Emotional Intelligence: What It Is & Why You Need It in the Age of Automation updates

A friend of mine recently almost didn't get hired at a large tech company in Silicon Valley because of his 'lack of emotional intelligence,' as the hiring managers stated it. Insufficient people skills overshadowed his years of experience working in the tech industry and excellence at solving complex math exercises. So what's the takeaway?

Well, employers nowadays seem to hire and value people-smart candidates more than those with specific expertise and skills. My friend, and many others like him, hope to be successful in today's job market and to keep working into the automation era. And it turns out that what they need, perhaps more than the technical skills they so deliberately developed, is to become people-smart. But that begs the question: is emotional intelligence something that can be learned? Or is it an innate characteristic?


What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) has two components. First, it is an ability to detect and manage one's own emotions, thoughts, motivations, and actions. This is the intrapersonal part of the skill. The interpersonal part of emotional intelligence is the capacity to monitor and impact the emotions, thoughts, motivations, and actions of others.

People who have high levels of EQ can change negative thinking patterns. They are also very empathetic and can understand others using active listening and the ability to be present. Emotionally intelligent people are resilient and optimistic. They are confident and attract others with their charisma.

This ability to empathize, understand, and manage emotion develops as we become older. A 4-year old understands the emotions of a child who lost his favorite toy much better than a 2-year old who is only starting to learn the concept of sharing. Adults fall into a similar learning pattern, though at a bit of a slower pace.

Some people call this process maturing or becoming wise. And it's easy to observe in everyday life. We get along with and understand people better in our 40s than in our 20s. But even though learning emotional intelligence can seem like an organic process that naturally happens over time, this skill can be acquired or accelerated with training.

Some people are lucky and naturally have well developed EQ skills. Others, like my friend, might need to work on them.


How Can We Measure EQ?

According to the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, there are three ways to measure emotional intelligence: Self-Report, Other-Report and Ability Measures.


A Self-Report helps to measure traits like empathy, warmth, and anxiety based on a self-assessment that looks like this:

I often suffer from insomnia - Not True Somewhat True Very True

I am extremely self-aware - Not True Somewhat True Very True

But this type of test isn't exactly ideal, because it takes enormous effort to look at yourself objectively.


An Other-Report is just a different name for Observer Ratings or 360-Degree Assessment. That's when your team members, or other people who know you well, answer questions about you.

Is empathetic - Not True Somewhat True Very True

Is a good listener - Not True Somewhat True Very True

But this method isn't perfect either, since people perceive one another through their own biases. Still, this technique provides insights about how others see you.

Ability Test

An Ability Test asks you to assume or guess the emotions of others based on a given situation. How would a person feel if their boss pointed out their mistake in front of the entire company? How would an employee feel if they've been working on a task really hard, but their stakeholders ignored it? The test taker tries to guess a possible range of emotions, and, usually, there are different ways to score the results.

Can We Learn EQ?

Everyone from Stanford to General Assembly offers courses and training in Emotional Intelligence. Numerous books on the topic are now available on Amazon. But can this skill really be taught?

Scientific studies conducted in the 1990s, when the concept of Emotional Intelligence was first introduced, show that our capacity to understand and manage our emotions and the emotions of others is quite stable throughout our lives and is based on the way we were raised and our genetics. Nevertheless, with a lot of internal motivation and external coaching, emotional intelligence can be improved. Everyone can change, but not everyone wants to, or has access to the necessary resources.

According to HBR, the easiest facets of EQ to teach are interpersonal skills, like negotiation and social etiquette, and stress management. But studies show that even empathy can be taught, based on the relatively recently proven property of our brains called plasticity.


Why is EQ Even More Important During Automation?

Machines can play Go better than humans can. Artificial Intelligence beats best chess masters at playing chess. Algorithms think faster and will soon be able to critically analyze vast amounts of data and come up with decisions based off of it. (Think: medical records, test results, diagnoses, and treatments.) But what they can't do is communicate the results to a patient in a compassionate way. Machines can't understand, motivate, and interact with human beings as other human beings can.

It doesn't matter how well Sofia the robot mimics human emotions using her face ''muscles.'' Based on current research, it looks like centuries will pass before machines are able to pass emotional intelligence tests. So let's play to our strengths. What humans have to offer, what humans can do better than computers, is relate to the people around us.

Here are just some of the emotional intelligence elements that can not be automated:

Stress management, by the way, is one of the primary skills of people-smart employees. According to HBR, stress is the leading cause of around 40% of workplace turnover and 80% of workplace injuries. EQ training might not solve this problem, but it will probably help individual contributors and leaders manage their stress better and focus on the tasks at hand.

Why do Employers Want Emotionally Intelligent Teams?

While developing one's EQ can benefit your social life, your marital life, and your relationship with your kids in addition to your professional life, people usually hear about Emotional Intelligence through their managers or the Learning and Development departments of their companies. And that's because employers are interested in having employees with a high level of emotional intelligence. Such people are just more efficient workers.

Fascinating studies show that emotional intelligence correlates with individual and team success more than both knowledge and experience.


Emotional Professional Development

Remember my friend who almost didn't get the job he wanted? Well, I can bring him good news: he can develop his emotional intelligence! He can ask for feedback about his people skills and work on any areas of weakness. Thankfully, more and more companies, including, offer solutions that help improve emotional intelligence. As simple as it sounds, being a great motivator, manager, and listener is what will help us have longevity in the workforce and thrive in the Age of Automation.

By Svitlana Kostenko
November 2017

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