Predicting Success: Emotional Intelligence

Michael Scott, as played by Steve Carell on NBC’s The Office, believes that he’s a great boss, multitalented, and super funny. He believes he’s a real people person and thinks he truly understands his employees and that his employees like and respect him. Actually, Michael (totally unaware of this) comes across to all but one of his employees as insensitive and incompetent.

Do you know someone who is very smart but at the same time just can’t manage to be effective in real-world situations with other people? Do you know someone who doesn’t seem very “book smart” but always seems to be able to get things done and says the right things at the right time? Many researchers believe there is a human ability that affects social functioning called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions in ourselves and others.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is developed from emotional competencies, including learned capabilities that contribute to effective performance at work, outstanding leadership, and deeply satisfying relationships and life.

How are companies using it?  What are their results?

  1. A major cosmetics company found that using EI in selection resulted in increased sales and reduced turnover. Also, salespeople selected on the basis of emotional intelligence sold $91,000 more than others – a net revenue increase of $2.6 million. During the first year, the turnover rate was 63% less than with those selected in the traditional manner.
  2. A major life insurance company found that agents weak in emotional intelligence competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, and empathy sold policies with an average premium of $54,000. Those strong in five of eight key emotional competencies sold policies with an average premium of $114,000.
  3. When the Air Force began using EI tests in recruiter selection, turnover among new recruiters dropped from 25% to 2%. This resulted in savings of $2.75 million annually since training costs are $30,000 per recruiter.
  4. A multinational beverage firm found that executive performance also can be impacted. Turnover among division presidents was reduced from 50% to 6% by using selection based on emotional competencies. Executives who were high in EI outperformed their goals by 15 to 20%, compared to those who were low on EI and who under performed by 20%.

Good news!  You can develop emotional intelligence! You can rewire your responses to your feelings. You can change how you think. You can alter your behavior. Your emotions lead to your thoughts – your thoughts to your behavior – and your behavior to your performance.

What’s an Amygdala Hijack?

Intense emotional circumstances can trigger a “fight-or-flight” response in the human brain. When this happens, rather than thinking through a problem and acting on it using reason, our emotions can take over, causing a too quick or irrational response, an amygdala hijack.

The emotional center of your brain is the amygdala. The brain cortex perceives your five senses and tells you how to react; then hormones in your amygdala cause that action. However, when something particularly stressful or intense is perceived, the thalamus bypasses the cortex and sends that perception directly to the amygdala. Any potential threat will cause this chemical response.

Because of these hormones and adrenaline, this automatic response from the brain does not allow for other solutions to penetrate. At this point, you actually may not be able to think logically and make sound decisions with good judgment.

If you’ve ever said or done something in the “heat of the moment” that you later regretted, you were probably the victim of an amygdala hijacking.  “I can’t believe you said that to me!  How dare you interrupt my conversation! I hope you get fired!”  If you’ve ever wanted to explode on someone because they “pushed your buttons,” that’s your amygdala. You probably don’t even realize the subconscious threat of the amygdala hijack occurring at that moment.

Strategies for Beating an Amygdala Hijack

  1. Use humor or empathy to neutralize the discussion. Annoyed by that person who interrupted you? Remember, you’ve likely interrupted someone before. Just joke a bit and understand that everyone makes mistakes.
  2. Use the 6-second rule. After about 6 seconds, the amygdala hijacking chemicals dissipate. Take 6 deep breaths – think about 6 fun things you want to do over the weekend – anything that helps you focus on something else until the initial reaction goes away.
  3. Identify the stimulus that caused the amygdala hijack. Doing so can help you think it through and keep your cortex involved, instead of allowing the amygdala to take over.
  4. After the situation occurs, think about it more. If the cortex isn’t involved, the amygdala operates on past information. What this means is if you can identify the triggers and store that information, you can learn to prevent the same response.

The Role of Feedback

You can also improve your emotional intelligence with 360-degree feedback. 360 feedback gives you a better understanding of the gap between actual and ideal performance. Accurate self-insight is critical to life and job success. You may get accurate self-insight when you solicit, absorb, and understand feedback from others. Key questions include: Do you have an accurate image of your strengths and needs? Do you see yourself as others see you? Emotional intelligence requires you to understand how others view you.

To become more aware of your emotions and the emotions of others as well as to see how emotions can be regulated in use in your daily life, consider these questions. Find a friend or colleague and compare answers.

  1. Think about situations in which you experienced each of the following four emotions: joy, anxiety, sadness, anger.
  2. What exactly triggered your emotion in this situation?
  3. What impact did your emotions have on the outcome of the situation?  Consider how your emotions affected you, others, and the general outcome of the situation.  Was it positive or negative?
  4. What strategies did you use to deal with the emotion?
  5. What other strategies could you have used to deal with the emotion?

Having a better understanding of your own EI strengths and weaknesses and how best to utilize your emotional intelligence will pay off throughout your job search and your career.

Sources:
 Dr. Debra Nelson, Oklahoma State University Center for Executive Leadership, Presentation to OKC Metro Employer Council
Organizational Behavior, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2011 
http://myevt.com/news/retrain-your-brain-learn-amygdala-hijack, retrieved November 27, 2011

By: Susan L. James, MBA, SPHR