Why Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?

Have you ever met a smart yet repeatedly unlucky person who just can’t ever seem to catch a break? It’s like a piano student who hits one sour chord no matter how many times he or she practices the same song. You know the kind of person I mean–it’s never their fault, but for some reason, they continuously get misunderstood, cheated on, taken advantage of, fired, or rejected. Why is it that some very smart people keep experiencing the same sad song? How is it that they can’t seem to succeed personally or on the job? The answer could be a gap in emotional intelligence, what Dictionary.com defines as “skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings.” But why does emotional intelligence matter?

Before I continue, let me just say it out loud: “No one is perfect!” This is not about bashing people who make repeated mistakes, because, honestly, which of us doesn’t have some pattern of dysfunction that we struggle our whole lifetime to conquer? But as an employer, wouldn’t you like your interview process to be able to screen for that person who just doesn’t ever seem to really “get it” at work? And as a job seeker or employee, wouldn’t you like to have what it takes to succeed in your place of employment?

Daniel Goleman, psychologist and co-author of The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education, pokes holes in the idea that academic abilities can predict how well we do in life. He cites studies that support the idea that emotional intelligence, not IQ or technical skills, is more important to a person’s on-the-job success–the skills related to “understanding self, others, and the larger systems within which we all operate.”

Star performers, says Goleman, have distinguishing competencies (emotional intelligence factors) that help them succeed in the workplace, human skills such as confidence, staying cool under pressure, persuasion, and influence. He mentions companies that study star performers to pinpoint what abilities make them successful at their job. As a staffing agency that has studied successful recruiting methods for more than half a century, we call this benchmarking. We then use the star performer’s data to create behavioral interview questions to screen new candidates for the same position. Behavioral questions, you’ll recall, probe a person’s past actions and choices, because previous behavior has proven to be the best predictor of future performance.

According to Carolyn Gregoire of the Huffington Post, there are 14 signs of emotional intelligence to look for. (To read them all, click here.) Below are 3 of my favorites, along with a sample set of behavioral question you could use to screen for each:

You know your strengths and weaknesses. A sample behavioral question could be, “Tell me about a time when your job required you to do something you weren’t normally good at doing. How did you approach the task or situation? What was that like? What did you learn? How did it turn out?”

You take time to slow down and help others. One question to screen for this trait would be, “Can you tell me about a time when you had to choose between getting your work done or stopping to help someone else who was struggling? How did it work out for you?”

After you fall, you get right back up. You could ask the candidate, “Tell me about a time when you had a serious setback at work. Maybe your idea failed, you made a big mistake, or you missed a deadline. I’d like to hear what you did afterward. What happened next?”

So why does emotional intelligence matter? If you’re hiring, it matters because every hire you make either contributes to or detracts from your organization’s productivity, morale, and bottom line. As a jobseeker or employee, emotional intelligence may well be the factor that tips the scales and helps you to land the job or impress your boss. And if you’re just plain ol’ human, it’s the toolkit that keeps you in tune with the world.

Want to know what works? Read this true story about one employer’s strategies for successful hiring.

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