Emotional intelligence: Learning, managing emotions for career success

Rebecca Collins, corporate trainer at Bartlett & West, introduced TopCity interns to the idea of emotional intelligence, or EQ, and how it can help them succeed in their careers. (Morgan Chilson/The Capital-Journal)

The concept of emotional intelligence isn’t difficult to grasp, but anyone struggling to understand its daily impact on relationships just needs to sit down with a bowl of popcorn and spend an evening watching Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory.”


The top-rated television show has brought fame and glory for its cast of nerds, aka really smart people who often don’t get the human interaction thing.

But while the exaggerated gap on TV between being smart and emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ, is guaranteed to draw laughs, the reality is that understanding EQ can lead to career success and more general happiness, Bartlett &West corporate trainer Rebecca Collins told TopCity interns this week.

”I work with a lot of really, really smart people,” Collins said of the Topeka engineering firm. “We often find that those with a high IQ, if they are not aware of their EQ and they’re not working on improving it, they have troubles moving forward in their career. Maybe they’re often overlooked for a promotion, or they’re not advancing as they would like. That all can be attributed back to emotional intelligence. This is really important stuff and you have your whole life to be working on it.”

Collins built her case for consciously working to expand your EQ — defined as the ability to perceive, control and evaluate your emotions and those of people around you — with some stats.

Travis Bradberry, one of the leaders in the EQ field, reported in 2015 that 90 percent of top performers are high in emotional intelligence; 20 percent of the bottom performers have high EQ.

Emotional intelligence is not crying at commercials or being an agreeable “yes” person, Collins said.

The first step to intentionally become more emotionally intelligent is understanding your own feelings, she said, sharing that doing so was tough for her personally.

That means learning to identify and name your feelings, which can be harder than it seems. Collins asked the interns to think about something that makes them lose their cool, maybe out of context for the situation. Road rage, sibling fights and anger at things happening on video games came up.

Collins explained the concept of an amygdala hijack, coined by Daniel Goleman who writes extensively about EQ, referring to an emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming and out of measure with the actual stimulus. The amygdala is found in the brain that plays a role in an individual’s emotional response.

“The amygdala hijack is that moment where you react instead of respond,” Collins said. “It’s when someone makes you mad and you shoot off a snarky email because that’s what feels good. You react instead of figuring out what’s the best way to respond.”

Recognizing and identifying such emotional responses is the beginning of learning how to prepare and overcome those responses, she said.

“What’s awesome about emotional intelligence or EQ is that it is developed continually,” Collins said.

EQ is part of training offered at Barlett &West and other companies because studies have found EQ to be the strongest predictor of job performance.

“We’re measuring this because it’s important to our culture,” Collins said.

It’s important to employees, too, who want to succeed and do well in their careers. Citing more studies, Collins pointed out, “The primary cause of executive derailment involves deficits in emotional competence.”

“We see it every single day. Super-smart, they’ve performed in the past, but when it comes to emotional intelligence and having amygdala hijacks every day of work with the teams, it doesn’t work out so well,” she said. “You can derail your career.”

Collins pointed the young professionals to four areas of emotional intelligence — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Many EQ tests will assess a score to each category and Collins had sent the interns an email ahead of time so they could determine their scores.

If self-awareness isn’t your highest score, she said, start there.

“It’s the foundation to emotional intelligence. Because here’s the deal,” Collins said. “If you’re not self-aware, if you can’t figure out what you’re feeling and why, you’re not going to be able to be socially aware, to figure out what are other people thinking.”

The focus on soft skills is a critical part of training done at Bartlett &West. Collins joined the organization four years ago to implement a training program for the employee-owners of the company. Already this year, 41 courses have been offered.

The classes range from subjects like acquiring rightaway to value selling, she said.

“It’s a wide array of curriculum that we offer through our university,” Collins said. “We try through needs assessment to determine what our needs are and how we get in front of that.”

It became clear to company leaders as Bartlett &West grew that it was important to offer training.

“In 2014, we were in the midst of expanding, growing very quickly,” Collins said. “Whenever that happens, you realize very quickly that when you’re an office of 10 or 20, everyone can kind of do whatever they want their way, and it doesn’t really matter. When you’re shooting or aiming to be a larger company in excess of 400, 1,000 or whatever your target employee base is, there has to be consistency in how we manage people, in how we communicate with each other.”

In addition, the younger professionals Bartlett &West wanted to recruit want development growth opportunities, she said.

“You are not setting yourself apart from your competitors if you’re not offering those opportunities,” Collins said. “It was a huge area of focus very much supported by our senior leaders and throughout our company.”

Different classes appeal to employee-owners who are in various career stages. Newer employees want to take ESOP 101, which explains how Bartlett &West is set up as an employee stock ownership plan. New managers may want to take classes on how to have difficult conversations.

One of Collins’s favorite classes that seems to have the most “wow” factor for participants is one called “Generations.” In the class, she explores the differences between the generations and frequently gets shocked comments from people who had their eyes opened.

“We all assume everyone’s like us,” she said, adding that understanding motives and thought processes can be relevant even among people in the same generation.

The company also maintains an employee library, where anyone can check out books on a variety of business topics. A book club at the company for those who like to read and discuss the topics is popular.

Offering ways for employees to expand their knowledge and challenge themselves is a win for both the employees and the company, she said.

“When it’s supported from the top down, the employees are provided with opportunities for growth, and that benefits the employee that benefits the company through retention, through a wider skill set, whether it’s technical or soft,” she said. “Everybody’s winning when employee development is supported throughout the company.”