Emotional intelligence (EI) is the idea that how people react to things emotionally can be just as important in how they navigate work and life as intellectual intelligence.
But is it innate, or can it be learned? Sheila Schmitz, PhD, adjunct faculty member in the School of Business at Capella University, says there are a few EI techniques that people can learn. “Effective leaders use EI to build professional connections, manage their teams, and create better work environments,” she says. “Like any skill, it can be learned, even by those who tend to avoid social situations or have difficulty communicating with others.”
Break Out of the Introvert’s Corner
“Over the course of my career, I’ve known people who have been classified by personality tests as being introverted,” Schmitz says. “They tend to hover in the corner at parties and prefer to not draw attention to themselves or engage with others. But overcoming these tendencies is possible. Doing so can have a large impact on one’s career.”
In order to do that, Schmitz says introverts can take concrete steps to interact with others more successfully. To do so, she suggests:
- Practice speaking with new acquaintances.
- Learn to ask questions of others and remember the details of their answers.
- Show interest in the lives of others.
The idea isn’t to force an introvert into being a full-time extrovert, but for the introvert to develop the skills needed to communicate more effectively and be more aware of others. These are the soft skills that can make a big difference in the workplace.
“As social beings, we respond to others who seem genuinely interested in us and our lives,” says Schmitz. “Imagine you’ve been to two different doctors. One doctor was friendly and took the time to get to know you. The other was more reserved and barely spoke at all. Which one are you more likely to seek out for your next appointment?”
This is a simple illustration of the power of EI in terms of being able to relate to others, and it translates into one’s career as well. People who are personable and engaged with others at work could find themselves more likely to be given additional responsibilities at work.
Work on Self-Awareness
People can also be taught to be more self-aware by studying their own behavior and making adjustments when needed. Example: a certain manager has a negative outlook and is often in a bad mood. That in turn affects the manager’s team. Employees might try to avoid bringing up issues with that manager, maybe even trying to avoid them altogether—which makes teamwork and problem-solving difficult, if not downright impossible.
If the manager stands back, looks at what’s happening, and can recognize the consequences of the negative attitude, they can work to change it. They can identify how their own negativity affects the workplace and determine ways to present a different attitude in their interactions with others.
People who work on developing emotional intelligence could have more success in obtaining a leadership position in the future. They’re more likely to be recognized by peers and supervisors as someone who works well with others because EI traits are what companies look for when considering someone for additional responsibilities. If you weren’t born with them, take some time to reflect on the suggestions above and figure out ways to put them into practice. Like many new skills, it isn’t always easy—but it can be very worthwhile.
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