From the July 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Do you have a high "EQ"? That's emotional intelligence quotient, and though it may sound touchy-feely, it's recently emerged as a hot management concept.

"A big factor in why entrepreneurs fail is low EQ," says Emory Mulling, president of The Mulling Group, an Atlanta outplacement and executive coaching company. "The higher you go in any organization, the more important EQ becomes because your relationships become more important--and that's what EQ is all about."

"The term `emotional intelligence' may mystify the topic. What we're really talking about is the ability to connect with people and to be able to understand their emotions," adds Ron Riggio, a professor of organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. "This is critically important to entrepreneurs, not only in managing employees but also in getting customers, attracting investors, and at every step in building a business."

What Is Eq?

The experts say individuals with the highest EQs excel at four interrelated skills:

The ability to persist and stay motivated in the face of frustration

The ability to control impulses

The ability to control their emotions

The ability to empathize with others

"These skills are exemplified by effective leaders," says John Sosik, a management professor at Pennsylvania State University in Malvern. "EQ really is old wine in a new bottle. It's about self-awareness and empathy, and those are skills any leader needs in building a successful organization."

The need for managerial EQ, in fact, has only intensified as structural changes have swept through the workplace. In decades past, a boss probably could ignore his employees' emotional lives--workers were in effect told to leave their emotions at home, and most complied. No more.

"As organizations have shifted to a more team-based workplace, you're asking employees for commitment and passion--to bring both their brains and hearts to the job. Along with this, you have to expect people will bring their emotions to work, too," says Patricia J. Addesso, a San Diego management consultant and author of Management Would Be Easy--If It Weren't for the People (Amacom). "You cannot ignore emotions--not if you want to get passion from your workers."

The True Test

EQ is something every boss can use to get the troops working hard, smart and with commitment. So how high is your EQ? Although EQ-testing instruments have been flooding the marketplace, no formal measures have been scientifically validated, says Sosik.

Instead of taking pen to paper to test yourself, Addesso recommends a simpler, more direct method. "Ask yourself fundamental questions," she advises. "Do you feel in control of your emotions? Do you lose your temper easily? Do you often say `I wish I hadn't done that'? Do people's reactions to you puzzle you? Are you taken by surprise a lot? Do you feel misunderstood?"

More generally, are emotions a mystery to you? The more emotions are integrated into your daily life, the higher your EQ is likely to be. But whether you score high or low, the good news is that we all can raise our EQ, says Riggio.

What are the steps? "The initial requirement in raising your EQ is the desire to change," says Addesso. "Once you make that decision, you've taken a large step toward learning new skills."

Step two, says Robert Reiher, a La Cañada, California, developmental psychologist, "is learning to reflect. You won't have high EQ until you learn to reflect on what's going on inside yourself. And if you don't know what's going on inside yourself emotionally, you cannot know what's going on inside others."

"Listen to what you're telling yourself," says Christopher Neck, a management professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, and author of Medicine for the Mind (McGraw Hill). But don't assume what you hear is immutable. "You can change it. You can tell yourself something different--and that means you can change and regulate your moods."

Therein lies the next step in an EQ-boosting regimen--emotional control. "Emotional control is a key skill for successful leaders," says Riggio. He offers this scenario as proof: You've just been turned down for a bank loan. "Do employees take one look at you and say `Uh-oh, it's going to be a bad day around here'? If they do, it detracts from your effectiveness as a leader."

Of course, not all emotions should be hidden from your staff--that would be a step backward. "But when you can control which emotions you show," says Riggio, "then you are that much more polished a leader."

Step four is practicing empathy. There's no mystery about how to strengthen empathy. "It boils down to practicing active listening skills," says Sosik. "But it takes concentration to pick up on the emotions that are coming across in a conversation." For instance, if an employee says "That customer is picking on me," don't just focus on the facts--delve into the underlying emotions. Is he pouting? Mad? Explore the subtext because there likely is one.

This probably won't be easy in the beginning unless such dialogue is part of your nature. So expect stumbles at first, and trust that employees will read your sincerity and respond to it, even if finesse is lacking.

Some of the emotions you pick up on may strike you as foolish--but hold your fire because the last step in raising EQ is to validate the emotions of others, says Addesso. That means acknowledging their emotions, even if they are different than what you'd feel in the same situation.

This doesn't mean you need to surrender to their every emotion. "Many executives make that mistake," says Addesso. "If an employee bursts into tears during a performance appraisal, for a lot of managers, it's all over. They say, `Don't think about any of this. It's fine. Get back to work.' That's a big mistake. Be sensitive to others, but don't let their emotions rule you."

Is that displaying low EQ? Not at all. "Validating others' emotions isn't the same as catering to them," says Addesso.

Don't expect your EQ to soar immediately. But the payoffs of investing in and cultivating your EQ are enormous. "Research shows [business owners] with high EQs can get results from employees that are beyond expectations. They will work harder, especially in the kind of turbulent times that characterize today's business climate," says Sosik. "To succeed nowadays, you need to keep your cool, manage conflicts and bring others together behind you. That's what EQ lets you do."