I was asked why emotional intelligence was important and whether emotional intelligence can be learned.
With a little probing on the second part of the question, it was suggested that there was a school of thought that emotional intelligence is an inherent human attribute; you have it or you don’t. The “either you are or aren’t” argument is similar those with a fixed mindset make about most capabilities. The concept of a fixed in the book Mindset written by Carol Dweck. In the book, Dweck argues that mindsets are not fixed and we have identified several attributes that comprise emotional intelligence that can be improved in the essay, A Few Steps To Improving Your Emotional Intelligence. I do not accept that emotional intelligence is a fixed human ability. Simply put, your emotional intelligence quotient is not fixed and can be learned.
The second question suggests that emotional intelligence, while interesting, is not useful in the day-to-day operation of an Agile team (or by extension an organization). Fortunately, you do not have to look far to find applications of emotional intelligence in many day-to-day scenarios, ranging from team meetings to sales. As a leader or coach, it is easy to identify scenarios when emotional intelligence can be useful. Three examples are:
Diffusing Problem Situations
Problems happen and most involve people. The large problems, for example, an irate client or someone that is acting counter to the team needs, are often easily spotted once they have happened. However, they are often the result of an accumulation of little issues; minor abrasions can add up. Examples of minor issues might include an occasional bit of underperformance, a bad mood, some failing to wish you happy birthday, talking over you on occasion. The list can go on. Emotional intelligence helps not only to recognize the problem but more importantly when combined with listening to those within the boundary of the problem helps everyone to unburden. Understanding and listening are input into empathy which is needed to come up with a fitting solution. Emotional intelligence is a tool to defuse problem situations.
Two of the five competencies of emotional intelligence are awareness and self-awareness of emotions in yourself and others and secondly, the ability to construct relationships. These two competencies are typically reflected as a curiosity. In my re-read of Carol Dweck’s Mindset, one of the attributes of the growth mindset is insatiable need to learn and experience challenges, a related form of curiosity. Emotional intelligence is linked to the growth mindset through curiosity (at the very least). Curiosity and the desire to learn are important capabilities in stable cross-functional teams. Agile teams with emotionally intelligent members will be able to stretch to meet their customer needs because leveraging their curiosity they can identify what the skill they need to know, then learn new skills and discover new solutions. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but emotional intelligence fosters curiosity and learning will make the Agile team.
I have many friends that are fellow consultants, both independent and part of a larger organization. All of them are intelligent, all of them have great pedigrees and many of them are successful as independents. When consultants gather, the one conversation all consultants have is getting and keeping clients. I have observed that the consultants that have repeating/recurring clients have significantly more emotional intelligence than those that are great at getting clients but less so at generating repeat business. Emotional intelligence is a tool to build meaningful relationships that make it easier get repeat business. The essay, Emotional Intelligence: A Few Basics referenced Daniel Kahneman’s statement ”that people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t.” Emotional intelligence makes it easier to build solid relationships that translate into repeat clients. Without emotional intelligence, it is difficult to generate the empathy needed to invest time into growing relationships based on anything other than sales volume.
Emotional intelligence is useful for identifying and defusing problems, generating relationships and to facilitate repeat sales. You are not born with all of the emotional intelligence that you can or will ever need. Emotional intelligence is a reflection of a set of capabilities that can be improved. We should invest the time, effort and money needed to get increase our emotional intelligence capability.