Move out of the way, AI. It’s time for organizations to turn their focus on another—perhaps more impactful—intelligence: emotional intelligence.
By Marcus Mossberger
The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has captivated the industry for the last few years, and it seems as though 2018 really saw an explosion of the utilitarian use of the technology at work. And while there is still apprehension about the impact AI will have on jobs, most organizations have acknowledged that they need to incorporate it into their long-term technology strategy. At the same time, another trend seems to be gaining momentum, albeit to less media attention and prognostication: the burgeoning importance of emotional intelligence (EI) in the workplace.
What is EI? While professors John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey are credited with developing the concept of EI in 1990, it was the book by journalist Daniel Goleman that brought it into the mainstream consciousness and the vernacular of corporate America. The idea is fairly simple: Employees have the ability to accurately perceive and manage emotions while interpreting the emotional signals sent by others. This is a crucial skill—especially at work. A test has even been created to measure emotional quotient (EQ), which Goleman argues is even more important than intelligence quotient (IQ). Almost 30 years later, this may be the most important characteristic to look for when evaluating potential new hires.
Few would argue that one of the most challenging aspects of any work environment is navigating the labyrinth of personalities and politics that invariably exist with various degrees of complexity. But the frenetic pace of change—in large part caused by advances in technology—has escalated the importance of this capability. For example, people now use military terms to describe today’s “VUCA” environment, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Layer this on top of new technologies that continue to automate the manual and transactional nature of work, and what is left is almost purely relational.
Why is EI Important in the Workplace?
There are a number of reasons why EI has a positive impact on communication and interrelation in the workplace. People who have high EQs tend to have greater self and social awareness, as well as increased empathy for others. They tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, while at the same time possessing the discipline to control their reactions and provide thoughtful responses to enigmatic interactions. And their authentic generosity and curiosity leads to greater adaptability in today’s ever-changing environment. These desirable attributes make for not just great people, but great employees.
This knowledge drives people like Stanford Professor Fei-Fei Li, who calls for “human-centered A.I.” with goals such as eliminating human bias while leveraging concepts from the fields of psychology and sociology. It is debatable whether or not machines should be taught to understand emotion, but if organizations are going to put AI in the figurative—and literal—driver’s seat, it makes sense to brush up on those skills in anticipation of the uniquely human interactions that lie ahead.
In fact, a TalentSmart study found that EI is the best predictor of strong job performance, resulting in a 58 percent success rate in all types of occupations. Additionally, the study found that 90 percent of top performers within a company have a high EI. Clearly, EI plays an integral role in career success.
In a world so focused on the newest technologies, it is easy to overlook the human beings behind it. Although AI is an extraordinary tool that will transform the future of work, companies must not forget about the effectiveness—and continuing importance—of EI. As EI proves to be closely tied with positive behavioral characteristics, companies must be looking at EI as a critical assessment for hiring in order to create a productive, profitable, and enjoyable workplace.
Marcus Mossberger is senior director of global HCM strategy for Infor.