Emotional Intelligence: A Top Skill for 2020 and Beyond

By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

What a year it has been! If we have learned nothing else, we know how important it is for organizations and their employees to be flexible, adaptable, and agile. How do the demands of the times translate into concrete competencies and skills? 

Let’s start with LinkedIn Learning’s perspective. With a database of over 660 million professionals, their insight is worth considering. They found four of the top soft skills of 2019 also sit at the top of the list for 2020—creativity, persuasion, collaboration, and adaptability. One skill added for 2020 was Emotional Intelligence (EI), which relates to cultural intelligence and diversity, complex decision making and judgment, and critical thinking. Many of our clients often cite the need for Emotional intelligence (EI) when hiring and have difficulty finding it within hires. Let’s look at this skill—why it matters and how to develop it. 

First, what is Emotional Intelligence? You can think of EI as the crossroads of cognition and emotion, including how we approach events and people, which drives our ability to be resilient, handle stress, and interact with others. EI also allows us to understand our emotional state, which in turn enables our ability to understand others. Such an understanding improves teamwork, collaboration, and problem-solving while helping us better handle stress and be supportive of stressed colleagues.  

Research points out many links between EI and job performance and according to a study published in World Applied Sciences Journal, EI is an important factor in job performance both on an individual level and a group level. As an individual moves up an organizational hierarchy, the positive effect of emotional intelligence on coping with situations and doing tasks in effective ways increases. Another study conducted by Johnson & Johnson showed that the highest performers in the workforce were also those that displayed higher emotional intelligence.

Luckily, researchers also emphasize the learnability of this competency. First, we need to recognize that while EI is complex and consists of several sub-skills, each can be taught and practiced, including compassion, empathetic listening, expressing one’s feelings honestly and authentically, being flexible, and being self-aware. From here, we can develop learning programs and provide safe opportunities for employees to practice these skills, and giving them regular feedback on how well they demonstrate skills is also vital.

inally, organizational leaders need to commit to learning and demonstrating these skills. Several training programs supporting the learning of EI behaviors including books, videos, and assessments such as workgroups and personality profiles to help target gaps and strengths. HR also plays an important role in helping an organization develop EI, including training or embedded into a leadership development program. Additional complimentary resources that help employees develop further include modalities that focus on self-awareness, self-assessment, stress management, and empathy—particularly in specific situations. Since this type of coaching is invaluable to leaders and employees who wish to enhance these skills, it’s also useful to include EI in performance reviews, which will increase sustainability and ongoing improvement. 

Our world and its ever-shifting challenges will continue to place unexpected demands on everyone. Emotional intelligence is a competency that will help us weather every storm while re-investing back in the workforce.