Photo Source: Marjan
By VICTOR LOH
What did you learn in the 14 to 16 years you spent in the school system, from primary one to university that is relevant to where you are in life today?
You would probably have been put through the academic grill throughout your primary and secondary school years, being told repeatedly that academic excellence trumps everything else. The emphasis was always on scoring in examinations. Getting As was, and still is for school kids, a badge of honour. Parents would push away extra curricular activities if they interfered with tuition.
University is where you sink or swim. Things are taught a little differently at this level, albeit with the same academic thrust. You find you now have to think. That’s right. Instead of answering multiple-choice questions, you have to analyse the subject matter. Sentences morph into paragraphs. It’s no longer sufficient to know the final answer; you also have to show how you arrive at this conclusion.
And that’s just the studying part. What about socialisation skills? Where do you fit in in university? University acts as an incubator of sorts for the transition into the real world. EQ, or emotional intelligence, is something that is grossly neglected in our schooling years, often making way for the traditional measure of intelligence, IQ (intelligence quotient).
In layman terms, EQ means the ability to relate to people around us as well as to situations life throws at us. It is how one handles the self, in everything from day-to-day interactions to challenging or adverse situations.
It is only in the last five to 10 years that people have started paying attention to EQ as an essential life skill. The workplace becomes a great social experiment on the implications of EQ, or lack thereof. Employers suddenly find themselves faced with disparate personalities that do not blend into the company culture. Employees themselves discover the difficulties of navigating relational minefields in the workplace.
Often, stories are heard about otherwise brilliant people who leave good companies. These brilliant individuals feel shackled and under-appreciated. The respective companies have failed to retain this talent. There is the sneaking suspicion that EQ is probably at the root of these problems.
When individuals are not fully equipped to deal with curveballs thrown at them at work, their coping mechanisms fail them. This applies to both managers and subordinates. A manager lacking in EQ may not be able to pick up on an employee’s frustrations and dissatisfaction; similarly, an employee may not have the skills to communicate his or her needs to the company, or perhaps even lack motivation to overcome problems at work.
Having a high EQ does not only boil down to great social skills; it’s the inherent ability to identify, interpret, and initiate appropriate behaviour in any given situation.
We’ve all had days when everything seems to be going wrong. Random people are hurling insults and making scathing comments. Projects go off track. Bosses seem extra-demanding, and subordinates are not performing at their best.
Someone with developed EQ would be able to see through these clouds to the silver lining, enabling him or her to bounce back from the day’s blows, ready to face another day tomorrow. He or she would have formulated an action plan to power through the day.
People with lesser honed EQ would probably wallow in self-pity and frustration, unable to break through the haze of problems. These people would allow themselves to get demotivated as time goes on, even imagining negative scenarios that have yet to happen.
How does EQ come about? While our generation learnt a subject in school called “Kemahiran Hidup”, which means life skills, it is a far cry from what we’re talking about here. More home economics than emotional intelligence, generation X was sadly never taught coping skills for the real world. We honed our social skills through interactions with fellow students and our teachers, and these probably fell under the purview of “do as you’re told”, “don’t question the teacher/books/school”, “don’t be difficult and just get along” amongst various other gems.
Does Generation Y fare any better? Perhaps not! This generation thrives on self-improvement, and to a fault, self-absorption. It is a known lament that employers do not get Gen-Yers, and vice versa. Whilst it is a generation that speaks up and questions establishments, it is also one that finds itself floundering when it comes to sustainable, long-term relationships (i.e. staying at a job long enough to learn or seeing a start-up through to the end).
The late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was known to be brilliant, as well as extremely difficult to work with. The words “college dropout” usually accompany his name. Yes, he didn’t finish school. He was also a dictator in the office. In fact, you would say he had little or no EQ when it came to the workplace. Yet he was the most successful entrepreneur of our generation. His personality sold millions of Apple products. He single-handedly led the company to the greatest heights imaginable. So what does EQ have to do with it?
EQ has everything to do with it. Perhaps lacking in social skills himself, he had the foresight to hire people whom he knew could work with his tyrannical style. He surrounded himself with people who had highly developed EQ. So in a roundabout way, Jobs was acute and savvy, knowing himself well enough to know the type of people he needed to propel the company to great success. Now that is what we call emotional intelligence.