The View from HR

Emotional intelligence key to personal and professional success

April 22, 2012 

“People are emotional first and rational second: Logic makes people think; emotions make people act.”*

This quote may cheer you, inflame you or make you laugh. I am going to use logic to illustrate the power of emotion in your personal and professional success.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is how we handle ourselves and others (Daniel Goleman, 1995). What could be more fundamental to your effectiveness or failure as a manager or employee? Yes, good knowledge of the field of work is necessary, but many people have that same knowledge or more. The difference between success, average results and failure is often your level of Emotional Intelligence.

Think about the best mentor, leader, friend or other influential people in your life. What gave them the ability to give you just what you needed just when you needed it? Were they influential because they always told you what you wanted to hear, or was it because of their ability to listen and give non-critical, supportive conversation? How did they know the right thing to say and do in almost every interaction?

Loving or respecting you, being your parent or spouse, managing you and signing your paycheck, wearing a minister’s collar or having an M.D. are not enough (by themselves) to get someone to the top of your “best mentors ever” list. It is much more complicated ... and much more emotional than that.

Emotional Intelligence is made up of a combination of internal and external behaviors.

Intrapersonal behaviors: Do you have high self-regard? Assertiveness? Independence? Impulse control? These behaviors and self-beliefs will govern how well you know and express your feelings, and whether you make decisions independently. They also govern whether you tend to be self-critical and can appropriately assert your feelings or defend your rights.

Interpersonal behaviors: Empathy is the ability to listen well and understand another’s thoughts. Egocentricity is how much you put the needs and well-being of others (and society) above your own. Problem solving and reality testing measure how grounded you are and your ability to find good solutions. Flexibility measures whether your thinking is rigid or adaptable.

Chances are you have some strengths in Emotional Intelligence and some areas of relative weakness. A strength can become a weakness when it is overused. For example, too much optimism can blind you to problems and prevent your success. Weaknesses can be improved by identifying them and recognizing where and how they appear, with the result that the steps to improvement will become logical and doable.

Business leaders with strong Emotional Intelligence are more successful in hiring, managing growth and problems, leading people, and teaching others. CEOs tend to be low in impulse control and interpersonal relationships (and high in independence/assertiveness) but may be even better at their work if they had more empathy.

Team members are more successful with good levels of empathy, average or lower independence, and good flexibility and reality testing.

The more you understand and work to improve your own use of Emotional Intelligence, the better leader, manager, team member, spouse and friend you will become.

*Quote and general information from Reuven Bar-On, Ph.D. and the Emotional Quotient Inventory.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI, Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit

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