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What is Emotional Intelligence? Part 1: Self-Awareness

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Fashions change. What was "in style" a few years ago is probably "out of style" now. In fact, the differences in fashion and style can be so dramatic that you can watch a movie ... and within two minutes ... you can say with certainty if that movie was set in the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, or some other period.

Of course, just because a certain fashion is no longer "in style" does not necessarily make that fashion bad. The clothing in the 1950's probably served its purpose just as well as clothing does in the 2010's. People simply like the look of something new, fresh, and different.

As an author and speaker who focuses on transforming the people side of business, I've noticed a similar trend in my industry. The so-called "in" topics are often nothing more than re-fashioned old concepts and practices. What used to be called "stress management" is now commonly referred to as "work-life balance." What used to be called "delegation" is now called "empowerment." And what used to be called Aristotle's "7 keys to success" became Steven Covey's "7 habits of highly effective people."

None of that is bad. A new take on an old, time-tested set of truths and skills can be very useful. For example, I find today's emphasis on "emotional intelligence" to be extremely important ... and perhaps a better, more fitting terminology than what used to be called "interpersonal communication."

It's extremely important because ...

1. Emotional intelligence is an accurate predictor of success.
For years, we naively thought if a person was intellectually sharp, if he had a high IQ, he would undoubtedly become successful in his endeavors. And some of our schools still struggle with this concept, somehow thinking that high grades in school translate to high levels of success at work and at home.

Daniel Goleman debunked that myth in study after study. In one study of Harvard graduates in the fields of law, medicine, education, and business, Goleman found that the scores on their entrance exams ... which is another way of getting at someone's IQ ... had no, absolutely no correlation with their eventual career success. Indeed, in many cases, just the opposite was true; the higher their scores on their entrance exams, the lower their levels of professional success later on in life.

When he dug deeper into studies such as that, Goleman found that a person's emotional intelligence ... or their personal and interpersonal skills ... carried much more weight than a person's IQ in determining which of the individuals would emerge as leaders. In fact, he concluded that no more than 25% of a person's success could be attributed to IQ.

And Goleman may have been generous in his conclusion. According to R. Sternberg in "Successful Intelligence," a more careful analysis suggests the figure may be no greater than 10%, and in some studies only 4%. That means that your IQ leaves 75% to 96% of your job success unexplained.

What's the point? If you want to get ahead, if you want to be outrageously successful, having a high IQ or just plain being smart won't do it for you. Academic intellect isn't enough. Technical proficiency won't win the prize. You've got to have emotional intelligence. No question about it. So ...

2. What is emotional intelligence?
It has four components. They're very much like the four corners of a building, where each corner represents a different set of skills. If ALL ... not just some ... if all four corners are set right and in good shape, you can make a very sturdy, functional building. And likewise, if you have all four parts of emotional intelligence mastered, chances are you will be a very happy and successful individual ... on and off the job.

The first corner is Self-Awareness. You're able to figure out your feelings and understand yourself. And many people don't even have this first foundational piece in place. They're like the tombstone epitaph I saw in England that read, "Here lies a man who came into this world and left it without ever knowing who he was."

The second corner is Self-Management. Even though it's important, as Socrates advised to "know thyself," it's not enough. You have to know what feels good and what feels bad and how to go from bad to good. You have to know how to use your self-awareness so you can manage yourself and conduct yourself appropriately and effectively. It won't work to tell the world, "This is who I am. Take it or leave it." That's not emotional intelligence. That's emotional stupidity. Most people will choose to leave you behind if that's how you behave.

The third corner is Social Awareness. Face it; almost everything you do is done in a world of people, and almost everything you do well is done when you are "in tune" with the people around you. That takes Social Awareness. In other words, you must be able to read and understand the feelings and reactions of others if you're going to be highly successful.

The fourth corner is Relationship Management. You must know how to inspire, influence, encourage and develop others to work with you rather than against you. Like all the other corners of Emotional Intelligence, this is a set of skills you can learn.

Let me briefly highlight the first corner of Emotional Intelligence.

3. How do I start to enhance my Self-Awareness?
It should be fairly simple, as Rachel Burkholder shared in her story. She talked about the time her parish priest was leaving for a new assignment. The day before he was to leave, a little girl ran up to him and tearfully threw her arms around him in a good-bye embrace. The priest consoled the child, kissing her cheeks, while cheerfully saying, "And where did you get those cute rosy cheeks?" The little girl replied, "Oh, that's poison ivy!"

Yes, Self-Awareness should be fairly simple, but some people spend a whole lifetime and never get to know themselves. It's a pity, because it truly hinders the development of their Emotional Intelligence and thereby their effectiveness in everything they do.

To increase your Self-Awareness, start asking yourself a number of "Brave Questions" and do some thinking about your answers. You might even get a copy of my book on "Brave Questions".

Here are a few questions to get you started....

  • What are your gifts and talents?
    Everyone is born with talent. You may be unaware of your unique talents, simply because your talents are so much a part of you that they often seem hardly worth mentioning. Begin the process by asking yourself ... What have you always been able to do with very little effort? What do your friends and family continually ask you to do over everyone else? What activities are you consistently drawn to?
  • What fascinates you?
    What subject do you never tire of discussing? What topics cause your ears to perk up when someone across the room begins to discuss one or more of those topics? What causes you to stop your channel surfing when you see it come across your television screen? Do you read a number of books all focused on a particular subject? What do you find to be of perennial interest?
  • What's your passion?
    Everyone has a fire burning inside them, even though for some people the fires have never been encouraged to do more than smolder. What is it that would flare up and burn brightly in you if you gave it the slightest opportunity? Is it a cause, a vocation, a book you want to write, or picture you want to paint? What do you find yourself daydreaming about?

You can be more effective in EVERY part of your life ... if you increase your Emotional Intelligence. That's why every keynote I deliver and every seminar I give teaches people how they can transform themselves, their relationships, and their organizations. Life and work are just too important to not get it right.

Take five minutes each day this week to get to know yourself better ... to increase your self-awareness.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman is focused on "transforming the people side of business." His keynotes and seminars are noted for high content, high energy, and high involvement that transform people's lives and the companies where they work. Click here to learn more about his programs and products, or to receive a free subscription to his weekly Internet newsletter.
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