Emotional Intelligence - What It Means

Dr. Sawitha Harikrishnan
Ph.D., Professor and Head,
Department of Management Studies, PESIT
PESIT Campus, 100 Feet Ring Road, Banashankari III Stage, Bangalore-560 085

In the present scenario there has been a remarkable change in the way in which the rules of work are seen. People are not evaluated by how smart they are, or how intelligent, or the training and expertise attained, but by how well they handle themselves and each other. This rule is applied for hiring, appraising, promoting, and even firing. These new rules can predict who is most likely to become a star performer and who is more prone to derailing.

On looking closely, it is seen that afore mentioned rules have little to do with what we were told in school in the sense that academic abilities have no relevance to this standard. This new measure takes for granted the intellectual ability and technical ability required for a job, and instead focuses on personal qualities such as initiative, empathy, adaptability, and persuasiveness.

Management experts (Carnevale et al.,1996) are of the view that this trend is neither passing fad nor a nostrum of the moment but based on research studies of tens of thousands of working people, in callings of various kinds. Especially in a time with no guarantees of job security, when the very concept of 'job' is rapidly being replaced by what is popularly called 'people skills', these are important qualities that make and keep people employable. These skills have been referred to loosely by various terms like 'character', 'personality', 'soft skills', 'competence', etc. But with Daniel Goldman's international bestseller "Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ?" companies are looking to "emotional intelligence" (EQ) as a priority and a vital component to any management philosophy.  Dr. Reuven Bar-On coined the term EQ and also has developed an instrument known as the Bar-On EQ-I for measuring EQ.

Emotional Intelligence is seen to be an umbrella term that comprises a broad collection of individual skills and dispositions, usually referred to as 'soft skills' meaning inter and intra-personal skills that are outside the traditional areas of general intelligence, technical, and professional skills. Professionals of the area are of the view that in order to be an adequately functioning member of society, one must possess traditional intelligence (IQ) as well as emotional intelligence (EQ).  The above view fits with the traditional notion that one needs 'something' more than brains to succeed in life. That 'something' is what we popularly call "emotional intelligence" now.

Soft Skills at Work Place

The whole concept of "work" is rapidly changing fast. The buzzwords of today are "delayering, rightsizing, outsourcing" etc to name a few. Against such a backdrop employees are faced with new demands that are to deliver faster, cheaper and smarter. Promotions too are not viewed as the only means to grow - people are looking towards moving laterally and spirally. The job market too has undergone a sea change. Real talent is looking for right work culture, charismatic leadership and close relationships at work. Companies too are stressing on 'emotional bonds' rather than 'legal bonds' as the means for retention. Practices like dating allowances, crèches for working parents, or even flexi-working are all geared towards the emotional needs of the employees.

To understand emotional intelligence better one needs to know the dimensions. The following are what is commonly recognized as its dimensions:

    a) Self-awareness: this relates to the competencies of emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence.

    b) Self-management: this includes self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, achievement orientation, and initiative.

    c) Self-control: this defines the competencies of leadership, influences, communication, change catalyst, conflict management, building bonds, teamwork, and collaboration.

    d) Social-awareness: this dimension relates to empathy, organizational awareness, developing others, and service orientation.

With the above mentioned dimensions of EQ in mind, it is also necessary to recognize it in oneself! We have emotional quotient if we have

    • The ability to express emotions appropriately and effectively, not just knowing how one feel or hiding behind one's self-imposed wall.
    • The ability to confront people with uncomfortable truths, even if it means not being nice to them all the time
    • The ability to use the right display of emotions at the right time

Hiring and EQ

EQ is also seen to affect the recruitment and selection processes in a company. A study conducted on 4500 men and 3200 women in the US and Canada show that women have better interpersonal skills (soft skills) than men, while men display better sense of self and tolerance for stress. These findings do have implications in the workplace because they are able to answer the questions of why women are seen to occupy higher corporate positions nowadays, something that was not so common in the recent past.

Soft skills are seen to have some relevance for IT professionals also. IQ alone did not contend for success in work life. A study conducted on 104 IT specialists using an EQ test showed that IT professionals had a lower overall score for EQ than the other groups, i.e. the HR group had the highest score of 110, followed by technical support specialists, the MIS group followed by the programmers at the bottom rung. It must also be mentioned that the average score for both the groups, namely HR and IT was 100.  Among the IT group, the highest score was obtained by the technical support group. So the above results disprove the earlier belief that cognitive smartness (high IQ) makes the best technical performers. Research is also showing that high EQ IT professionals become the real stars. They are seen to use their interpersonal skills to get more information, to help solving problems, and are generally liked well by others. These factors may not matter as much to some employers owing to the shortage of programmers, and IT professionals needed to meet the increasing needs of the software industry. But now with the crash of the dot coms, we are sure to find programmers trying to differentiate themselves, looking for jobs. It is then that those with high EQ will prove winners. A study on 150 IT executives of the 1000 largest companies in the US found that 68% of IT executives felt that 'soft skills' were more important now than it was in previous years. This has led recruiters to look for 'soft skills' and 'common sense' while hiring not only salespeople and managers but 'technical people' as well.

EQ and Performance

It would not be far fetched to say that emotional intelligence is much more than a skill that's nice to have. Evidence at the work place proves that EQ has a direct relationship to performance and thereby, the bottom-line.

According to the studies conducted by the Personnel Resources and Development Center, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Washington, there is evidence of EQ's relationship to the bottom-line.

    • A study of 1171 U.S. Air Force recruiters shows that the best performing recruiters were those who scored high on assertiveness, empathy, interpersonal relations, problem solving and optimism.
    • A study conducted on 1000 sales personnel from a large, U.S. based international company demonstrates that the characteristics most predictive of sales success were assertiveness, empathy, happiness, emotional self-awareness and problem-solving skills.
    • Research on 181 jobs at 121 companies worldwide showed that 2 out of 3 abilities vital for success were emotional competencies like, trustworthiness, adaptability, and a talent for collaboration. 
    • Another study on what big and medium sized corporations seek, when they hire MBAs report that the desired capabilities are communication skills, interpersonal skills, and initiative- all elements of EQ.
    • In another study on computer programmers, it was seen that the top 10% of performers out did average performers by 320% and that the top 1% superstars produced 1272% more than the average.
    • In an another study of top 500 organizations worldwide indicated that people with high EQ rose to the top of the corporations, These 'star performers' possessed more interpersonal skills and confidence than others-again indicators of EQ.
    • In a retail chain, ability to handle stress was found to be linked to successful performance by store managers measured in terms of net profits, sales per square foot, sales per employee, and per dollar inventory investment.
    • New sales persons at Met life who scored high on a test of 'learned optimism' sold 37% more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists.
    • Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes for derailment in executives were deficit in emotional competence, difficulty in handling change, not being able to work well in a team, and poor interpersonal relations.

All the above studies prove beyond a shadow of doubt the importance of developing 'soft skills' for success at ones job as well as life.  

Developing EQ

It took the corporate world some time to come to terms with the fact that personality counts for success at work. Interestingly EQ can be learned over time. Also, unlike IQ, we can enhance our emotional quotient. But also keep in mind that EQ cannot be learned as a result of a three-day training programme. It requires much, much more than a few training sessions.

It is essential to keep in mind that EQ is fundamentally different from the normal 'soft skills' training like active listening, problem solving, or team building. The difference lies in the fact that other soft skill training is focused in content while EQ training is oriented towards broader parameters like organizational and behavioral changes and receptiveness.

Behavioral trainer H. Shekar is of the opinion that "EQ efforts take longer than the average skill development course because learners need personal time during training to absorb the material and master it. The change must envelope basic patterns of behaving and reacting. It is not like learning to work on Microsoft Office."

HR professional who have implemented intensive EQ training in their companies, are of the opinion that it requires quite an effort. Madhu Grover, Training Manager of a Cosmetics MNC, has completed EQ sessions for a group of 340 sales executives over a period of two years. She is of the view that in order to develop a long lasting behavioral changes that impacts the bottom-line one has to:

    • Identify various role competencies
    • Assess current EQ levels of employees
    • Fill in the gaps with EQ training.
    • Work towards fulfilling predefined expected, outcomes of the EQ exercise
    • Create avenues for employees to improve their emotional competency levels on a regular basis through feedback, support, follow-up programmes, and role modeling.

The Consortium on Emotional Intelligence at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, prescribes guidelines on how to promote emotional intelligence in the workplace. They advocate the following:

    • Determine the organizational competencies that are critical for effective job performance in each job.
    • Identify individual competencies from multiple ratings sources such as 360-degree assessments that include boss, peer, and subordinate ratings. Locate the gaps between desired and available competencies.
    • Link learning goals to personal values.
    • Build positive expectations by showing learners that social and emotional competence can be proved and that such improvement will lead to valued outcomes. Build and share realistic goals.
    • Foster a positive relationship between the trainers and learners. Trainers who are genuine and empathetic will be most effective.
    • Encourage self-directed change. Allow people to tailor their learning program to their unique needs.
    • Be clear about what the competence, how to acquire it and how to use it at work.
    • Break the goals into manageable steps
    • Provide opportunities for sustained practice on the job.
    • Provide ongoing performance feedback
    • Build in support by forming groups, coaches and mentors.
    • Enhance insight through self-awareness. Help learners acquire greater understanding about how their thoughts, feelings, and behavior affect themselves and others.
    • Encourage use of skills on the job. Make sure that supervisors, peers, and subordinates reward learners for using new skills.
    • Develop organizational culture to support learning.
    • Evaluate the change. Assess impact on important job related outcomes and indicators of adjustments such as absenteeism, grievances, health status, etc.    

Successful EQ training confirm that three basic elements need to be covered in any programmes; namely, theory, practice and application. It has to start from the background of what EQ is and why it is important in the work place, to actual skills that people can use to become more emotionally intelligent, and finally helping people to apply those tools to their situations and needs. And it is interesting to observe that training sessions in EQ can last from a few days to several weeks.  So that means duration of the training sessions is not important. For example, much of the emotional competence training consists of techniques to deal with emotions in the work place, especially negative ones i.e., people are taught a skill called 'freeze frame' which is primarily a stress-busting tool. The process begins with recognizing and accepting the feeling of stress; and then goes on to diverting attention away from the negative emotion by recalling memories of a positive emotion from one's life. The learner then goes on the search for a better response to the stressful situation and follows what his/her heart says. According to H. Shekar, "Practicing this skill can help people change physiological responses to stress, such as lowering blood pleasure and slowing down heart rate. In the workplace this is an invaluable skill, to feel more comfortable and in command of yourself. Ultimately people find themselves performing at high levels, because they are more relaxed and comfortable." A group of 15 to 20 participants is optimal for EQ training.

Trainers recommend a heavy dose of practice for EQ learners. Managers from a large American Telecom Company had a rating of 45% on a stress scale, but after EQ training experienced a drop of 20%. Those managers also felt more peaceful and empowered and reported fewer problems related to insomnia and headaches. In turn it also lead them to make other positive changes in lifestyle and health routine like improved eating habits, more exercises, etc. From the point of view of the company also there were benefits to reap. Organizations imparting EQ training experienced benefits like lower health care expenditure, lower turnover, higher productivity, and increased profits.

But still, EQ awareness and training has still a long way to go. Companies only put aside a miniscule portion of the training budget aside for soft skills. Most of the expenditure is set aside for technical and computer-related skill training.

To conclude, empathy, flexibility, and self-confidence are not just soft skills to be categorized as 'preferable' on the appointment ad. Emotional competencies of this nature will actually improve the bottom-line. Yes, Emotional Intelligence will sustain organizations through this millennium.


Carnevale, A.P., (1989), Work place Basics: The Skills Employers Want , 'Listening', American Society for Training and Development, and U.S. Department for Labor, Washington D.C.

Feist, J. F., and Barron.F., (1996), Emotional Intelligence and Academic Intelligence in Career and Life Success, Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Society. San Francisco.

Goleman, D., (1998), Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, London.

Goleman, D., (1995), Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, New York.

Kelley, R.E., (1998), How to be a Star at Work, Satisfying Work and Outstanding Performance, Times Books, New York.

Malhotra, P, (Ed.) (2000) Bench Marking HR- Harnessing the Power of EQ, Human Capital, Vol.3, No.8. 

Tannenbaum, S.I., and Yukl G. (1992), Training and Development in Work Organizations, Annual Review of Psychology, 43.

Dr. Sawitha Harikrishnan
Ph.D., Professor and Head,
Department of Management Studies, PESIT
PESIT Campus, 100 Feet Ring Road, Banashankari III Stage, Bangalore-560 085

Source : E-mail February 8, 2005




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