Emotional intelligence-the soft skill 'x' factor
Conor McCarthy, a performance consultant, looks at emotional intelligence and why it is such an important skill to develop, no matter what your chosen career path.
Attracting and retaining the best talent requires a different angle. Millennial graduates are looking to get as much out of an organisation in terms of development as the company gets out of them in terms of endeavour. And yet, clearly, graduates are by no means the finished product. Their biggest drawbacks lie in their ability to manage relationships in the workplace with maturity. This dichotomy has been cracked by some organisations in the way they manage their training. Zappos, Facebook and Google have all invested in significant initiatives to improve emotional intelligence in their employees. Organisations like Xerox, Opentext and UPS have focused on training their employees in performance under pressure. In doing so, these companies have become the envy of many in terms of attracting and retaining top talent.
A person’s Emotional intelligence (EI) and the resulting Emotional Quotient (EQ) has been widely proven to be the best measure of future success in the workplace. An employee’s EQ tells employers whether they can work collaboratively, the depth of their communication skills, their leadership potential, and even how well they’ll be able to learn from their mistakes. And yet, if we value it so highly, what are we doing to develop it in our graduates and in our workplace teams?
Last year I was lucky enough to spend a CPD week with The Navy Seals at their training base in San Diego. Their command Psychologist Ryan Maid explained to me how important EQ was for a really high level of performance as a Navy Seal. They admitted that they had made mistakes in the past. Previously, their selection process had only ever allowed for recruits to drop themselves out based on the extremely arduous training and selection process. In their own words, this sometimes produced guys who could simply take a beating better than the next guy. So they introduced EQ training in respect of challenging interactions. How else could they prepare their recruits in the best way possible and as part of a team?
The most powerful thing I learned, when visiting the elite rugby environment in New Zealand, was that focusing your attention on the things within your control and not the things that are outside of your control is one of the greatest things you can do for your own performance. Knowing the difference is key. A really powerful example of this came from one of the All Blacks players during the 2011 world cup. In that tournament, captain Richie McCaw played the knock out stage games with what later turned out to be a broken bone in his foot. McCaw had hurt his foot in the group stages but in the lead up to the tournament, he had devoted a huge amount of time to the concept of focus of attention as a foundation for his physical training. So after he heard the crack in that group stage match, he decided not to have it x rayed until after the tournament had ended. In all likelihood, any x-ray would reveal a break. He had resolved that he could get through the knock out stages anyway. So why shift his attention onto the reasons why he could not.
What McCaw and his team mates had done was become self-aware of their thoughts and when they drifted into the negative. They did this with the help of a performance psychology technique. They became able to recognise these thoughts as being negative or Red Head, to accept them and consequently they were able to simply choose to move their focus back to the present, to a calmer more accessible Blue Head state by focusing on what they could control. I was lucky enough to see some of my colleagues from Gazing Performance in action when I visited those teams, and was blown away by the emphasis the coaches were placing on this concept, on their insistence that it was the “soft skills which delivered the hard skills”.
Over the course of the past year, I have seen first-hand just how valuable these soft skills of EQ and Performance Under Pressure actually are and how they can be adapted into programs for relationship management, for sales, for management, for leadership. Like many things in life, these are skills that can be acquired. As a new graduate or as part of a team, these are the skills that will separate the best performers from the rest and the best talent will inevitably gravitate to where they can get the best training.