Holding the winning hand

by 08 Jul 2008

Emotional intelligence accounts for between 24 and 69 per cent of performance success, according to recent studies. But what exactly is emotional intelligence and should it be used in the recruitment process? Sarah OCarroll reports

When university graduate Benjamin Leopold applied for a position as a network analyst with Oliver Wyman in New York, he didn’t think he would get the job.

The position was advertised as seeking someone with three to five years experience, and as Leopold was fresh out of University, his only work experience was an internship he had done while in college.

However to his surprise, Leopold was selected above other candidates with the required experience. Two years later Leopold was again chosen over experienced colleagues for a coveted transfer within the company to Sydney. Leopold attributes a lot of this success to a high level of emotional intelligence.

“When I was first hired, one of the things we discussed in my interview was EQ (emotional intelligence),” says Leopold. “My manager said when he interviewed me he knew right away [I was his choice].

“While I didn’t have the same technical skills as everyone else did, he said he knew he could mould me and work closely with me and that I would enjoy working for the company,” he says.

According to Leopold, employing people based on emotional intelligence is very common in the IT sector in New York.

“It’s the main thing you would be hired for in IT in New York. You obviously have to prove that you know your IT skills and everything but the resumes look very similar in the long run in IT –you know this, you know that. But the main point is going to be: ‘Who are you as a person? Let’s see if you’d fit in with us and this firm and our values’,” he says.

What is emotional intelligence?

But could this not just be described as good social skills? What is the difference between emotional intelligence and being socially adept and an astute communicator?

According to Adele Lynn, author of The EQ Interview: Finding Employees with High Emotional Intelligence, comparing emotional intelligence to social skills is like comparing a car to a steering wheel. She says that while social skills are about our relationship with the external world and how we interact with others, EQ includes skills that drive our internal world as well as our response to the external world.

She says that emotional intelligence is our ability to manage ourselves and our relationships with others so that we can live our intentions. As we become adept at managing ourselves and our relationships, we are better able to realise our intentions.

“Consider this example outside of the workplace,” says Lynn. “If it is our intention to be a good parent, but we get so frustrated by the demands of parenthood that we find ourselves taking that frustration out on our children [that] we are not living up to our intention of being a good parent.

“In the workplace, most leaders say they want to respect and value people. Yet, sometimes, their people don’t feel respected or valued. Why is that? It’s often because of the gap between intention and action. Emotional intelligence can help close that gap,” she says.

Various studies have shown how having employees who possess emotional intelligence characteristics can be beneficial for a business. According to “The Leadership IQ Study: Why New Hires Fail”only 11 per cent of employees failed because they lacked the technical competence to do the job.

The remaining reasons new hires failed were issues such as alienating co-workers, being unable to accept feedback, lack of ability to manage emotions, lack of motivation or drive, and poor interpersonal skills. However, while EQ is becoming widely accepted and a common recruitment tool in the US, it is still a long way from becoming an integral part of the interview process in Australia.

According to David Owens, managing director of HR partners, managers today are much more aware of their own EQ and he believes they are beginning to look for and recognise EQ elements in others. However he believes there is still a long way to go.

“I think the ability of managers to recognise EQ attributes in people varies – some will be better than others and I think we are a long way from saying we have anything like a generally accepted view that the concept of EQ forms part of most recruitment processes,” he says.

“It is a complex concept and when organisations understand their own organisation’s make-up it will be much easier to have EQ right up there on the assessment program,” he says.

One company which has propagated the benefits of assessing for emotional intelligence in candidates is American Express. Deanna Coffin, talent acquisition & development manager for American Express Business Travel, spoke at this year’s International Conference on Emotional Intelligence in Chicago, outlining how they implemented an emotional intelligence program in their company.

“We decided to use the Bar-On EQ-i [test] as the measure and to build a program to develop leaders in the 15 sub-scale competencies,” says Coffin. “The initial applications we decided to focus on were Individual Leadership Development – utilising individual EQ-i report results to increase awareness and to build development plans for enhancing emotional intelligence in leaders. And, secondly, leadership team development,” she says.

Coffin said they conducted a survey of leaders who completed the EI development program and were promoted – 100 per cent of respondents said knowing and working on their EI strengths and opportunities helped them move into a higher-level role.

Emotional intelligence characteristics

So who is emotionally intelligent? There are five key areas in which people can assess their emotional intelligence according to Lynn.

Self-awareness and self-control– One of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, she says. Self-awareness means that we understand ourselves and our impact on others. We understand when our behaviours are having a positive impact on others and when our behaviours are having a negative impact. We also understand when our behaviours align with our intentions. This insight is critical, says Lynn.

However, self-awareness without self-control or self-management is fruitless, according to Lynn. “Another hallmark of emotional intelligence is the ability to manage ourselves so that our impact is intentional, not based on frustration, fear, envy, etc. As we gain the ability to manage ourselves, we can lead a more intentional life,” she says.

Empathy– Without empathy, says Lynn, we lack the ability to understand our impact on others. So empathy is another area which is critical to emotional intelligence.

Social expertness– Social expertness includes our ability to build social bonds and relationships with others, our ability to collaborate and invite others into our world, and the ability to resolve conflict in a productive manner.

Personal influence– The ability to influence ourselves is another key characteristic of emotional intelligence. We must be able to manage ourselves through obstacles and persist in our intentions. We can then turn that influence to others.

Mastery of purpose and vision– Living intentionally means that we must know what our intentions are, says Lynn. So, understanding our purpose and “how we intend to show up” is critical. This describes what values, motives, attitudes, etc you intend to bring to any situation.