Emotional intelligence can help take stress out of business


Proponents argue ‘EQ’ incorporates key traits that help companies through hard times

WHILE COPING with the stress of running a business in difficult times, companies may not consider emotional intelligence important, but understanding and developing it could help see a company through dark periods and smooth out difficulties with staff.

This is according to Daire Coffey, the co-author of a book called Emotional Intelligence: A Leadership Imperative, which was reprinted earlier this year and is used by Coffey as a guide for testing and improving emotional intelligence within businesses and among businesspeople.

A former marketing executive and manager with United Drug and Enterprise Ireland, Coffey lectures on leadership development and marketing at the Irish Management Institute and is a business mentor at the Dublin City Enterprise Board.

Emotional intelligence is another word for “advanced common sense”, she says. It is the extent to which the “emotional” and “thinking” parts of the brain communicate.

“It is about being able to tune into your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, and how you can use the information around you to better manage yourself and your relationships with others – it is being able to read situations.”

Coffey uses the example of US insurer Met Life, which changed its hiring criteria to screen job candidates for optimism. The company expanded its salesforce to more than 12,000 people. Within two years the company had increased its share of the personal insurance market by 40 per cent, she says.

Applicants who were deemed optimistic but failed to pass the insurer’s standard tests were hired anyway and the company found this group outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 21 per cent in the first year and 57 per cent in the second.

“In terms of sales, strong emotional intelligence is about being able to say the right thing at the right time and knowing when it is the right time to close a sale and to be assertive,” says Coffey.

Unlike your IQ, which is relatively fixed by the age of 18, Coffey says emotional intelligence, or EQ, can be developed until well into the 40s and therefore can be worked on.

The high level of “plasticity” – the ability to change – in the brain means that repeated positive behaviour and experience can actually alter the structure of the brain, Coffey says.

“Where someone is under pressure the emotionally intelligent manager will not fly off the handle,” she says.

Coffey describes the behaviour of French footballer Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final when he headbutted an Italian player over a passing remark as an example of an emotional “hijack” when the “emotional brain” takes over.

According to Coffey, words account for 7 per cent of communication between people. The tone and volume of your voice account for 38 per cent, while body language, facial expressions and eye contact account for 55 per cent.

“An emotionally intelligent manager is very good at reading body language,” she says.

Emotional intelligence was a phrase coined in the 1920s but it only came into the area of business in 1995 when Daniel Goleman, who has a PhD in psychology from Harvard University, wrote a book of the same name.

Coffey and her business partner Deirdre Murray, with whom she wrote Emotional Intelligence, use a testing system known as the Emotional Capital Report, which was developed by Martyn Newman, a consultant psychologist and expert in emotional intelligence.

In measuring EQ Coffey tests 10 skills and competencies. These include seven personal areas - self-awareness, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-actualisation (whether you are fulfilled in your life and job), self-control, flexibility and optimism – and three inter-personal areas – empathy, relationship skills and assertiveness.

The test seeks your response based on five multiple choice answers to statements such as “more things seem to go wrong with me than right”, “it’s easy for me to tell people what I think” and “I am often not sure how I feel”.

Coffey admits that companies can be sceptical about emotional intelligence but says it involves important traits that can help companies through hard times when managers need to get more from staff or make tough choices.

“The key skills for getting through the recession is how you get on with your team and how you stay resilient,” she says.