THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Low EQ? Get some help to develop empathy

Tolerance for poor social skills is diminishing, and the need to fit in with a group is rising. In the new millennieum, emotional intelligence, EQ, is how you will differentiate yourself at work.

One of the most high-profile examples of EQ's importance is the new president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust. She recently became Harvard's first female president, but that's not really the big news. The Harvard faculty is no longer willing to be managed by someone with poor social skills, and her most notable qualification is an ability to communicate well with a wide range of people.

Another example is the new definition of what makes a child a special needs student. It used to be IQ and learning skills. Today, even children who can read at age three can be tagged as needing extra help if they have poorly developing social skills. (Fifteen years ago those kids would have slipped through the system as eccentric geniuses.)

Likewise, power or intelligence could once compensate for bad social skills at work. Most of us are not doing insanely stupid things– like posting naked pictures of ourselves. We are just making smaller EQ mistakes day after day.

If your EQ is too low, you will eventually hit a wall. Most people notice the wall when they can't get a job, because today, the job hunts that are most successful are based on networking skills— in other words, EQ. But here are other workplace arenas becoming more and more dependent on a high EQ:

1. Project management and business analysis

These used to be gear-head positions, but today, for example, the Northeastern College of Business Administration teaches project management by focusing on three areas: planning, team management, and negotiation.

"MBA students we employ as business analysts don't need to come into our company being finance gurus, able to espouse the latest financial theories," says Ken Barnet of financial services firm State Street Corporation. "What's much more important is that they know how to analyze issues and communicate recommendations."

2. Connectivity and creativity

This is Dan Pink's territory. His book, A Whole New Mind, predicts that the workplace of the new millennium will be about connections. "Key abilities," he says, "will not be high tech but high touch."

Suppose you already excel at coming up with new ideas. Great, but if you can't communicate them, you'll find yourself in the same position as the colleague with no ideas.

3. Personal productivity

There's a reason that many of the most popular blogs are about productivity, and consultant David Allen has been able to create an empire around his idea of getting things done: Productivity is cool. It's about information and technology and making them work well to give you a better life. It's a concept that has become so personal, and so specialized, that at this point, personal productivity is actually unique to this millennium.

The core of productivity advice, though, is self-knowledge, which is– you guessed it– emotional intelligence. You have to know what you want in order to know what to do and build your self-discipline to reach your goals.

So now you're wondering how to get more emotional intelligence, right?

"Personal assessment is all the rage at business schools right now," says Brendan Bannister, professor at Northeastern. But going to business school for personal development is a lot more costly than going to therapy every week. So maybe try that first.

Empathy is very hard to teach, and emotional intelligence includes some piece of empathy. So get professional help if you're really deficient. And if you've got a lot of money, go to business school.


1 comment

Penelope, I could not agree with you more on the importance of EQ in business. I am pleasantly surprised to see your notes on the attention that business schools and others are paying to emotional intelligence. Whether it is called networking, social skills, interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence, it boils down to the same thing- relationships with others. I hadn't made the jump to personal productivity but it is a logical extension.

My particular area of interest is the application of emotional intelligence to project management. Please take a look at for more on how project managers can leverage the research on emotional intelligence to become more effective.

Anthony Mersino