Think back to the last time you purchased a major item from a salesperson—perhaps a car or a large appliance. Was the salesperson’s success based on an encyclopedic knowledge of the product’s specs and other information, or did closing the deal depend on something less tangible, like putting you at ease or making you laugh?
If your willingness to buy was influenced by the salesperson’s likeability or skill at connecting with you, then odds are that he or she had an Einsteinian EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient. Recent research suggests that a high EQ is far more important than a lofty IQ in determining our success at connecting with and influencing others—two pillars of prosperity in the legislative realm.
So, what exactly is emotional intelligence? Peter Salovey of Yale University and John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire define EQ as “the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions, and the ability to use the information as a guide to thinking and behavior.”
In less academic terms, it’s a little like the relationship between temperature and a thermostat. A high EQ indicates a heightened awareness of your own emotional “temperature,” and that of others, at any given moment, coupled with the skill to regulate the emotional “thermostat” in a room to produce a positive outcome. Unlike IQ, which is a measure of our capacity to cognitively process and utilize rational data, EQ is our ability to understand and make use of emotional cues and information.
While IQ is essential when it comes to solving complex problems, EQ reigns supreme when we need to handle interpersonal challenges.
EQ theorists break emotional intelligence into five key components:
Self-awareness: a constant consciousness about our own shifting emotional state and the emotional status of those around us.
Self-regulation: the ability to respond to, and control, any change in our emotional environment.
Motivation: the capacity to redirect our emotional state toward optimism and commitment so that we can achieve our goals no matter what emotions may be provoked by challenges or setbacks.
Empathy: recognition and appreciation of the emotional experience of others in order to increase one’s understanding of their perspective and point of view.
Social skills: the ability to communicate with, negotiate with and influence others through an emotional, not just rational, channel.
So why does EQ matter? The short answer is that raising our EQ tends to make us more successful in our professional lives. A Harvard Business School study determined that EQ was twice as predictive of job success as IQ. A McClelland study compared two groups of plant managers—one group received EQ training, the other did not—and found that grievances dropped by 80% in the more emotionally intelligent cohort. High EQ produces results well beyond what we can achieve with content knowledge or technical skill alone.
In the context of the legislature, EQ assumes an even higher value. Legislating is primarily a relationship business. Sure, there are logical arguments and reams of data to be considered when constructing many bills, but the final success of any legislative action, from policy creation to constituent services, ultimately comes down to groups of people interacting together in an often emotionally charged environment. Those who can identify, understand and manage emotions in those moments are better equipped to motivate and influence all stakeholders (including themselves!) toward the best outcome.
Increasing our EQ and becoming more emotionally intelligent requires, like most things in life, practice—lots of it. But here are three easy strategies you can use daily to pump up your EQ:
1. Employ “The Pause.” When you sense that emotions are shifting in the moment (internally or in others), take a moment to gauge your own emotional temperature and to empathize with the emotional state of others. This will allow your response to be better targeted, formulated and communicated for maximum impact. Whether it’s a constituent lashing out or another member surging with enthusiasm for a policy position, use the pause. In either case, your ability to successfully negotiate that charged moment will be greatly enhanced.
2. Explore “The Why.” Adam Grant, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that most of our negative emotional interactions with others are a result of what he calls “the perspective gap,” an inability to see how others have arrived at their position or point of view. Such gaps are especially prevalent in the legislature, where political polarization often hampers our capacity to step into the shoes of others. One great technique for exploring “the why” comes from writer Preston Ni, who suggests completing the sentence “It must not be easy…” whenever we encounter challenging people. If a legislator is particularly demanding, a staffer might note that, “It must not be easy to be under this much pressure so late in the session.” Or, if a constituent fires off a series of hostile emails about a lack of services, a lawmaker might consider that, “It must not be easy to be dependent on public systems.” Exploring the why behind a challenging behavior automatically reduces the perspective gap and increases one’s ability to respond effectively to the situation.
3. Exercise “The Vision.” Learn to see every emotional interaction as an opportunity to learn something about yourself and others. Every time an emotion shifts, a new data point emerges, giving us new information about our own (and others’) fears, motivations and desires. True wisdom lies in connecting that new data to our past experiences to better understand those with whom we interact regularly.
Legislative work, which is fundamentally about solving human problems, involves a sometimes perilous navigation of constantly shifting emotional landscapes. Equipping yourself with the compass of EQ—the ability to understand, connect with and influence your own and others’ emotions—will make you better prepared to cross that terrain with an emotionally satisfying smile on your face.
Curt Stedron is NCSL’s director of legislative training.
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