Emotional Intelligence… How to Harness your Potential


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Have you ever been in a position where you thought you were getting along fine with a colleague or acquaintance only to find that they have a different opinion and, in their mind, you’re heading for WW3?

The other day I was working with a manager who was extremely upset about a complaint she’d received about the way she’d ‘belittled’ a colleague. Two weeks ago, a friend was extremely shocked to receive a below average rating during his appraisal, even though he thought he was doing well. Yesterday, a friend called me in tears about what she thought was a petty misunderstanding with a neighbour which had blown up into a full-scale row.

The ability to ‘read people’ is a crucial skill for managers and leaders and can be the difference that makes the difference if you want to build long-lasting relationships at work. The art of knowing yourself, reading people and being able to govern the interplay between both is crucial if you’re looking to develop as a leader with gravitas.

The four components of emotional intelligence broken down:

Let’s explore how to harness your potential through emotional intelligence.

What’s the difference between EQ and IQ?

In 1995, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a book called ‘Emotional Intelligence’. In it, he suggests that EQ may be more important than IQ in today’s business world. This is because being able to understand yourself and proactively managing your relationships with other people is pivotal in achieving things collectively.

When I introduce the concept of EQ in leadership programmes, it often triggers a heated discussion about which is more important when it comes to delivering results: cognitive intelligence (IQ) or emotional intelligence (EQ). Whilst tempting to weight up the two, the debate but it may be flawed. Read this article posted by the same author, 13 years after he wrote that book on EI.

What’s interesting is that recently, the debate has moved on to reference not only IQ and EQ but also SQ (Social Intelligence), which encompasses intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence and focuses primarily on an individual’s ability to cooperate as part of a group.

The relevance of EQ when building relationships

So why is EQ so relevant today? EQ is a vital ingredient for building rapport and nurturing relationships that last. From a business perspective, people who know how to build rapport will be more influential and more successful than those who don’t.

Rapport is based on understanding where the other person is coming from and finding ways to connect with them, both at a superficial level (hobbies you share, projects you’re working on, places you like to go for coffee) or at a deeper level (political opinions, a shared purpose and beliefs you hold about the wider world).

What are the pitfalls of not developing EQ?

Although some may find the concept of EQ and rapport building ‘fluffy’ and unconnected to the real business of getting things done, in today’s relationship-based economy, not doing so can be hugely detrimental, particularly in times of conflict.

Although living with an element of conflict isn’t necessarily a negative thing – it’s fine to agree to disagree and respect one another’s differences of opinion – what is unproductive is when opposing views become a destructive force, with the relationship breaking down as a result. This can have extremely detrimental effects in the workplace where people can’t just walk away from one another but need to find a way to get along.

We can all think of people who rub us up the wrong way or people we just don’t ‘get’ (notice how easy it is to make it their fault?!) and how quickly a disagreement can escalate into a full-scale drama. It’s EQ that makes conflict OK and stops a disagreement turning into a negative force.

How to harness your potential through EQ

Start by understanding what it is: the best definition I’ve seen is ‘the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you’ – this isn’t about suppressing or diverting emotion, it’s about channelling. It’s also about paying attention not only to what’s going on with you but prioritising what’s going on in their world, and then choosing to adapt your behaviour and communication style to ensure a successful outcome for everyone.

A fantastic example from my book of how emotional intelligence can be harnessed by a leader is Nelson Mandela. On being sent to jail for 27 years, he commented: ‘I was made by the law a criminal, not because of what I had done but because of what I stood for’, illustrating how self-awareness helped him to accept the court’s decision with grace. While in jail he showed a profound sense of self-management, he stated: ‘We don’t have to be victims of our past. We can let go of our bitterness, and all of us can achieve greatness.’ He later said, ‘there were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.’

If you lack social skills and EQ but have exceptional ideas, what should you do?

History is full of brilliant geniuses with exceptional ideas who lived as social recluses. Although some people with high IQs may reject the notion or relevance of EQ, the irony is, for their contribution to be fully appreciated by others, they will have to develop sufficient EQ to share it. While it’s impossible to force someone to work on their EQ – and many people with a low emotional intelligence would run for the hills if you suggested they do so – I’m not sure it’s possible to operate in a vacuum anymore, particularly in the business world where we need to work together to achieve results.

Is it possible to learn EQ?

It’s possible to learn to have EQ if you prioritise it sufficiently. Self-awareness and the related emotional intelligence is often what brings leaders to a deep sense of wisdom, ease, assuredness, and respect for others. Caring enough and being interested enough in others is what’s important. There’s a great quote by David Hockney: ‘The most interesting space is where you end, and I begin’. If you and I combine our thinking by opening up our minds to encompass one another, we will individually and collectively have a more enriching experience.

As for me, it’s a work in progress. Although I care deeply about respecting other people’s points of view, there are still times where I misread situations or am blindly unaware of how I come across. It’s a work in progress. The most important thing is to try.

If you’re looking to develop your emotional intelligence and increase your influence and impact, start by reading a free chapter of my book, ‘Leading with Gravitas’, or visit my website.



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