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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

by Shel Horowitz

"20 years after graduation, the one doing the best is not the valedictorian or the editor. It will be the one who is very empathic, easy to get along with."

The speaker was Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, addressing the International Family Business Program Association conference (hosted by the UMass Amherst Family Business Center), in Northampton, Massachusetts, July 11, 1997.

"IQ predicts at most 20% of successes," says Goleman-but about 70% of successes can be predicted by examining "another set of abilities" in order to judge whether an individual will be successful: emotional intelligence.

Goleman defines emotional intelligence (henceforth, "EI") as "a set of capacities that include knowing what you're feeling, knowing what others are feeling, managing the feelings in relationships, and using your feelings to motivate yourself."

He developed his theory by looking at the qualities shared by ultra-high achievers. He found the stars spread across the spectrum in their IQ, training, and credentials-but consistent in their high ability to get along with others, their levels of motivation, and their self-discipline.

Because of their skills in working with others, stars-whether in athletics, scientific discovery, sales, or other fields-"get answered first when they have questions," and as a result, are able to stride past their competitors who are still groping for someone to help. While cognitive thinking gets you "into the game," emotional skills allow greater progress at a more rapid rate. "People who are better in EI get more out of being better" because they can leverage other people's abilities very effectively. In fact, their power increases with the complexity of a task-because people WANT to help them.

Those with a high "EQ" make excellent leaders and managers. But the business world, Goleman believes, too often promotes people with technical expertise but no management or team-building skills-with disastrous results. This lack of attention to EQ is Goleman's interpretation of why the Peter Principle (people are promoted to their level of incompetence) is so pervasive-and so devastating.

EI has five elements, in Goleman's view:

  1. Self-Awareness: "The stream of mood runs parallel to the stream of thought-but we rarely stop to notice until [the mood stream] builds up and impinges on our awareness." If you have no feelings about your thoughts, you'll have no preferences and be unable to make decisions. Goleman believes that listening to the emotional response-going with your gut-is critical. "Life's decisions are fuzzy, sloppy decision trees; you don't get a neat computer printout. The whole person needs to be involved in sound decisions. Numbers aren't enough. in this sense, feelings are facts too." Also, being aware of one's emotional responses help a person find-and overcome-his or her own weaknesses and blind spots.
  2. Ability to Handle Emotion: an example is the ability to pass up a tantalizing gratification now for a better reward later. In a test of four-year-olds, those who opted for delayed but more powerful rewards scored an average of 210 points better on their high school SATs (14 years after the original test), compared to those who went with the immediate, feel-good response.
  3. Motivation: Watch what people say when they face a setback. Pessimists say, "I can't do it." But the optimists-the more motivated ones-look for the ways they can change the situation. They say, "I'll try harder."
  4. Empathy: pay attention to more than the words. Pick up cues from tone of voice, expression, body language. Examining how well people do on processing this information turns out to be a 94% accurate predictor of whether a couple will divorce. In sales, the most empathic-and successful-salespeople function as consultants to their clients.
  5. Social skill: "Emotions are contagious." If people around you are angry, depressed, exuberant, their mood will rub off on others. "Everyone who represents a company in a public interface leaves people feeling better or worse. They ARE the company," and if they don't handle the role well, they will impede business success. Thus, Goleman suggests making sure anyone you hire who will ever deal with the public has a high EQ. Look for people who can listen, lead, persuade, influence, be a change catalyst.

Though Goleman sees a decline of EI in the workplace, he points out that the behaviors can be learned.

To find out more about how business cultures can learn emotional intelligence, read the book, or Dr. Goleman's new book, Working With Emotional Intelligence (released Fall of 1998).

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