You'll go far if you can show some emotion

November 24, 2006

Intelligence alone is not enough for a successful career. Research shows that equipping staff with good interpersonal skills can help them cope with the stresses of work. Anthea Lipsett reports.

Academics are supposed to be able to get by with bundles of qualifications, a high intelligence quotient and very little else. But for today's academics it is emotional intelligence that really counts, according to new research.

They need emotional intelligence - in essence self-awareness and a good way with people - to cope with university life, Helen Whiteley, head of the department of social and psychological sciences at Edge Hill University, and Pamela Qualter, senior lecturer in the University of Central Lancashire's psychology department, have found.

Dr Whiteley said: "In the past, to work in higher education you needed good academic qualifications, which you obviously still need to have. But nowadays you need more than that - not just specific subject skills and expertise but also good personal and interpersonal skills - to succeed and be effective."

The higher someone's emotional intelligence, or EQ, the better placed they were to cope with the stresses and strains of the job too, she said.

"Higher emotional intelligence correlates with lower stress, less risk of mental and physical health difficulties and a better work-life balance."

Academic staff used to be left alone to get on with their work, provided they delivered lectures and produced research papers. But now they are expected to work collaboratively and support younger academics and students.

"A lot of staff are leaving higher education because of stress, and the answer isn't more counselling for staff," Dr Whiteley said. "The staff need the skills in the first place to cope with the situation.

She added: "Emotional intelligence is about equipping staff with the skills they need to do their job effectively and to cope with the pressure and demands of the job.

"We're no longer simply lecturers. We have to provide all kinds of support for students. Most of us are personal tutors. We're at the front line and are expected to be able to help students through a lot of the difficulties they encounter."

According to Dr Whiteley and Dr Qualter's research, it is possible to coach people to achieve a higher EQ but universities need to give their staff time for personal development.

Dr Whiteley said: "I worked with physicists who thought it was a lot of nonsense, but after half a day looking at emotional intelligence, what it's all about and why it might be important for them, they were sold on it."

In her group training sessions Dr Whiteley asks staff to consider a series of scenarios and how they would react to them. They then talk through their choices and reflect on the best way to cope with situations, leading to teamwork on a professional and personal level and giving people a bigger pool of ideas to draw from on how to deal with problems as they arise.

"It's about breaking habits and forming new ones, and the only person who can do that is the individual," Dr Whiteley said.

"It's beginning to cause a bit of a stir and make people think, especially when linked to the latest round of pay talks and the performance framework," she added.

The questionnaire to evaluate staff includes ten elements that deal with emotional intelligence.

What is EQ?

Intrapersonal skills

  • Self-awareness: being aware of your own emotions and what your triggers are
  • Self-management: managing your emotions so you get the best out of them

Interpersonal skills

  • Empathy: tuning into others and what colleagues or students need (builds on self-awareness)
  • Relationship management: how you work with others

EQ: How do you measure up? Try our quiz to find out.

1. You are on an aeroplane that hits extremely bad turbulence and begins rocking from side to side. What do you do?

a. Continue to read your book or magazine, or watch the movie, trying to pay little attention to the turbulence

b. Become vigilant for an emergency, carefully monitoring the stewardesses and reading the emergency instructions card

c. A little of both a and b d. Not sure - never noticed.

2. You are in a meeting when a colleague takes credit for work you have done. What do you do?

a. Immediately and publicly confront the colleague over the ownership of your work

b. After the meeting, take the colleague aside and tell her that you'd appreciate in future that she credits you when speaking about your work

c. Nothing, it's not a good idea to embarrass colleagues in public

d. After the colleague speaks, publicly thank her for referencing your work and give the group more specific detail about what you were trying to accomplish.

3. You are a college student who had hoped to get an A in a course that was important for your career aspirations. You have just found out you got a C-. What do you do?

a. Sketch out a specific plan for ways to improve your grade and resolve to follow through

b. Decide you do not have what it takes to make it in that career

c. Tell yourself it really doesn't matter how much you do in the course, concentrate instead on other classes where your grades are higher

d. Go and see the professor and try to talk her into giving you a better grade.

4. You are a manager in an organisation that is trying to encourage respect for racial and ethnic diversity. You overhear someone telling a racist joke. What do you do?

a. Ignore it - the best way to deal with these things is not to react

b. Call the person into your office and explain that their behaviour is inappropriate and is grounds for disciplinary action if repeated

c. Speak up on the spot, saying that such jokes are inappropriate and will not be tolerated in your organisation

d. Suggest to the person telling the joke that he or she attends a diversity training programme.

5. You have been given the task of managing a team that has been unable to come up with a creative solution to a work problem. What is the first thing you do?

a. Draw up an agenda, call a meeting and allot a specific period of time to discuss each item

b. Organise an off-site meeting aimed specifically at encouraging the team to get to know each other better

c. Begin by asking each person individually for ideas about how to solve the problem

d. Start out with a brainstorming session, encouraging each person to say whatever comes to mind, no matter how wild.

The basics of emotional intelligence include

  • Knowing your feelings and using them to make life decisions you can live with
  • Being able to manage your emotional life without being hijacked by it -
  • ot being paralysed by depression or worry, or swept away by anger
  • Persisting in the face of setbacks and channelling your impulses in order to pursue your goals
  • Empathy - reading other people's emotions without their having to tell you what they are feeling
  • Handling feelings in relationships with skill and harmony - being able to articulate the unspoken pulse of a group, for example.

The Answers

The more points you score, the higher your emotional intelligence.

1. The turbulent airplane: anything but D. 

D reflects a lack of awareness of your habitual responses under stress.

Actively acknowledging your stress and finding ways to calm yourself (engaging in a book or reading the emergency card) are healthier responses.

(a)10 points
(b)10 points
(c)10 points
(d) 0 points

2. The credit-stealing colleague: D.

By showing an awareness of workplace dynamics, and an ability to control your emotional responses, publicly recognising your own accomplishments in a non-threatening manner, will disarm your colleague as well as put you in a better light with your manager and peers.

Public confrontations can be ineffective, are likely to cause your colleague to become defensive and may look like poor sportsmanship on your part. Private confrontations, while less threatening, are less effective in that they will not help your personal reputation.

(a) 0 points
(b) 5 points
(c) 0 points
(d)10 points

3. The underachieving student: A.

A key indicator of self-motivation, also known as achievement motivation, is your ability to form a plan for overcoming obstacles to achieve long-term goals. While focusing efforts on classes where you have a better opportunity may sometimes be productive, if the goal was to learn the content of the course to help your long-term career objectives, you are unlikely to achieve it.

(a)10 points
(b) 0 points
(c) 5 points
(d) 0 points

4. The racist joke: C.

The most effective way to create an atmosphere that welcomes diversity is to make clear in public that your organisation does not tolerate such expressions. Confronting the behaviour privately lets the person know it is unacceptable, but does not communicate this to the team. Instead of trying to change prejudices (a harder task), keep people from acting on them.

(a) 0 points
(b) 5 points
(c) 10 points
(d) 5 points

5. The uninspired team: B.

As a leader of a group of individuals charged with developing a creative solution, your success will depend on the climate that you can create in your project team.

Creativity is likely to by stifled by structure and formality; instead, creative groups perform at their peak when rapport, harmony and comfort levels are most high. In these circumstances, people are most likely to make positive contributions to the success of the project.

(a) 0 points
(b) 10 points
(c) 0 points
(d) 5 points

Note: Your results in this quiz are not a comprehensive picture of your EI. The quiz is based on questions from Hay Group, but is not representative of its assessment surveys.

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