Emotional intelligence is the ability to express empathy, recognize emotions and handle interpersonal relationships.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to express empathy, recognize emotions and handle interpersonal relationships. (Credit: Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash)

What does emotional intelligence mean to you?

It can be defined as being “the other kind of smart.” The traditional thinking is that people with high IQs are the brightest in the room. But with emotional intelligence, the idea is that people who possess four core skills — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management — are actually the top performers.

Let’s break down these particular skills a bit more. They fall into two primary competencies, personal competence and social competence.

  • Personal competence is based on you as an individual. Its two skills are self-awareness (where you understand and are aware of your emotions) and self-management (the ability to positively direct your behavior and stay flexible with your emotions).
  • Social competence is based on your surrounding relationships. Its two skills are social awareness (where picking up on the emotions of others allows you to better understand what is happening) and relationship management (where interactions are managed successfully because you use the awareness found in your emotions and those surrounding you).

Emotional intelligence, while largely intangible, is increasingly becoming a necessity in the workplace. As such, job interviews are shifting to ask more questions that get at a candidate’s emotional intelligence. This may include asking applicants about how they worked through challenges, or how they approached balancing a heavy workload, or what they would do if the priorities within the business completely changed.

[Related: The Secret Weapon Startups Can Use to Attract Talent]

Let’s delve a bit deeper into why businesses should make it a priority to hire for emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence serves as a foundation to cultivate more critical skills. In the article “Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace,” the University of Southern California notes that “EQ” allows employees regardless of gender to better express empathy for others, motivate and inspire their colleagues, and assist with conflicts in a fair manner. “It provides leaders, no matter their skills, with the emotional fortitude to adapt to change and deal with setbacks,” according to the article.

Emotional intelligence creates growth opportunities for employees and the business. Through my personal experience, I have found that when I hire individuals with emotional intelligence they experience a great deal of job satisfaction. They are able to engage with others and develop strong relationships because they are relatable. The likeability factor helps them  feel good about their job and enjoy their day-to-day work, which in turn allows them to perform well and advance within their career.

This is a win-win for both employees and businesses. Employees experience personal and professional growth, feeling as though what they are doing is making a difference. The business itself also enjoys a return on investment made in hiring the employee. More often than not, an emotionally intelligent team member is likely to stick around at a good company too, rather than quitting or “ghosting” the business.

[Related: Read about how to hire the best employees.]

Don’t have emotional intelligence? You can still develop it. I have great news for anyone reading this who is thinking, “But I don’t think I have emotional intelligence — and I’m the leader of my company. What do I do then?” Even if you are not emotionally intelligent, or consider yourself not to be, you may still be able to develop the skills necessary for “EQ” regardless.

Your brain has the ability to change, a term also known as “plasticity.” As you learn new skills, your brain cells do actually grow and develop new connections. A single cell has the ability to grow as many as 15,000 connections. Additionally, billions of microscopic neurons that line the rational and emotional centers of your brain are able to branch out and reach other cells. If they reached 10 cells, that would be 150,000 instant connections. The domino effect of neurons reaching cells that grow connections would only keep expanding, turning behaviors into healthy emotionally intelligent habits.

The one thing you have to do in order to keep this plasticity running smoothly? Keep your emotionally intelligent side alive and well. And do your business a favor by hiring employees who demonstrate a willingness to brainstorm ideas and strategies with your coworkers, take initiative on major assignments, and come to work with a can-do attitude.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.