Why EQ outranks IQ in today’s workplace

Colleague comforting friend during crisis at work

While a high intelligence quotient (IQ) has long been regarded the key predictor of one’s success in the workplace, studies show that emotional intelligence (EQ) actually has a far stronger influence on job performance and career progression. What exactly is emotional intelligence, why is it so important in the modern workplace and how can you develop your EQ to ensure your success in the workplace and beyond?

What is emotional intelligence?

While the term ‘emotional intelligence’ is commonly used today, most people have a fairly vague understanding of what it encapsulates. The term was originally coined in 1964 but gained popularity in 1995 when Doctor Daniel Goleman published a book on the concept.

According to Dr Goleman, emotional intelligence comprises four main characteristics:

  1. Self-awareness. Dr Goleman describes this as ‘knowing what you're feeling, why you feel it, how it makes you think and want to act, how it shapes your perceptions.’ Being able to label an emotion you’re feeling and understand the cause behind it is a sign of high emotional intelligence. Additionally, being aware of – and able to own – your strengths, weaknesses and motivations demonstrates a high EQ.
  2. Self-management. According to Dr Goleman, this step builds on self-awareness, by ‘using that information to manage your emotions, in a positive way. To stay motivated, to stay focused, to be adaptable and agile, instead of rigid and locked in.’ Are you able to control your emotions during a stressful situation? Are you able to adapt to change?
  3. Social awareness. This component of emotional intelligence requires practicing empathy. According to Dr Goleman, it’s about ‘understanding how someone else feels without them telling you in words, because people don't tell us in words, they tell us in tone of voice and facial expressions.’ Are you able to ‘read the room’, picking up on body language, gestures and other non-verbal cues? People with high emotional intelligence will rarely be surprised by a person’s behaviour – they will have seen it coming through their ability to read other people’s non-verbal communication.
  4. Relationship management. Dr Goleman defines this final component of emotional intelligence as putting that all together to have effective relationships.’ When combining self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, we are able to communicate effectively and have a positive influence over other people’s emotions.
Manager with employee taking a break outside of the office with coffee

The impact of EQ on your career

Multiple studies support the fact that emotional intelligence is a stronger indicator of success than one’s IQ. A study by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 per cent of a person’s financial success is due to people skills (EQ), while just 15 per cent of their success is attributable to technical skills.

Another study found that only 25 per cent of job successes are predicted by IQ; the remaining 75 per cent of job successes are predicted by one’s level of optimism, social skills and ability to effectively manage stress (all components of EQ).

Happy workers working together celebrating success with fist bump

Why is EQ so important in the modern workplace?

Technology is rapidly changing the world as we know it. As we grow ever more reliant on artificial intelligence (AI), automation, tools and systems, we have less need of technical skills. Machines can easily replicate many skills and abilities that fall under the IQ bracket – and far exceed human capabilities in the process. However, it is far more difficult for a machine to replicate emotional intelligence, which means people with a high EQ are becoming increasingly valuable in the workplace.

According to a survey which asked 750 executives and 1,500 non-supervisory employees across the globe about emotional intelligence, 74 per cent of executives and 58 per cent of non-supervisory employees believe emotional intelligence will become a ‘must-have’ skill in the future. The survey forecasted that the demand for emotional intelligence skills will multiply about six times between 2019 and 2024. Emotional intelligence is no longer seen as merely ‘nice to have’ but rather, as a core capability for our modern workplace. As Dr Goleman puts it when describing the modern-day jobseeker: ‘it’s no longer enough just to be smart.’

Happy colleagues sitting around desk having a conversation

Tips to enhance your EQ

While science is on the fence about whether a person’s IQ is fixed or not, the excellent news is that with a little practice and persistence, we can absolutely improve our EQ. In fact, studies show that a person’s emotional intelligence tends to rise over time, and is still developing in one’s twenties, thirties and even forties. 

Here are a few tips on how to actively develop your EQ:

  1. Learn to listen. According to Dr Goleman, the most prevalent sign of low emotional intelligence in the workplace is poor listening skills, which may look like interrupting people or jumping in and taking over a conversation too soon. To cultivate the skill of active listening, try to focus on the deeper meaning behind a person’s words, in addition to the surface conversation. What are they really trying to express? Pay attention to their tone, body language, and the emotion behind their words. This kind of listening takes your full focus, so block out distractions, engage in eye contact and listen to learn rather than to respond.
  2. Express yourself. Just as it’s important to listen well, it’s equally important to express ourselves honestly – especially when it comes to hard conversations. In the workplace, if you keep quiet all the time and never express your views, if you never dare to offer a contrasting viewpoint or stand up for yourself or others, it will eventually affect your career. Strong leaders are seen as those who have their own ideas, can own their views and are able to share them in a positive manner, while encouraging others to do the same. Ways to cultivate this skill in the workplace include not shying away from difficult conversations (being sure to keep them respectful), offering up ideas in meetings and communicating in a positive but honest manner with all colleagues, regardless of hierarchy.
  3. Embrace criticism as a learning opportunity. Nobody enjoys being criticised, but how we respond to criticism has a massive impact on the development of our emotional intelligence. If we react badly to criticism by shutting down, deflecting or blaming others, we miss a vital opportunity to learn and grow. If you find yourself reacting defensively every time you are criticised, try to take a step back from your emotions – ask for some time if necessary. Ask yourself why you’re upset, take accountability for your actions and assess what you can do better next time to avoid further criticism
  4. Keep a diary. Research shows that keeping a diary is beneficial for developing a high EQ, as putting your thoughts and feelings on paper helps you to better understand your feelings, label your emotions and deal with them in a more positive manner. Writing things down can also help you become aware of mistakes, notice patterns you repeat over time and develop new ways to approach situations.
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