Emotional intelligence (EI and also known as EQ) is defined as the ability to identify, comprehend, and manage our emotions. This is challenging for leaders who are trying to ascertain each team member’s emotional intelligence because EQ will affect one’s behaviors which in turn impacts other people on the team.
It is usually easier to identify those who have high EQ. These people are very self-aware and take the time to reflect on their actions and emotions. They recognize what triggers certain emotions and how to handle them even under dire circumstances. They also know when they may have reached a “boiling point” and need to back off from a situation temporarily, review what has happened, and devise a solution. It is like hitting the pause button on a remote control.
In addition, they understand that for one to develop emotionally there are times when they may face criticism from others and they need to see this as an opportunity for growth; in other words it is viewed as a learning lesson. They are also willing to provide feedback to others on their team, but they do it in a manner that is helpful not hurtful. These individuals are also sensitive to others’ feelings, so they know when they may have overstepped and need to offer an apology. This does take courage because many would rather avoid a situation versus getting into a conflict with another team member.
It is much trickier to figure out those who have low EQ. Some may have excellent technical skills and have been successful in their career so far but when a crisis occurs they fall apart. Others may exhibit chronic emotional distress which includes being negative all the time, inconsistent in their behavior, and/or holds grudges. Unfortunately there is no magic formula or pill for these people to change from low to high EQ.
So what is a leader supposed to do? The first step is to delicately converse with the low EQ person about what is being observed amongst the team members and to collaboratively devise solutions to rectify the situation. It is a good idea to have an objective third person present (human resources, coach, or senior executive) to steer the conversation in a positive manner but also to be a witness to the reactions of the employee. If it is agreed upon that the person needs some assistance, the leader should handle this as quickly as possible. If it gets delayed, the employee could be less trusting of the leader and more problems could occur. If the employee resists taking action, it is then up to the leader to suggest a few alternatives – layoff, reassigning to another department, or suggesting other courses of action outside the workplace i.e. classes or therapy.
EQ is hard to detect during the interview process so leaders should consider different means to identify a candidate’s EQ. Reference checks only go so far because the references may be fearful of lawsuits or other means of retaliation. Assessments and testing are helpful but are time-consuming and expensive. Multiple interviews over a period of time are a smart move because the interviewers can see if the candidate demonstrates consistent behavior. Ideally a combination of all of these should ensure that the final candidate has a high EQ.