Hello SOTGC community,
In human resources, there are a few standout traits that come to mind: you must be detail-oriented, level-headed, and experienced in conflict-resolution. Just as with many leaders, HR professionals need to be excellent communicators and active listeners; they have to be honest, patient, and confident.
But what about empathetic?
Empathy is not always seen as a strong quality to have for a job. The typical “macho” approach dictates that “feelings” are a detriment to business. Rationality exists without an emotional response or empathy. Yet, some women understand that empathy can be seen as a benefit, though it is rarely thought of as a necessity.
Empathy is extremely undervalued in the working world. In leadership, empathy can be especially powerful to entice our fellow workers to get excited, or to invite them to be more open about their struggles. Evidence shows that empathy has a major impact on how a business is run and becomes profitable.
Measuring Our EQ
Although the standard measurement of intelligence is still the intelligence quotient (IQ), there is a paradigm shift happening within business. Psychologists and leaders are beginning to see the benefit of empathy for business practices and are teaching the importance of emotional intelligence, which is measured by an emotional quotient (EQ). Instead of using typical measures of intelligence (the ability to solve complex puzzles or memorize patterns), this test determines your ability to empathize with others and understand your own emotions.
First described in 1983 by psychologist Howard Gardner, emotional intelligence was not accepted as a viable form of intelligence for a few years. Eventually, teachers began using his work (The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983) to better understand the varied learning styles of their students. By the early 2000s, the business world began to pick up EQ’s importance as well, as they began to realize just how vital it is to the success of a business.
Now, EQ has its own movement in the world of business and leadership, with business schools emphasizing the importance of fine-tuning your EQ. Entrepreneur breaks down 11 of the most common signifiers of EQ, and notes that — unlike IQ — EQ is very malleable and can be shaped over time. By practicing positive behaviors and taking the time to correct yourself, high EQ responses can eventually become second nature.
As author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry, notes: “Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as being the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. The connection is so strong that 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.” Additionally, when businesses begin to prioritize EQ in their decisions — or promote leaders that have a higher EQ — they can seen as much as a 34 percent improvement in profits. This is partially due to the fact that EQ in HR helps prevent turnover with employees.
EQ in Leadership
Although having a high EQ can be beneficial in any situation, leadership positions are where EQ can really shine. In HR leadership, having a high EQ can be the difference between a well-adjusted staff, and a stiff, fearful staff that suffers from a high turnover.
The most common scenario where a high EQ might be beneficial is when communicating with employees. EQ will help you build bridges, create emotional connections with them, and understand the emotional connection they have with their work. Having a higher EQ can also help you avoid conflicts and settle disputes between other employees. Additionally, it can be constructive to your own career, such as in the case of letting your employees evaluate you.
Christopher Steiner, a writer with Funder’s Club, notes the importance of private meetings or check-ups with employees when a business start-up is just beginning or rapidly growing, and how that can be beneficial to both the business and the career path of the leader conducting the interview. Steiner notes: “One-on-ones give founders the most calibrated measurement of employees’ morales, their feelings on the direction of the business, and ways in which the founder herself might improve as a manager and leader [emphasis added].”
With a higher EQ, leaders can take criticism and improve their approach to business, which is a key to succeeding as a business. Without the ability to take criticism or grow, businesses are doomed to fail. This is the same for HR: without criticism of your approach to problems, or an idea of how to improve your practice, you might be setting yourself up for failure, and the business might see an increase in turnover because of it. Leaders (both in HR and otherwise) should take note of Steiner’s suggestion to open a dialogue with employees; ask questions that might be tough for your to hear the answer to, or that allow the employee to open up more fully about their fears, concerns, or experiences.
However, EQ can apply to many other scenarios as well. When it comes to building a diverse workforce, including the hiring and retention of diverse employees and creating a more inclusive workspace, EQ is essential. It allows HR leaders to find empathy with those that live a different experience than they do, and it allows them to be self-aware of their personal culture and the differences each employee brings to the business. Marginalized groups, especially, can benefit from having an HR leader with a high EQ on their side: It can help them feel more welcome, and can help your business avoid potentially disastrous legal mistakes.
Empathy as a Strength
Emotional reactions are often seen as a detriment to the business world. There is this entrenched (read: macho) idea that emotions are the opposite of logic, and that rationality exists without empathy. Yet, the prevalence of high EQ individuals in leadership positions proves that to be false. Having a high EQ is not just beneficial for everyday interactions in a business, but for our career success and overall betterment as well.
When we can understand how to process, fully express, and empathize with the emotional responses of others, our world becomes a little less difficult to navigate. Sure, we might all still get in arguments and might not be able to see eye-to-eye, but our EQ can help us navigate those tough situations and come out a little less intimidated, upset, or confused.
When you embrace the importance of empathy, suddenly outbursts by stressed employees seem less surprising, and marginalized identities might feel more comfortable expressing themselves. EQ, and thus empathy, can be used as a key to better the world around us. Don’t let a fear of emotions prevent you from reaching your full potential.
About the author:
Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. She spends her free time being the mother of three cats and a dog named Zeno. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.