How to fine-tune emotional intelligence to get ahead in business and life

Emotional intelligence – or EQ – a buzz-word that was coined in the ’90s, is still regularly explored by academics and psychologists today. Based on self-awareness and empathy, EQ is recognized as an important personal and professional quality, but few truly understand how to enhance it or leverage its benefits.

Like training for a sport or learning an instrument, EQ can be developed at any age – and better yet, it can be strengthened, conditioned and fine-tuned.

Defining EQ

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, manage and express your own emotions and the emotions of others. A great place to see EQ in action is in the world of music. When artists play and perform they need to be in tune with those around them, including their fellow band members and the audience. The most successful bands are made up of artists that not only master their own craft but have an ear for what others are expressing – anticipating the emotional highs and lows, the flow and pace of a performance.

VH1 made a name for itself documenting music legends shredding each other apart in Behind The Music – a series that might have been more appropriately called Epic Music EQ Failures. Rivalries, jealousies and the furies of fame always seemed to get in the way and drowned out the music.

On the flip side, if you look at bands with longevity – U2 or Pearl Jam – you see musicians with heightened self-awareness and a greater aptitude for harnessing their emotions. It was remarkable to me to see Pearl Jam’s acceptance speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony as the band thanked all of the people who helped propel and sustain them.

Understanding EQ

In order to build emotional intelligence, we first must understand why it really matters – both in our own lives and to those we care about.

Consider the role of EQ in business. The authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 point out:

  • EQ drives more than half of our job performance
  • People with high EQ make almost $30,000 more each year than their lower EQ counterparts
  • 90% of top performers in business, sports, and the arts have high EQ

Good leadership is at times subjective, but a common thread is an ability to assess and take bold risks. EQ is an essential tool in calculating the risks worth taking. In his seminal book on EQ What Makes a Leader, Daniel Goleman notes 5 EQ key qualities: Self-awareness, Self-Regulation, Social Skill, Empathy, Motivation.

The capacity to be aware of and express emotions is the oldest – and arguably the most effective – mode of communication.

Enhancing EQ

So, how do we get there?

  • Locate the source. While IQ resides in our brains, which trigger our thoughts, EQ lives in our limbic system, which triggers our feelings. The danger is that feelings fire quicker than thoughts. Just as we can train our brain, we must take hold and direct our emotions.
  • Exercise emotional restraint. At the center of EQ is self-control. Exposure to different cultures through diverse relationships and international business assignments will build understanding and will fine-tune control and emotional restraint.
  • Observe, listen and empathize. Buddhists remind us that like our arms and legs, eyes and ears, our emotions are key parts of who we are, of what we become and are central to the life we build. We’ve all met people who seem eternally happy or perpetually sad. We learn who’s easy to incite and who shows restraint. Observing, listening and empathizing are important skills that allow us to adapt, connect and influence, to build more effective and, I would argue, more fulfilling relationships.

Embracing EQ

EQ is not just about job performance; it’s a life skill that can enhance all our personal interactions.

As we grow and add more complexity to our lives, or our companies, industries, and markets, intelligence becomes more instinctual and therefore soft skills play an even bigger role. Imagine the partnerships we could forge, the songs we could write, the creativity and collaboration we could unlock, just by increasing our EQ. Not because we’re smarter, stronger or more talented, but because we’ve trained our emotions to check with our brains first – to understand before we act.

The world is loaded with self-help books and websites that offer EQ building techniques. I’ve developed my own EQ enough to know not to tell you which is best for you. Only to promise that it’s worth your search.

Dinesh Paliwal is president and chief executive officer of HARMAN, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.