When tested, both men and women tend to have the same level of social and self-awareness. The big difference, researchers have found, is how they apply that knowledge when dealing with other people.
“Women are better at self-management and much, much better at relationship management,” says Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0.”
“But how much of that is based on our socialization?” he continues. “It’s not that men don’t have awareness. Clearly they do, because their self-awareness and social awareness scores are the same as women. They have less skill in navigating relationships.”
Dr. Bradberry and his associates at TalentSmart — a group of industrial psychologists who help companies develop leadership and skills training workshops — have done emotional intelligence testing on more than 500,000 people around the world to measure how successful they are in four key areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. The group also certifies individuals so they can lead emotional intelligence workshops on their own.
One thing they’ve discovered is that the higher up on the corporate ladder people go, the lower their emotional intelligence scores tend to be. “Folks are promoted into middle management because of their people skills,” Dr. Bradberry says. “But to go above middle management, how they interact with people falls by the wayside [because] they’re promoted based on financial performance only. They lose sight of how they interact with other people and how important it is, and their skills deteriorate.”
Dr. Bradberry says that attitude is slowly changing as companies realize that it’s the people with high emotional intelligence scores who are their best producers. “Even before the economic collapse, things were … forcing companies to change, to look at [employee] performance and what’s holding people back. When consumer spending is high and credit is easy, you don’t look at this stuff. But when you lay off a third of your workforce, you need a small group of people to create a tremendous output. They have an increased responsibility to make things happen, [which] is stressful.”
If the company’s leadership is comprised of executives with low emotional intelligence skills, that will negatively impact the atmosphere around them. “Management and leaders [need] to understand that they are the emotional conduits of the institution,” Dr. Bradberry says. “They hold sway over the employee population. If they’re creating fear or uncertainty, it becomes contagious and makes things feel unsettled. In that kind of environment, it’s hard to believe you shouldn’t stab your colleague in the back to make yourself look better.”
In contrast, if company leadership understands how to approach the negative moods and feelings people are having and deal with that positively, they can create an environment where people are able to discuss what’s going on with them and the company. That kind of open dialogue reduces stress levels and clears the way for employees to be more productive. “It also shows the company is aware and interested in the needs of the workforce,” Dr. Bradberry says.
The good news is that anyone can improve their emotional intelligence. “If they get aware of what is holding them back, they don’t have any problem managing themselves,” Dr. Bradberry says. “People just need to be shown where to go, [and] what they need to do. People have a pretty easy time putting this into practice.” Research conducted by the University of Queensland, Australia’s business school showed that having a low EQ (emotional intelligence test score) and job performance didn’t mean a person was doomed to being a lifetime underachiever. Solely by working on one’s EQ, study participants were able to close the gap between them and the high achievers.
An added benefit is that working on emotional intelligence actually builds new pathways between the emotional and the rational parts of your brain. You can’t improve your IQ or how quickly you learn, but when you learn to control how your body reacts to emotional impulses, “it literally changes your brain,” Dr. Bradberry says. “So think of it this way: A company investing in teaching new skills to their people are changing their brains for the better. There’s also such a powerful [correlation] between emotional intelligence and job performance.” Dr. Bradberry’s studies have shown that 90 percent of high performers have high EQs. People with high EQs also tend to make more money than their low-scoring peers — an average of $29,000 per year, or $1,300 per EQ point.