Intro to Emotional Intelligence- What & Why

Hi UWS achievers!  This week I interviewed Xan Marcucci Barkdull about her experience with and development of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).  I first met Xan by interviewing her for a Sales position and immediately sensed her unusually high EQ, especially for someone of her experience level- very recent college graduate.  She clearly stood out, I was obviously impressed, and she got the job.  

To introduce EQ and share a few key takeaways: the Cambridge Dictionary defines it “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgements and to avoid or solve problems.”  I’ve observed EQ as critically important in Sales to most effectively work with everyone: internal support folks, prospects, clients, management, etc.  Might even be the most important tool for making all interactions- professional and personal- as effective & mutually-rewarding as possible.  Finally, great news: if you’re worried you might be EQ-deficient, according to Harvard research and other highly-credible sources, unlike IQ, EQ can be developed over time.  On that note, smile, and join Xan, me, and the rest of EQ-aware-humankind on the EQ development journey.  

The interview:

-How did you first become aware of EQ- your own and others’?

Both my parents are big into Emotional Intelligence, and my father trained thousands of people on it through his work at a Fortune 20 company from the mid 90’s on.  By the time I was about 8 years old, I was very familiar with the terms of Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Empathy and Relationship Management.

I suppose I became rather self-aware around the age of 12, and of course I recognized it in others immediately. EQ can be recognized and developed in a variety of ways. For example, my mom was excellent at helping me ‘self-diagnose’ my moods, the causes thereof, and determine ways to redirect them if they were a bit off.  My dad taught me that success in school was based not just on learning, but on learning HOW the teacher grades – if I wanted to be successful, I needed to be aware of my teacher’s feelings/beliefs/experiences, as well as my classmates. The older I became, the more aware I was of people’s EQ around me and of my own. It just took practice!


-How has this awareness helped you navigate difficult situations professionally and in private life?

It has helped IMMEASURABLY!  When we develop Self-Awareness, it’s the beginning of a “virtuous cycle”, we begin to recognize how our nurture, nature, skills, deficits, and a host of other things have contributed to our choices and circumstances.  Then we are enabled to begin to pause and reflect on our choices, habits, mentalities, etc. When we pause, we make better decisions.  

My father often says, “Don’t be a victim of your instincts – they’re not always right.” So, when I’m confronted with a difficult situation, I try not to rush to judgment.  I try to pause and ask myself, “What’s motivating each of the individuals involved?  What are their goals and fears?  What is the perceived threat they may be experiencing?” Things like that.

Certainly, it helps in my personal and professional life when I try to self-regulate, especially when I’m tired, hungry, or feeling under the weather.  That’s when I’m most likely to be more impatient, less understanding etc.  Again, it’s all about pausing and thinking before speaking and acting (which is obviously much easier said than done). I believe this awareness of myself and others has been a primary driver behind my personal and professional success.


-Why do you feel EQ is important for all to recognize?

So many mis-understandings arise from an inability or unwillingness to think about others and what they’re experiencing, feeling, or believing.  EQ at the most basic level is simply about the choice to be unselfish. It is about thinking of others and their needs and thinking about how I affect them. 


-How do you feel EQ is lacking in professional Sales- do you have any common examples you’ve observed and feel could be better handled with more developed EQ?

Again, selfishness is the root of nearly all our problems (professional and personal). In sales, I’ve noticed that many sales people try to do exactly that: SELL. Salespeople with high Emotional Intelligence don’t try to sell.  They are interested in solving their client’s PROBLEMS, not solely in selling their own product. One of the greatest traits of great salespeople, and just great people in general, is curiosity.  When we are curious, we are interested in others and how we can help them. This leads (eventually) to sales success. 

I think this can also be best used in relationships between managers and their direct reports. At the end of the day, my manager is my #1 client. If I am actively seeking to help them with their needs and problems, I’m going to do well in my career. For example, if I use my EQ I might recognize that my manager is super stressed with the end of the quarter and is short on time – I’ll offer to move my 1:1 meeting with them to after quarter’s end and I’ll ask what I can do to take a little off their plate, or I’ll offer to grab them dinner if we are both late at the office. This isn’t about “sucking up”, it’s about being genuinely interested in their well-being, and taking time to think about what they are experiencing.  It’s using your EQ to help others, regardless of whether they are your customer, your manager, your peer, or your direct report.


-Do you feel women have natural EQ strengths and men others?  
The data is mixed on this, but my own experience has shown me that women tend to have a greater natural ability to empathize and nurture others. I’ve noticed that women often naturally look to help those around them, while men often need to be more intentional about looking for those opportunities.

Daniel Goleman (a primary thought leader in Emotional Intelligence) states that larger meta-analyses of available studies demonstrate that when you look at star performers in any organization, the differences wash out in terms of Emotional Intelligence. In other words, it’s not gender-dependent. 

However, as Sheryl Sandburg explains in her book Lean In, women are expected to have higher levels of EQ than men are, which is something we need to be aware of as both men and women. 

-If so, what are they, what are each genders’ natural EQ weaknesses, and what actions do you feel most women and most men can take for biggest/easiest EQ improvement?

Goleman talks about Empathy, there are some natural differences where women differ from men: “If the other person is upset, or the emotions are disturbing, women's brains tend to stay with those feelings. But men's brains do something else: they sense the feelings for a moment, then tune out of the emotions and switch to other brain areas that try to solve the problem that's creating the disturbance.

Thus, women's complaint that men are tuned out emotionally, and men's that women are too emotional - it's a brain difference.

Neither is better - both have advantages. The male tune-out works well when there's a need to insulate yourself against distress so you can stay calm while others around you are falling apart - and focus on finding a solution to an urgent problem. And the female tendency to stay tuned in helps enormously to nurture and support others in emotional trying circumstances. It's part of the "tend-and-befriend" response to stress.”

-Do you feel you have a naturally high EQ and/or is it something you’ve had to consciously work on to develop?
I’m not sure that I have very high Emotional Intelligence - I’m learning EVERY DAY that I am deficient in several areas! But the research tells us that we are born with a native Emotional Intelligence level. Then, life happens.  The beauty is that we can become more Emotionally Intelligent over time. In fact, now we have instruments to MEASURE your Emotional Intelligence. Most of my dad’s consulting practices involves Emotional Intelligence on some level.  Clients are clamoring for help in this area. 


-If you’ve had to develop EQ, how did you go about and what resources would you share to help others?
Again, my parents (and life) taught me that “feedback is a gift”. You CANNOT become Self-Aware without getting a LOT of feedback.  I ask for feedback constantly from my manager, my peers, my clients, my parents, and my husband.  They all help me “see me” better.  They can see the blind spots that I have. 


There are also many books out there on Emotional Intelligence; a good place to start is “Working with Emotional Intelligence” By Daniel Goleman. 


Fortunately, you don’t have to read a book to start making any progress on your own EQ. My favorite practice (that I do regularly still) is the following: You can ask someone important to you to do “Start-Stop-Continue”.  Ask them to tell you one thing they want you to START doing to make the relationship better; one thing they want you to STOP doing to make it better, and five things they want you to CONTINUE doing for the relationship.  This will always lead to a great conversation on how you can do better. The Start-Stop-Continue exercise is all about Self-Awareness. After that, you must demonstrate the Self-Management to actually enact the changes. You also have increased your empathy for the other person, which will help you in managing the relationship.  Again, you’ve created a virtuous cycle!

The hopeful part of all of this is that regardless of where you feel you are at now with your own emotional intelligence, you can start today to help improve it. This can have tremendous impact on your life personally and professionally and is always a great use of your time and effort. 

Thank you, Xan Marcucci Barkdull!

-Todd

Todd Lamoreaux