February 25, 2006

What's Your Emotional Intelligence?

The other day I read an article from FastCompany on Emotional Intelligence. The article published in June 2000 says that companies are starting to realize that emotional intelligence can be significantly more important in one's success than technical competence or IQ. Emotional competence defines the characteristics that separate the very best performers from the good performers and the good from the poor performers. In today's increasingly changing and dynamic work environment, having higher emotional intelligence can spell the difference between success and failure.

While the field of emotional competence appears to have emerged overnight, it has, in fact, been 15 years in the making. In 1985, Reuven Bar-On, 56, a psychologist who practices in Israel, first coined the term "emotional quotient," or EQ. Bar-On had moved to Israel at age 20 and became interested in the field while studying for his PhD in South Africa. "My simple -- almost simplistic -- question in the beginning was, 'Are there factors that determine one's ability to be effective in life?' " he explains. "Very quickly, I saw that people can have very high IQs, but not succeed. I became interested in the basic differences between people who are more or less emotionally and socially effective in various parts of their lives -- in their families, with their partners, in the workplace -- and those who aren't." For his thesis, Bar-On identified a series of factors that seemed to influence such success. He then developed a tool that assessed strengths or deficits, based on those factors.

One organization that FastCompany featured was the Air Force and how they used Bar-On's criteria to improve their ability to find the right people to hire as recruiters. Before the Air Force identified the emotional intelligence criteria that the most successful recruiters displayed, they found that for every 400 recruiters they hired, within seven months over a quarter of those hired would wash out and have to be dismissed. Hiring the wrong people for the job was costing over 3 million dollars a year. So Rich Handley, the chief HR specialist, tested a number of the very best recruiters as well as others that were not so successful to see what were the differences.

The 133-question self-administered test evaluates 15 qualities, such as empathy, self-awareness, and self-control, but also includes categories that seem less obviously a measure of emotional competence -- among them assertiveness, independence, social responsibility, and even happiness.

In early 1997, eager to learn more about the predictive capabilities of the EQI, Handley administered the test to 1,200 staff Air Force recruiters. They were divided into three groups: high performers who met 100% of their quotas, average performers who met at least 70%, and failures who met less than 30% of their quotas. The highest performers outscored the lowest in 14 of the 15 EQI competencies.

Handley found the results intriguing but not fully satisfying. "They were equivalent to telling you, 'Here are 14 ingredients that will make a good-tasting cake,' but then not giving you the exact amounts of the ingredients," he says. Taking his analysis one level deeper, Handley used a statistical-modeling technique to determine the top-five qualities that were associated with the highest-performing recruiters. They were (in order of importance) assertiveness, empathy, happiness, self-awareness, and problem solving. Disparate as these qualities may seem, they made sense to Handley. "Assertiveness is obviously important," he says. "If you're happier, you're more positive, and that's infectious. Someone with strong empathy skills can read a cold sale very quickly and won't waste time if it isn't going to work out. And recruiters with strong problem-solving skills think on their feet more efficiently, waste less time, and feel less stressed -- which makes them more effective in the long run." Indeed, the highest-performing recruiters put in the fewest number of hours. "The best ones work smarter, not harder," Handley says.

Identifying the right characteristics and using this information to help screen their applicants led to a $2.74 Million savings per year for the Air Force because they are able to select the right candidates for the job from the beginning.

One interesting tidbit from this article is that Handley has started his own company with a website called EQ University.com where one can take a test to find out what their own EQ is for $149 and find classes that help people build more emotional competence. The assessment provides a 7-8 page report plus a 30 minutes confidential telephone consultation. Included in the report are areas showing strengths and weaknesses and what competencies should be worked on in order to improve your chances for success.

People that exhibit high emotional intelligence are more self-aware, have more empathy than others and are more socially responsible. I find it interesting that many of these characteristics are ones that are more highly valued by those who hold a liberal philosophy than a conservative worldview. Today, too many moralistic conservatives spend more time worrying about what others are doing rather than how they are doing against their own moral and ethical standards. It is easy to blame others for our flaws (or even worse, project our flaws on others), but not so easy to realistically assess our own flaws and actions and then to challenge ourselves to be better.

Posted by Mary at February 25, 2006 09:35 AM | Recommended Reading | Technorati links |

If you want to take a free, probably less comprehensive EQ test, this one isn't bad.

Posted by: carla at February 25, 2006 08:20 PM

Thanks, carla, for this test. Despite being short, it made me reflect.

Posted by: Mary at February 26, 2006 10:01 PM