Portrait of a confident businesswoman in front of an office
Emotional Quotient is the ability to read the emotions of oneself — and others — to inform decisions and actions. It is a nonnegotiable when running a successful business. — Getty Images/gradyreese

Emotional intelligence — the ability to understand and manage emotions in yourself and others — has gained wide acceptance among scientists as an important skill for successfully running a business. EQ, as it’s sometimes called, is more important even than IQ, research suggests.

A comprehensive new analysis by Regan Stevenson and colleagues, published in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, looked at 40 studies on the topic to show not only the value of EQ but its outsized importance amid a pandemic or other times of high uncertainty and ambiguity.

“Our research indicates that the extreme nature of the entrepreneurship setting makes EQ critically more important than IQ when it comes to predicting success,” Stevenson told CO—. “We expect this to be especially so during times of major disruption and crisis.”

Surrounding yourself with high-EQ people can also benefit your business. Employees with high EQ perform better on the job and are less likely to burn out. For the record, strong EQ has also been linked more broadly to happiness and relationship success outside the workplace.

What exactly is EQ?

Emotional intelligence is commonly described by psychologists as the ability to notice feelings and emotions in oneself and in others, and to use that information to guide thinking and actions. A high EQ, the idea goes, can serve as a rudder for problem-solving and decision-making.

Low-EQ people typically fail to listen well to the concerns of others and struggle to see things from other perspectives. High-EQ people are better at developing social networks and fostering constructive and harmonious relationships.

“In small businesses where resources are often constrained, developing a network of individuals that may be willing to help with various aspects of the business is essential,” Stevenson said. EQ masters also excel at regulating emotions and being resilient, he said. “The ability to stay resilient and come back from failure is critical in small businesses and entrepreneurship.”

In small businesses where resources are often constrained, developing a network of individuals that may be willing to help with various aspects of the business is essential.

Regan Stevenson, Department of Management & Entrepreneurship, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University

Emotional intelligence is to some degree shaped by genetics and experiences — you may be stuck with some of your EQ baggage. But unlike IQ, EQ can be improved, if you’re willing to put in the effort.

If you’d like to boost your EQ — or perhaps that of your managers — there are three areas to consider, according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at Manpower Group, and Michael Sanger, a psychologist and with Hogan Assessment Systems:

  • Focus on others, not yourself. Meet briefly with employees to discuss their strengths and weaknesses and listen, really listen, to their concerns.
  • Be more rewarding to deal with. This would mean your employees view you as cooperative, friendly, trusting and unselfish.
  • Control your temper. Passion and enthusiasm are great qualities. Outbursts of disappointment or discouragement are destructive.

[Read more: How to Build Trust With Your Employees]

How to improve your EQ

If the above three considerations seem simple enough, you’re likely kidding yourself. You are almost surely not the best judge of your own EQ, the scientists agree. Most people overestimate theirs. And there are no standardized tests that’ll give you a score, as with IQ.

That in mind, step one is to put on your thick skin, suspend judgment, and find out how others rate your emotional intelligence. You might ask around: A loved one, perhaps a colleague or friend, and certainly your employees could tell you — should they choose to be so forthright.

Better, buy or create a survey for EQ (sometimes also called EI) that employees can take anonymously, suggested Rutgers University psychologist Daniel Goleman and executive coach Michele Nevarez, writing in the Harvard Business Review. Or, the pair advised, there are coaches who specialize in helping entrepreneurs evaluate and develop EQ.

Next, you’ll need to decide whether you are motivated to improving your EQ. To expect progress, your motivation must be intrinsic and personal, not something HR or someone else is dragging you into. Finally, develop specific actions.

“If you’re working on becoming a better listener, for example, you might decide that when you’re conversing with someone you’ll take the time to pause, listen to what they have to say, and check that you understand before you reply,” Goleman and Nevarez wrote. “Keep it specific. That helps you change the target habit.”

It’s worth a shot.

“Most of the great entrepreneurs of our time are indeed masters of EQ,” Stevenson said.

[Read more: 'Human Organizations' Are the Future of Business: Here's How to Become One]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 25, 2021