Fast Track: It's soft at the top

Crying at work isn't the answer, but understanding emotion is a key skill.
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The Independent Culture
It is a common assumption that emotions have no place at work. After all, they are the messy, effeminate counterpoint to logic and objectivity. They can get people all worked up and then who knows where their time and energy will go? Wrong. Research shows that emotions - properly managed - can drive trust, loyalty and commitment and many of the greatest productivity gains, innovations and accomplishments. Which is why, from the middle of this month, employers will have a new way of gauging just how emotionally intelligent you really are.

In fact, there's little new about this theory. "Emotional intelligence" became a buzz phrase after the publication three years ago of Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence. But since then it's grown from strength to strength, with the result that businesses place a higher value than ever on "people skills" such as interpersonal and communications capabilities. Our "emotional quotient" - or, as Goleman calls it, "EQ" - has become the human resources expert's Holy Grail.

It is EQ, in fact, which is used to explain why some highly intelligent, highly skilled people promoted into senior positions fail miserably, while others with solid yet far from extraordinary intellectual skills soar. For without emotional intelligence, you'll never make a good leader, a number of studies claim. And in some cases EQ may even outweigh vocational and intellectual skills.

Latest evidence of this comes from Henley Management College where a study of more than 100 managers has been used to identify the core elements that make up emotional intelligence. The findings are the basis for the new psychometric test that is to be launched at this month's Human Resources Development conference in London.

Dr Malcolm Higgs, of Henley Management College, explains: "Goleman's conclusions were interesting, but I felt it wasn't terribly clear exactly what 'emotional intelligence' really means."

So, with the Henley professor Vic Dulewicz, he co-ordinated the research and has developed the new questionnaire. Both admit to having been sceptical about the value of EQ at the outset, although they now believe their work demonstrates that it does exist, and how it works and can be developed. Emotional intelligence, he concludes, is a combination of "soft" and "hard" skills.

"It's more than empathy, or self-awareness," he says, "because it's also about drive, motivation and sustaining goals in the face of rejection. There's a toughness to it, too. It's the ability to balance 'hard' and 'soft'."

By studying groups of successful managers, the Henley team identified seven core elements common to those able to progress swiftly within their particular organisation.

"First is an awareness of your emotions and feelings and the ability to recognise and acknowledge them without being swamped by them," Dr Higgs says. Then there's emotional resilience - the ability to perform consistently through a range of different situations. "In short, being able to take the knocks but still keep going," he says.

Third comes motivation and drive. Then "interpersonal sensitivity" - awareness of other people's emotional needs; influencing and persuading skills and decisiveness. Finally there is conscientiousness and integrity, he adds: "The ability to "walk the talk" - acting as you say and remaining committed to this particular course of action."

These seven elements were then tested again with 200 managers and found to be common among those succeeding in their chosen career path.

"We found the results to be statistically relevant to the progression of these people within their company," Dr Higgs says.

Women outscored men in many of the elements the EQ questionnaire measured - such as empathy and self-awareness. However, men scored higher on optimism and emotional resilience.

The questionnaire comprises 70 statements relating to different possible workplace scenarios. In each, the participant is invited to select the response likely to be most appropriate to themselves, from "always", "sometimes" and "never".

"A typical statement would be: 'I'm able to ensure that if I make a commitment to something, I can follow it through'," Dr Higgs says.

The first version of the test involves the subjects filling in their own responses, and a second is being designed to use the responses of work colleagues. A number of large employers have already expressed an interest in using the new test, according to Fiona Penn, director of the assessment and training consultancy ASE, which publishes a number of different personnel assessment tests.

"Formal testing is increasingly common among employers - ranging from psychometric tests to structured interviewing where candidates' responses are scored and analysed," she says.

"Cynicism about such testing is well-founded - but only if they are used in isolation," Ms Penn adds. "They should always be regarded as just one of a number of recruitment and selection tools."

For the time being, both Dr Hill and Ms Penn see the EQ test being used not for recruitment, but for promotion among existing staff.

Dr Hill, however, adds a note of caution. He is reluctant for his work to be used as the basis of ruling people out from being selected for a particular role.

"Testing for emotional intelligence has a more positive role in terms of identifying strengths and weaknesses and using the feedback to improve them," he stresses. "The debate about whether leaders are the result of nature or nurture is a long-standing one. But the good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed and learnt."