Emotional Intelligence in Action


“Those that are unwilling to do violence will always be subject to those that are.” — Unknown

It occurred to me, over the weekend, that some of my readers with an engineering or finance background might need be persuaded of the power emotional intelligence. I know that when I started my corporate career I figured I’d spend most of my time in a darkened room in front of a computer terminal, and once in a while somebody would slide a pizza under the door for me. No human interaction required.

That’s not how it worked out. As I grew more skilled and knowledgeable at my job, I was given more responsibility. This meant I was directing the work of other people, and sliding pizza under the door for them. I found out that  management is an entirely different skill set, which required me to work with people, which required me to notice emotions. I learned to work through other people, which is good, because job opportunities working trees is fairly limited.

Here’s a concrete example of emotional intelligence in action:

Two weeks ago I was at a professional association dinner. Often these dinners have some association business attached to them. This month it was elections for the board. Both candidates had been volunteers for several years, and had the necessary experience and skills for the position. Each had equally bold and valid directions in which they wanted to take the association, but they had two very different approaches to persuading and influencing the membership to vote for them.

The first candidate gave her two-minute speech in person from the front of the room. You could tell she was nervous, and a little awkward. The room forgave her and even encouraged her because they liked her and knew her. She had spent the last year introducing dinner speakers, and she was energetic, smiling, and outgoing, even if sometimes it seemed she was trying too hard.

The second candidate was unable to attend the dinner because of a previous business commitment. Fair enough. He’d gone to the trouble of preparing a two-minute video speech. It was well thought out, well put together, and convincing. I’d never heard him speak before, nor met him, but it impressed me. He’d put effort into thinking about and creating his message, and he’d created a professional, persuasive presentation.

Still he lost to the first candidate. Why? She had established a personal relationship with most people in the room. Even though she didn’t know everybody personally, she was known to everybody there. In all my interactions with her she was accessible, pleasant, and a good listener. She made her presentation in person. She had the social awareness that somebody with a high EQ has, even though she wasn’t doing it consciously or deliberately. As well prepared as the second candidate’s presentation was, it just didn’t have the personal connection.

“But that’s not fair!”, you might exclaim, and you’re probably right. So what? As much as many of us might pretend to wish otherwise, people are emotional creatures. Emotions drive our decisions and behaviour. Is this right and fair? That doesn’t matter. It’s reality, and those that are unwilling to recognize this will always be subject to manipulation by those that do.

My point is this: if you want to have somebody gets paid more than you to slip pizza under the door, while you do the skilled technical work, that’s fine. I respect your choice. If, however, you want to do greater things than you can do by yourself, have a greater influence in your organization or on your customers, and be a better manager, then you’re going to need to understand and manage relationships.

What is sometimes dismissed as “office politics” is the skillful (or not) management of social relations. You can learn and improve these skills. You can refine your self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management to give you the competitive advantage you need to deliver results. You don’t have to do it perfectly. You just have to do it a little better than the people around you.

Remember that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.