. This means EI is teachable and therefore can become an accessory, not only to those who are innately born with it but also to all those who wish to develop it (Bradberry, 2009). Through practice and continuous self-monitoring, any person can become more and more emotionally intelligent. According to Cardon, “common approaches to improving emotional intelligence include reflecting on emotions and behavior, keeping a journal, and practicing interpersonal skills in social situations” (2018).
Once the question of EI enhancement was answered the research focused on better understanding exactly how EI influences interactions in the professional setting. Each of the competencies associated with EI was examined in an attempt to understand how they may be applied at work and what effect they may have on work performance. While the areas of EI’s influence are varied, the research narrowed in on four aspects of EI influence in business: relationships, teamwork, leadership, and adaptation to change. Each one of them is addressed below.
Emotional Intelligence and Business Relationships
Successful businesses can rarely exist without effective relationships. Forming meaningful, long term business affiliations and partnerships are often at the core of professional growth and prosperity. Loyalty, trust, and transparency are necessary to form powerful professional alliances. As Wilson describes, “trust is the most basic element of social contact—the great intangible at the heart of truly long-term success” (2015). EI strengthens and improves business relationships organically through the strategic and consistent use of personal, interpersonal and empathic skills. Swanson describes how “two of the critical EI skills, intrapersonal and interpersonal, are the foundation upon which the entrepreneur will begin to form relationships. The ability to establish and maintain personal and business relationships is essential to entrepreneurial success” (2018). Looking at interpersonal skills, Bandelli names four ways in which such skills can impact the way people relate at work:
The four socio-affective competencies include: a) establishing rapport in the process of building a sustaining relationship of mutual trust, harmony, and interpersonal understanding; b) promoting acceptance of differences; tolerating, approving of, and having a favorable reception towards other people or situations that are different from what one is accustomed to; c) developing trust and the willingness of an individual to be open to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other party will perform a particular action important to the trustor; and d) cultivating charismatic influence and the use of non-coercive influence to direct and coordinate the activities and actions of others in order to accomplish organizational objectives.
Intra-personal or personal skills benefit relationships by reducing exaggerated reactions and demonstrate adaptability. They increase an individual’s ability to recognize, understand and manage their emotions and reactions and create personal motivation. An individual who is emotionally intelligent is able to demonstrate initiative, optimism, commitment and drive, which in turn can create goodwill and enthusiasm in business dialogues. Lastly, EI facilitates good business relationships through empathy. Empathy means understanding others and what they are feeling and also demonstrating this understanding to them through verbal and nonverbal cues. When mutual understanding is present, inclusion and tolerance become more accessible. For this reason, empathy aids with conflict resolution, connection, and awareness. Consistently using empathy and empathic listening in interpersonal communication, an individual in a work environment can increase a sense of familiarity, confidence, and reassurance in their professional interactions.
Emotional Intelligence in Effective Business Teams
Next, the influence of EI on teamwork will be examined. Based on the Harvard University study conducted by Hillary Anger Elfenbein, it seems that there are two major ways EI can influence teamwork. The first is that the EI of one particular team member can be enough to improve the results of the team as a whole (2006). A team that is wisely utilizing the higher EI of one of their team members can have better relationships with other teams, better relationships with the organization they are part of or with the client they serve. Second, higher EI across all members of a team can increase that team’s efficiency, strengthen team culture and improve conflict resolution and creativity. Elfenbein writes that “a team may be more effective if its members have greater emotional intelligence, which is an individual resource that each person can use in their work… It is reasonable to expect an emotionally intelligent team to have healthy and effective emotional dynamics, and to use emotion productively in order to conduct their work with each other” (2006).
Many companies invest large amounts of resources in better understanding of the dynamics that allow for the creation and maintenance of good teams. In turn, productive teams contribute enormously in the growth and stability of a business. Learning to recognize and select members with high EI can make a tremendous difference in the performance of teams. “High-performing teams aren’t the result of a happy accident, research shows. They achieve superior levels of participation, cooperation, and collaboration because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of group identity, and have confidence in their effectiveness as a team. In other words, such teams possess high levels of group emotional intelligence (EI)” (Ross, 2014)
Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
As far as the influence of EI on leadership goes, research suggests that the higher the EQ of a leader, the more effective they are. Goleman states that, “people with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought” (2004). Each of the four skills that are part of EI contributes to a leader’s increase in efficacy. The intrapersonal skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation play a major role in a leader’s ability to manage their emotional stability and approach decisions from a centered place. By using these skills leaders can avoid emotional hijacking, remain focused and receptive to their employees. Self-awareness, for example, can help a manager identify how their mood may be affecting their decisions and make appropriate changes. Self-regulation can also be helpful in stressful situations. To self manage means to be able to control emotional reactions and to pass them through the filter of reason. A person who remains in control of themselves even in tense situations is a person who usually instills trust and respect in those around them. “People with high social self-efficacy use more effective ways to solve problems because they have self-confidence about their ability to handle chaotic situations,” Erozkan suggests (2013). Self-awareness also assists in improving an understanding of others. It can allow a leader to turn a challenging work situation into an engaging learning opportunity for all those involved. By developing their interpersonal skills, leaders are also able to adequately observe, identify and respond to other people’s wants and needs. This allows them to defuse tense situations and resolve unnecessary conflict. “Successful interpersonal problem solving,” Erozkan writes, “requires the capacity to define an interpersonal problem, to generate possible solutions, and to make a rationally founded choice among solutions that lead to the desired goal” (2013). For example, a manager who notices the office culture is becoming negative or complacent may choose to employ their emotional intelligence skills and steer and encourage a new attitude. Nelson agrees that “a positive mood can help to prevent social misunderstandings, and can enable diverse persons to relate to one another more effectively than can a neutral mood” (2016). To be able to pick up on such emotional cues from their staff, a manager would use their empathy, listening and conflict resolutions skills.
The Influence of Emotional Intelligence on Adaptability to Change in Business Settings
Change within an organization can create emotional stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Some people enjoy having variety in their lives and can thrive on change, while others are highly challenged by change. Companies are always trying to find ways to announce and introduce major changes in ways that will make it more acceptable and more palatable to their employees, partners, and publics. Here, again, implementing change through the use of EI can have a major positive influence. EI can assist change management both through the application of intrapersonal skills of the individual and through the use of emotionally intelligent management. Because personal EI has at its core self-awareness and self-regulation, it facilitates individual adaptation to change. Also, EI companies can use interpersonal skills to manage and influence the overall morale. As Erozkan writes, “people in an interpersonal relationship tend to influence each other, share their thoughts and feelings, and engage in activities together. Because of this interdependence, most things that change or impact one member of the relationship will have some level of impact on the other member” (Erozkan, 2014). An organization that effectively utilizes and encourages EI in its culture will experience a smoother transition process and will encounter less resistance from its employees. Companies that behave in an emotionally intelligent way are more likely to recognize the emotional component of change implementation and adjust for it accordingly. “In many instances, however,” Selivanoff highlights, “the initial input into decision making could be the emotional component, leading to subsequent intellectual processes where people seek an intellectual reason to support the change and finally announce their acceptance of it. By recognizing this pattern, we can now devise more effective ways to lead change—for example, by presenting the change incrementally or in a series of small, workable steps” (Selivanoff, 2018).
To summarize, EI is a personal and interpersonal skill that can be developed and enhanced with practice. The personal aspects of EI are centered around self-monitoring, self-control, and self-motivation. The social aspects of EI are focused on leadership, conflict management and team building among others. The topic of EI influence in the workplace is complex and varied but undeniable when it comes to building better work relationships, offering leadership and facilitating change. Bina agrees that EI “helps the employees to increase their emotional self-awareness, emotional expression, creativity, increase tolerance, increase trust and integrity, improve relations within and across the organization and thereby increase the performance of each employee and the organization as a whole“ (Bina, 2014).
While theories that support and emphasize the importance of using EI in a business environment were found, many questions remain regarding the best way to increase EI in the individual. Should EI be taught in school? Should it be taught in the workplace? Or should the core of this important competency begin development in the family system, where an individual experiences his first interpersonal relationships?
Despite the voluminous discussion of EI in business writings, “a global deficit in understanding and managing emotions remains. Only 36 percent of the people we tested are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen” (Bradberry, 2009). While the benefits are undeniable, the execution remains up to the individual employee, leader or organization. To develop EI one must practice it, and to practice it consistently requires a plan for implementation and repetition. Future studies and programs that can facilitate the application of emotionally intelligent behaviors in the workplace are needed.
Bandelli, A. C. (n.d.). Facilitating communication and effective interpersonal relationships at work: A theoretical model of socio-affective competence. Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/129/
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Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014). Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em
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