Having a heart will get you ahead

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2007, 12:00am

Emotional intelligence is all about interacting well with colleagues and contributing to a positive office ambience

Businesspeople are not always open to the concept that people need to recognise, understand and manage emotions in the office environment, notes Ben Palmer, a specialist in emotional intelligence in the workplace.

There are many successful people who have achieved great success without necessarily taking the emotions of their employees into account at any point, Dr Palmer said, and these people see no reason to change their leadership style. With such businesspeople, you cannot enforce change, he said.

But many are increasingly recognising that emotional intelligence, which implies an understanding and sensitivity to other people's feelings, can be an essential part of an organisation's success, according to Dr Palmer, a scholar at the organisational psychology research unit at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.

Dr Palmer is also the author of a set of emotional intelligence assessment measures developed for the workplace.

The company Genos was set up in 2002 to develop and distribute products and applications based on Dr Palmer's work. Today, it boasts a client list that reads like a who's who of Australian business.

The list includes household names such as banking giants ANZ and Westpac, Coca-Cola, Caltex, Pfizer, Ericsson, the Victoria Police Force and the former national telecommunications monopoly Telstra.

'I say to business leaders the world is changing,' Dr Palmer said. 'There is a war for talent and you will need your staff to be happy, and engaged. This means you will have to be coach and mentor and you will need to identify and develop talent, and for this you will have to understand people. I explain that I am not there to say they are not successful. I am just preparing them for the future with the concept of EI. That's when I see their eyes starting to light up.'

Unlike intelligence quotient (IQ), which is largely genetic and changes little from childhood, EI can be learned at any age. It is also different to emotional quotient (EQ) or emotional knowledge, because a person can have high emotional knowledge without using it intelligently or in a positive way (some people use their knowledge of peoples' emotions to create mischief in the workplace).

Research shows that feelings and emotions have a direct impact on the workplace. When people feel good they work better and are more creative and productive. Understanding and managing these feelings, in yourself and in your colleagues, can have an impact on everyone's effectiveness and efficiency.

Companies are waking up to the fact that EI is something they should be looking out for in their management personnel. Businesses that have not traditionally focused on their employees' 'soft skills', and have shown more interest in IQ, now realise that employees needed to be more than just clever.

When Dr Palmer first approached the subject, he found some confusion about what exactly constituted EI.

'What I wanted was to provide the academic community with the definitive model,' he said. 'So I did research to determine the core constructs.'

Dr Palmer identified seven constituents at the heart of EI: emotional self-awareness; effective expression of feelings; perception and understanding of others' emotions; emotional reasoning; emotional self-management; emotional management of others; and emotional self-control.

He created a workplace assessment to determine the EI levels of employees. The assessment included questions such as: How often do you provide feedback? Do you take criticism personally? How often do you show your feelings at work?

The answers given are not used to categorise a person, he said, but rather to give the person a starting point from which to work, because the next step is training.

Training does not mean merely taking part in a couple of workshops. Growing one's competency in EI is not easy or quick; it takes perseverance, because it involves critical self-evaluation, and it takes practice. Dr Palmer recommended a mix of workshops, one-on-one and small group coaching over six months to achieve results.

Once they have completed their training, the participants are asked to take another assessment to see how they had progressed. This was a useful tool in making sure the participants were accountable, Dr Palmer said. They may have attended the training because their company asked them to, and therefore they may need a bit of extra motivation. Their managers and colleagues were also asked to complete a questionnaire to establish whether the participants were showing improved emotional intelligence at work.

Dr Palmer said he had received good feedback from companies that had sought his services. Participants said they were performing better and finding work less stressful.

And many of the participants claimed the EI skills they had acquired had been helpful in their personal lives. For these people, EI skills were life-changing.




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