By Susan de la Vergne
What We Didn’t Learn in School
The education systems that hatched us emphasized logical reasoning and memorization. That’s the way to maximize our brain potential! Courses are designed to use our cognitive intelligence, and once we successfully complete a lot of them (the courses, that is), we’re ready.
That’s led most of us to believe that, if we know a lot, we’re in good shape for whatever comes our way.
But once we find ourselves in the workplace, we discover there are important things we didn’t master in school. When our logically reasoned, informed work isn’t universally accepted or understood, then what do we do? When we run into disagreements and misunderstanding, then what? When things are changing too fast, what do we do?
We need abilities like self-management, influence, handling change, communicating and dealing with conflict. Up until lately, it was sort of assumed that, because we’re adults, we somehow just pick those things up along the way. But many of us did only somewhat, or haphazardly and in fragments.
We can’t leave these important abilities to chance. We need to really understand these characteristics—not just what they are but how we can develop them in ourselves.
Along Came a System
In the early 1990s, Dr. Daniel Goleman popularized the term “emotional intelligence” in his book by that same title. In it, he describes these kinds of inter- and intra-personal abilities, and he identified and categorized them. The inter- and intra-personal abilities, taken together, comprise “emotional intelligence” (EI). It finally gave us a way of thinking about our own abilities:
Am I confident?
Am I adaptable?
Do I take initiative?
It also helped us examine ourselves in relationship to others:
Do I “read” other people well?
Am I influential?
Do I build bonds with others?
Most importantly, his work gave us a way to understand in a practical way why these abilities are important.
EI on the Job
Communication, self-management, and teamwork are not on-the-job luxuries. We hear a lot about EI in the context of the workplace, and Goleman’s research shows over and over that people who have it excel, and people who don’t have it struggle.
His research makes it clear that communication, adaptability, self-management, influence, etc., are front-and-center requirements working professionals need to do their jobs well.
Getting Started with EI
All the EI research and publications say to start with yourself.
How well do you know your current state of mind? (Self-awareness)
Can you manage your state of mind—that is, can you make your mind do what you want when you want? (Self-control)
If you’re like most of us, the answers are probably “Not very well” or “I’m not sure.”
Knowing the answer to that requires paying attention now, in the moment. That helps us with important things like listening, remaining calm under fire, and navigating conflict well.
EI at Google
In 2007, Google started an internal program to help its employees learn mindfulness meditation and EI. Google’s program founder Chade Meng Tan says, “With the right training, anybody can become more emotionally intelligent,” in his book Search Inside Yourself. Meng started as a software engineer at Google and, seeing the needless employee burnout all around him, recommended to HR that a program to help employees manage their minds be established. He offered to lead it, and it’s been very successful ever since.
What Can You Do?
Start your day with mindfulness. Set aside 10-15 minutes to just breathe. The benefits of this activity are well-documented because, like physical exercise trains the body, mindfulness practice trains the mind.