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January 01, 2007

Toward a ‘smarter’ workplace: Emotional intelligence a key to success

Marilyn Cavicchia

Some experts on intelligence say that the type of intelligence measured by IQ tests accounts for no more than 25 percent of an individual’s success in life, and that it’s the ability to manage and adapt to emotions that accounts for the other 75 percent.

In sharing this finding with members of the National Association of Bar Executives Communications Section, Arturo Jaramillo, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico General Services Department, also shared his own life story as an example.

When Jaramillo applied to law school, he was rejected by the University of New Mexico, where he had earned his bachelor’s degree, because of his low LSAT scores. He was accepted at the University of Santa Clara, but with the condition that he be in a four-year program rather than the usual three years. He persuaded the dean of the law school to let him go through the regular program. The result? He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, became a successful trial lawyer, served as the first Hispanic president of the State Bar of New Mexico, and, among other honors, received distinguished career achievement awards both from Santa Clara and from UNM—the law school that had rejected him.

How did that happen? The LSAT can be said to measure IQ and one’s knowledge on paper, said Jaramillo, speaking at the communicators’ annual workshop in Albuquerque, N.M., in October. But it’s emotional intelligence—otherwise known as EQ—that helps one tough it out and go on to a successful career. Jaramillo recalled that many law students dropped out when they received their first C, having never received such a low grade before. “A C, many times, is a test of how you handle adversity,” he noted.

In the past 15 years or so, the term EQ was coined, and the phenomenon has been studied in depth by such researchers as Jack Mayer, Peter Salovey, Daniel Goleman, and Dave McClelland. Jaramillo has taken a personal interest in these studies and has taught the concept to others, including attendees at the State Bar of New Mexico’s Leadership Training Institute.

In 1998, McClelland, a Harvard psychologist, studied more than 30 diverse organizations and professions and found that the following EQ characteristics consistently distinguished top performers from average ones:

| achievement drive (optimism; the desire to improve performance); | the ability to develop others (which involves sensing others’ needs and bolstering them); | adaptability (being able to manage change, and being open to new ideas); | influence (the ability to sense others’ emotions, and the ability to persuade); | self-confidence (including awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses); and | leadership (inspiring others toward a shared vision).

The only IQ competency that distinguished top performers as strongly as the EQ skills was analytical thinking, Jaramillo noted.

EQ at work

If you recognize that you are weak in some of these areas—or that some of your coworkers, employees, or supervisors are—does that mean you’re stuck? No, said Jaramillo. The great thing about EQ, he stressed, is that “you can take people and make them better.”

For managers, one key step to creating a more successful workplace, he said, is to make clear to everyone that from now on, the focus will be on the positive rather than on any negativity that has been pulling the office down. With enough reminders, Jaramillo said, lingering grudges and gripes will simply disappear. “Peer pressure simply puts [negative thoughts] out the door,” he explained. “And quite often, they do not walk back inside.”

To keep the positive energy flowing, Jaramillo said, it’s important that managers give employees input in determining what their objectives are on the job, that they recognize even small successes, and that they continually give new challenges and chances to perform. In state government—and perhaps at many bars, too—employees aren’t earning huge salaries, so they need other incentives, he noted.

Underlying the characteristics McClelland identified, there are four basic EQ skills to develop in oneself and encourage in others, Jaramillo said. They are: | self-awareness: the ability to accurately perceive your emotions and be aware of them as they occur; | self-management: the ability to use awareness of your emotions to pause, be flexible, and positively and purposefully direct your behavior; | social awareness: the ability to accurately pick up on and understand the emotions of others and discern what causes them to respond favorably or adversely to someone or something; and | relationship management: the ability to use awareness of your emotions and the emotions of others to manage interactions through effective communications and the proficient handling of conflict.

Managing yourself

Whether you’re a manager or a rank-and-file employee, Jaramillo said, it’s important to begin by addressing how you manage your own emotions and behavior. To do this, he said, “You need to be able to step outside yourself” and assess how you’re handling a particular conversation or interaction—while you’re still engaging in it. If you can’t develop this ability to step outside your head a bit and analyze your emotions, the resulting behaviors (including body language), and how they influence others, you won’t be able to adjust your approach and make lasting, meaningful changes, Jaramillo said.

Establishing and maintaining this running commentary might sound like a lot of work, but Jaramillo said the brain soon adapts and is able to incorporate this new activity. “Your ‘processor’ is the best multitasker you’ve ever seen, if you use it,” he said.

By stepping outside of himself in this way, Jaramillo was able to see that one of his personal challenges was with anger. Particularly when under stress, he recalls, his mind and body would flood with anger, and “everything I did after that was wrong.” Through practice, Jaramillo is now able to recognize his anger before it “ignites,” and shut it off—not by denying it or ignoring it, but by channeling it into a more productive emotion or behavior.

Whether they respond in anger or in some other way, Jaramillo said, stress presents challenges for those trying to develop their emotional intelligence and focus on the positive. One thing Jaramillo does to prevent stress is to look at his calendar each night or first thing in the morning and to set some daily goals that will help him achieve his overall objective, which is that the entities his department works with are happy with the services they receive from the state government. Starting with a sense of mission and some clear goals helps prevent getting off course or being overwhelmed by competing demands, he said.

When under stress and trying to juggle multiple people and projects, Jaramillo recommended, take a second to remind yourself that you’re working in an orderly manner and doing a good job with what’s in front of you, and that you’ll get to everyone in time. Ultimately, he said, this approach is better for everyone involved—including the people you serve—than rushing to handle everything at once.

Rather than working toward the goal of becoming such an EQ genius that you no longer have to do this self-monitoring and adjusting, Jaramillo said to think of this as a lifelong effort to be as productive, fulfilled, and inspiring to others as you can be. At work or in life, he noted, when you feel settled and as if there aren’t many challenges in front of you, that’s a good sign that it’s time to take another step forward.

“The key secret about a comfort zone is that it is only temporary,” he said.