Mind matters | UBC Magazine

Developing emotional competencies improves well-being and workplace performance.

Two illustrated figures of people are diving or maybe floating in an abstract geometry but one is highlighted.

Once, not too long ago, people viewed emotional intelligence (EI) as being little more than New Age touchy-feely woo-woo. What really mattered, surely, was raw intelligence (IQ) – the quality of grey material between your ears that enabled you to fly a jet, perform an appendectomy, or earn a Nobel Prize. Studies in the mid-1990s, however, put that notion to rest.

EI gained respectability when it was proven to improve corporate competitiveness and bottom-line results. While it may seem counterintuitive, emotions are crucial for problem solving and critical thinking. EI facilitates better stress management and decision-making, and emotionally intelligent leadership boosts employee engagement. This means improved worker morale and well-being, which leads to greater individual and organizational effectiveness. EI also underpins high-performing individuals and collaborative, relationship-based workplaces, supplanting traditional, hierarchical work environments. The World Economic Forum lists EI as one of the Top 10 employment skills for the future.

Today there is a tool available for business and institutions that facilitates the measurement and assessment of emotional intelligence among employees. Called the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0), and published by Multi-Health Systems, it is the first scientifically validated measure for emotional intelligence and a powerful development tool with many applications.

EQ-i 2.0 lists 15 skills that are highly correlated with emotional effectiveness. Developing these competencies will improve workplace performance and well-being. They include:

  • Reality testing – checking one’s perceptions and biases
  • Social responsibility – the desire to make the workplace and world a better place
  • Empathy – paying attention to the emotions of others and the impact you have on them 
  • Emotional self-awareness – being aware of your emotions, problem solving by leveraging the emotions involved in the application of logic
  • Impulse control – understanding when either stability or spontaneity is appropriate

The business world, and increasingly other sectors such as post-secondary education, see the value of nurturing EI in the workplace. Coaching can give individuals insight into how they impact others, sparking sometimes dramatic changes in behaviour and insight, says David Cory (BEd’92, MA’95), president and founder of The Emotional Intelligence Training Company, based in North Saanich, B.C. Cory has been coaching and training companies on how to enhance EI since the late 1990s.

Even traditionally masculine sectors like engineering, military, and police – associated with the “big boys don’t cry” trope of childhood – are embracing coaching in EI. Many men don’t learn about emotions, they “ignore and deny them, and, above all else, don’t show them to others,” says Cory. However, when given the opportunity in workshops, “participants experience greater levels of trust and deeper connections through sharing their emotions.”

Developing EI can help people in all types of professions learn to work harmoniously in teams, build relationships with customers and clients, and handle stress more effectively. Logic and emotion may be in different regions of the brain but work in concert, says Cory. “The better we know and understand our own emotions, the more effectively we will navigate our work.”

For anyone who aspires to leadership, emotional intelligence skills, such as empathy or social responsibility, are key. If we keep in mind one basic principle: “nothing great was ever done by a solitary individual,” says Cory, we can understand how critical emotional intelligence is for leaders. Leadership is rooted in community. It involves creating partnerships and “joining with other people who have a similar goal.” He points to the #MeToo movement, which exposed and opposed gender bias in the workplace. The women who supported #MeToo, says Cory, showed high EI. “That’s one element of leadership: doing what needs to be done, even though it’s difficult.”

Ultimately, those who understand their emotions, and can manage and use them productively, are more effective in the workplace, Cory says. Developing higher levels of emotional intelligence parallels the progress that humans are making as a species – evolving away from rigid, autocratic individualism and hierarchies of rule, he says. It’s a social and cultural movement whose time has come.

A version of this article was first published at UBC Magazine. More about Roberta Staley.

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