Emotional Intelligence (EI) in the South African workplace


The term Emotional intelligence (EI) burst to life by the mid-20th century. From its mention in Jane Austen?s Pride and Prejudice, to German psychologists diagnosing dissatisfied stay-at-home mothers with a deficiency in EI, the prospect of multiple forms of intelligence has intrigued researchers and psychologists over the decades (JD Mayer, RD Roberts, SG Barsade - Annual Review of Psychology, 2008 - unh.edu).

In the 2000s the topic has grown in popularity and is now firmly entrenched in society. Skills Portal interviewed Sian Dennis from Litha-Lethu Consulting, on the benefits of recognising and cultivating EI in the workplace.

So what exactly is Emotional Intelligence?

In lay terms EI refers to a person?s awareness of their own and other people?s emotions and their ability to use this awareness to assess and manage their relationships.

Emotional intelligence can be further broken down into five parts:

1. Self-awareness: acknowledging and recognizing one?s own internal feelings

2. Managing emotions: handling one?s emotions appropriately for different situations

3. Motivation: controlling one?s emotions to achieve a specific goal

4. Empathy: awareness of other?s emotional perspectives

5. Relationship handling: developing one?s interpersonal skills by using information about oneself and about others to hold social relationships

(More information around the definitions and origins of EI can be found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence)

The relevance of EI in the work context

Dennis relates EI to the workplace. She explains that, "by developing our emotional intelligence we can become more productive and successful at what we do, and help others to be more productive and successful too.'

She further explains that the processes and outcomes of developing EI contain many stress-reducing elements for individuals and organisations. These include decreasing conflict, improving relationships and understanding, and increasing stability, continuity and harmony.

EI: A form of intelligence

Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More Than IQ (1996, Bantam Books) popularized the EI concept by claiming that the Intelligent Quotient or IQ accounts for a mere 20% success in an individual?s life.

The other 80% are factors based on EI. He further stated that EI is a form of intelligence that can be improved over time, whereas IQ remains constant after a particular age is reached.

EI is often discussed in relation to personality traits. But if it is considered a form of intelligence, it is associated more closely to a mental ability. Dennis firmly supports EI as intelligence.

"It?s been proven that to be successful, requires the effective awareness, control and management of one's own emotions, and those of other people. Which came first. the cognitive ability to understand and sense our "self?" Or the particular personality style that we found "worked' to get the response, we wanted from our parents or caregivers as toddlers? Either way it?s the degree of social or interpersonal intelligence, the dictates success in the workplace,' she explains.

EI in the South African workplace

In the South African workplace, organisations have focused largely on incorporating EI into leadership development programmes and talent management strategies i.e. EI has been reserved mainly for the upper levels of management within large corporations and multinationals.

Dennis discloses that EI training has not filtered through to actual training events for other employees. This is despite organisations? recognition of EI development and claiming commitment to develop all their employees.

The current economic climate and its effect on training budgets has had a major role to play in this instance.

The use of EI Psychometric tools

The use of psychometric tools as part of the recruitment process has gained popularity in the South African context over the years. This has filtered through to psychometric tools focused on the measurement of EI.

"We have noted an increase in the use of EI psychometric tools, particularly in the recruitment of Executives and senior managers, as well as in the assessment of an individual?s readiness and or/ potential for promotion. Most companies now realise that the costs and risks associated with an incorrect appointment can be enormous. In these straightened times, they?re looking for a sound return on investment for their intellectual property,' explains Dennis.

Click here for more information on Litha-Lethu's Emotional Intelligence course

Full details for Litha-Lethu Consulting available here.