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Is IQ or EQ more important in determining your success at work?

It’s a question that has fascinated many, but it’s not quite the right one to ask, says emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf.

Is IQ or EQ more important in determining your success at work?
[Source illustration: Design Cells/iStock]
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At one time, IQ was considered the prime determinant as to how well we did in our lives.  Psychologists, such as Howard Gardner, felt that IQ was too narrow a measure of someone’s ability and proposed that there were multiple intelligences. Then came Daniel Goleman, who in his groundbreaking work, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, suggested that something called emotional intelligence, or EQ can be just as important as IQ.

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Since Goleman popularized the term emotional intelligence, the importance of it has become widely recognized, particularly in the business world. While the question of which is more important, IQ or EQ, is often asked, the answer is quite complex and not particularly helpful. It is like asking which is more important, the heart or the lungs. They are both important, and the more relevant question might be, how they are important and, to what degree are they connected to each other?

Intellectual Quotient, or IQ, determines our level of reasoning and problem solving abilities. Emotional Quotient, or EQ, determines our ability to recognize, differentiate, and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. IQ determines the grades we get in school and which determine what colleges we can get into, which generally greatly affects our first job. But after that, the connection between IQ and success becomes murkier. IQ does, of course, operate as a gatekeeper in that the jobs we have require a certain level of knowledge and competence.

Daniel Goleman believed that while our IQ may get us a job, it is our EQ that determines how quickly we advance and are promoted. The argument is that after technical skills are accounted for, it’s our ability to work with and connect with others that determines how successful we are at work. Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman believes that we buy things from people we trust and like, even though we may end up paying more. Studies on the success of sales people have borne this out. A great deal of our success in life comes from the level that we are able to connect with others.

That connection is determined by how well we’re able to understand our emotions and use them effectively to connect with others at an emotional level. According to Mike Goldman, Leadership Team Coach and author of Breakthrough Leadership Team, “The biggest obstacle in the way of our personal and professional success and fulfillment is between our ears. When times are challenging, our emotions go on autopilot and we create disempowering actions and habits. Simply shifting our focus will change our reality and our results.” The change in focus, Mike suggests, requires EQ, not IQ.

We feel before we think. There is a scientific explanation for this. When a message first comes to us it lands on the amygdala, a small almond-shaped part of our emotional brain. It takes several seconds for the message to reach our powerful “thinking brain,” or frontal neocortex. It is during this time that events we witness people losing control of their emotions, such as during road rage. When the message reaches our neocortex, it is already biased by the message picked up by our emotional brain. That is why first impressions are so important, because they are made at an emotional level, and difficult to change.

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Our IQ is largely set by the time we get to our late adolescence. Our EQ, on the other hand, is highly malleable, and we can increase it at any point in our lives if we are determined to do so. In my book, The Other Kind of Smart, I use the analogy of a race car to explain the connection between IQ and EQ. I use the race car as a symbol of us making our way through life. The engine and components are our IQ. It is what we have been given to operate with. The driver is our EQ. If we are fortunate to be given a powerful engine and great components we could be set for success.

However, there is more to it than that. The driver (EQ) has control over how effectively these components are used, and their ability to work together. We all know stories of very smart people who have crashed and burned because of their inability to operate themselves effectively. We also know people who would not score that high on an IQ test and have not done well in school, who are doing remarkably well in life. Of course, the combination of a powerful engine and well designed components in the hands of a highly skilled driver gives us a tremendous advantage. So our success in life is to a great degree determined by how effectively we are able to use both our IQ and EQ in harmony with each other.

About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com

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