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What Is Emotional Intelligence (And How Do You Achieve It)?

With the unemployment rate the lowest it’s been since the 2008 recession and the job market becoming increasingly saturated with millennials, employers are approaching the search for talent in unique ways. While it was typical for an employer to specifically seek someone with X years of experience and specific technical skills only a few years ago, that trend is changing. Hiring managers are discovering that in many cases, cultural fit and soft skills can often make a candidate more suitable for a role than their past work experience can—and one of the biggest skills employers are looking for these days is emotional intelligence.

Beyond just ensuring cultural fit, emotional intelligence is a great indicator of whether or not someone will excel in a leadership position. With large swathes of baby boomers retiring and leaving problematic skill gaps in their wake, many companies are putting more emphasis on succession planning from day one of an employee’s hire—and the first step is to attract potential candidates who would do well in an ascending role.

While it may be easy for employers to list “emotional intelligence” as a job requirement, it’s much harder for a candidate to discern what that means and whether or not they fit the profile. So what exactly is emotional intelligence and what can you do to ensure you show it?

Oxford Dictionaries defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” The sentence the website uses as an example is, fittingly, “emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success”—which, as anyone who has worked hands-on with colleagues should know, is the truth. Handling workplace relationships can be tricky, and in a time in which more and more companies are putting emphasis on working collaboratively, emotional intelligence is the skill that helps one navigate it all.

Some key features of emotionally intelligent people include personal accountability, self-awareness, flexibility, and the ability to work both independently as well as within a team. However, the skill isn’t limited to these few things; it is multi-faceted and expansive and can be applied to a number of workplace situations. If you’re interested in exploring the depth of your emotional intelligence and improving upon it, ask yourself:

  • Do I tend to be calm and logical or react emotionally when confronted with a problem?
  • Do I truly listen when others are speaking, or am I often focusing on the next thing I want to say?
  • Am I empathetic when my coworkers are struggling? Do I offer my help when I can?
  • Am I receptive to body language?
  • Do I take responsibility for my mistakes or do I look for excuses to justify them?
  • Do I judge myself or others before fully understanding the situation?
  • Do I handle stress well or let it control me and my actions?

Of course, it can be difficult to answer these questions honestly if the answers aren’t ideal—but by being honest with yourself and taking the time to analyze your behavior and the reasons for it, you’ll be well on your way to the first steps of being more emotionally intelligent.

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