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The Future of Work

Why Emotionally Intelligent People Make More Money

A recent study shows those who are in tune with their colleagues' emotions may be more financially successful.

[Photo: Flickr user Martin Fisch]

The workplace should be a professional environment: tough, efficient, and free from emotion, right? Wrong.

The old adage about leaving your emotions at the door before stepping into the office is dead, according to a recent study from the University of Bonn. Published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in November 2014, the study showed individuals who displayed emotional intelligence—the ability to discern other people’s emotions—were more likely to bring home a bigger paycheck than their emotionally-stunted colleagues.

"We need to recognize that emotion is part of who we are as individuals and we need to become comfortable with our emotionality," says Yongmei Liu, an associate professor at Illinois State University’s College of Business, who coauthored the study.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

"Emotional intelligence is the ability for people to be able to recognize emotions in oneself and others," says Liu. Just as we have cognitive intelligence that helps us perform cognitive tasks, emotional intelligence helps us understand ourselves and others better, and to channel emotional energy in the desired direction.

A leader who has a high degree of emotional intelligence can recognize when his or her followers are not in the right emotional state to perform well. They will work to change their emotional state, to energize them about the task so they can be more motivated, focused, and successful.

A Collaborative Workplace Prioritizes Emotion

While the manufacturing economy of the past focused on productivity and solo-driven work, these days collaboration and teamwork are emphasized—making emotional intelligence more important in the workplace. "People increasingly rely on each other to get things done and that means understanding each other’s motives and emotions is a lot more important than it used to be," says Liu.

To understand the role emotional intelligence plays in modern work environments, the researchers used a collection of images and recordings of actors and children, and then showed them to a group of 142 working adults who were asked to label emotional expression. Those who succeeded in identifying the emotion in 87% of the cases were considered to have high emotional intelligence, while those who scored below 60% were considered to have poor emotional intelligence.

Once the emotion recognition task was completed, the researchers then asked the participants’ colleagues and supervisors to assess the political skills of the participants—whether the participants were socially well attuned, influential, sincere, and are good networkers. The results indicated those who had a good ability to recognize emotions were also considered more socially and politically skilled by their colleagues. One other correlation? They all had significantly higher income than those who scored low on the emotion recognition test.

What this tells us, Liu says, is that emotional intelligence is not just this warm and fuzzy ability to get along with others better, but it’s also about the ability to capitalize on understanding where others are coming from and using that information to enhance one’s position.

"People who are better at recognizing others’ emotions are able to use this skill to develop their political skill—to enable them to influence others effectively, get along with others better, and that eventually results in [greater career success and] higher income," says Liu.

How To Enhance Your Emotional Intelligence

Tapping into your own emotions can help you become more attentive to what others feel. Take frequent breaks throughout the day, and ask yourself how you feel. Meditation exercises and verbalizing your emotions with others can also help you to build your emotional intelligence.

Organizations can also help employees enhance their emotional intelligence by creating a culture that encourages everyone to celebrate emotions rather than suppressing them. "Allow people to be excited about things and to be upset about things," says Liu.

Starting and ending a meeting by asking participants to take a moment to think about how they’re feeling, and perhaps even state it out loud, can help to build a culture of emotional acceptance and lead to greater success in the long run.

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