Emotional Intelligence Plays A Part in Promotions, Firings

When Donald Trump fired Ereka Vetrini on TV a few weeks ago, he cited her inability to control her emotions. During that episode of "The Apprentice," a series in which Mr. Trump fires one contestant per show, Ms. Vetrini appeared overwhelmed as she tried to tally receipts from the Trump-branded bottled water her team had to sell.


For her own part, the 27-year-old Ms. Vetrini says she was more "annoyed" by her team’s weak performance than anything else and notes that the way the episode was edited made her look more frazzled than she really was. "I can be extremely strong and get my message across," says Ms. Vetrini, who most recently was a marketing manager for Estée Lauder before appearing on the show.

She adds that it can be appropriate to show emotion in the workplace. "Am I passionate about what I do? Absolutely," says Ms. Vetrini.

Expressing emotion is one of the trickiest workplace issues. There is an emotional component in all of our interpersonal dealings, and many experts say that while your cognitive intelligence often plays a stronger role in helping you get hired, it is your "emotional intelligence" that determines where you end up in your career.

In general, emotional intelligence is simply your capacity to deal effectively with your own and others’ emotions. In the workplace, it can determine how confident you are, how well you take the initiative, how effective a team player you are, and how well you handle conflicts.

The notion of emotional intelligence was popularized by Daniel Goleman, following on the work of clinical psychologists such as Reuven Bar-On who coined the term "emotional quotient" to assess emotional competence. According to Dr. Goleman, recent research shows that emotions play an important part in who gets promoted and who gets fired. Of all the skills that distinguish leaders who reach the highest levels of corporations, the one that stands out is the ability to keep calm under pressure, says Dr. Goleman, who in his book "Primal Leadership" looks at how emotional intelligence affects leadership. The best leaders, he holds, are people who are comfortable with emotion.

Dr. Goleman says anyone can learn to increase his or her emotional intelligence at any point. The quickest and most effective way, he says, is to get honest feedback from people around you and to develop a profile of your perceived strengths and weaknesses.

This strategy helped Peter Benton, 39, develop his leadership abilities and get assessments of his emotional intelligence. Working with a coach, he got his boss, several peers and a number of employees who reported to him to provide feedback. Although Mr. Benton recently left Johnson & Johnson, where he was a vice president, as a result of a restructuring, he says the coaching helped him develop a number of skills at his previous post, including maintaining calm under pressure.

He knew he was on the right track, he says, when a subordinate came up to him one day and said, "I don’t know what you’re doing differently lately, but you’re acting like a different person, and I feel we’re more of a team."

For people interested in increasing their emotional intelligence at work, there are a growing number of assessment tools that can help. The Genos E.I. Assessment, for example, consists of 64 questions and can be completed in about 15 minutes. Carmine Leo, a Cornville, Maine, coach who is also director for emotional-intelligence development services at the Institute for Professional Empowerment Coaching, works with the tool and says it provides a way to measure skills before and after coaching.

Yet improving emotional intelligence doesn’t mean erasing negative emotions. "We sometimes go too far in killing off what is a necessary amount of tension and the ability to resolve situations through argument," says Herb Rappaport, a professor of psychology at Temple University, who spends a third of his time as a leadership consultant.

Prof. Rappaport says that he was recently hired by a company to work with an employee who had been accused of verbal abuse but that he believed was merely being direct and confrontational. "Sometimes there are negative emotions that need to be processed," he says.

Prof. Rappaport also cautions people to be wary of coaches advertising fast results, since many behaviors are deeply rooted and difficult to change. "Being empathic is not a skill you can teach in a couple of down-and-dirty lessons," he says.
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