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Emotional Intelligence: No Longer an Oxymoron


The idea of emotional intelligence has been discussed for more than five decades, but following Daniel Goleman's landmark work, Emotional Intelligence, did the apparently contradictory term really enter into mainstream awareness. In his book, Goleman exploits a wealth of research show how emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success in life than many traditional measures of intelligence, including standard IQ tests. In the years since Emotional Intelligence was first published, Goleman's findings have been collaborated by countless studies from researchers around the globe. Today we know that people who demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence tend to have better mental health, job performance, and even more success in leadership positions.

But that's not all. In a world where customer interaction is becoming increasingly digitized, emotional intelligence is taking on a new importance in the world of business. Below we'll look at exactly what emotional intelligence is, and how this apparent contradiction in terms is actually responsible for so many of our successes and failures in communication. With the right approach to emotional intelligence, just about any organization should be able to take advantage of this groundbreaking psychology as a potent force for their business.

What is emotional intelligence?

From the outset, emotional intelligence might sound like an oxymoron. After all, emotion is often considered to be an opposing force to rationality, a characterization you can commonly see in characters like Star Trek's own Mr.Spock. But research over the past five decades has shown that this characterization is devastatingly wrong. In reality, our emotions are just another variable in a huge pool of data we use to make informed decisions about our lives.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand emotions in ourselves and others, to discriminate between emotional responses, and to use that emotional data to inform our decision making. When it comes to making rational decisions, it turns out that our emotions are absolutely indispensible data to our day-to-day calculations. In Goleman's words, "In a sense we have two brains, two minds - and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional." Basically, the emotional brain is just as involved in our reasoning as the thinking brain, which acts as an executive overseeing our emotions and helping to govern how we respond to them.

Emotions and Communication

The most obvious benefit to emotional intelligence is in our interpersonal communications. Most communications research begins with the well proven assumption that roughly 90% of an emotional message is non-verbal. That means that understanding what's said is just as important as understanding what isn't. Anxiety in the voice, gestures with the hands, and eye contact often tell us a great deal more than the words we use to communicate, and that's all thanks to emotional intelligence. Our conversations are enriched by emotional data, and without it, our words wouldn't care nearly as much knowledge or meaning.

Emotional Intelligence in the Age of Social Media

For many organizations, social media tools are a fact of life. These increasingly personal means of communicating with customers have proven to be one of the best ways for businesses to build their brand, but along with it has come a great deal of dread over the human factor of that equation. On a platform where one inappropriate joke or one social misstep can lead to devastating consequences, mitigating or otherwise containing the human element is typically the top priority of large brands on social media.

While it's a good idea for every organization to have a social media policy that clearly outlines the dos and don'ts of social media interaction, using social media in a way that incorporates a solid understanding of emotional intelligence can turn the human element from a risk to an asset. While it's true that nonverbal messages are harder to pick up on the Internet, meaning that conversations taking place through email or on social media platforms are relatively impoverished of emotional context, preliminary research has shown that emotional intelligence is still incredibly important to communicating online. For example, one recent study by Hansen, Grange, and Prosser found that individuals with higher emotional intelligence are less likely to have their messages misinterpreted online.

The Take Home Message

Our social interactions are enriched with a wealth of emotional data that makes it possible to communicate far more information than what's actually said. All of this is thanks in no small part to our emotional intelligence. Although the science is still far from settled by academics, we can already begin to take advantage of what we've learned. From social networking to our social lives, there's hardly a single aspect of our lives that aren't affected by emotional intelligence.

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Opened by Antoine Fournier, Head of ECM, Input and Output management, Zurich Insurance
Oct 22, 2014.



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