In the early part of my career, I was a psychologist. I had majored in psychology in college; I went to grad school in psychology and got my PhD.; I worked in a psychiatric hospital; and I had a private practice as a psychotherapist.

As I became interested in how people deal with each other in business, I moved from the psychology world to the business world, and I began to work for a management consulting firm. The firm focused on how to help people succeed in organizations, so my psych background was very helpful. Yet, having “grown up” in academia and related settings, I wondered how smart people in business REALLY were. In fact, I must admit that I was biased to think that the people I had learned from in school, and worked with in the hospital, were probably smarter than those in the corporate world.

Well, I was dead wrong! In fact, when I think about all the clients, colleagues, supervisors, supervisees, and board members that I have met through the last 25 years, there were many, many who were smart, and more than a few who were absolutely brilliant.

I also learned that there is “a different kind of smart” that really makes a difference in how well people do at work. And that different kind of smart is, “Emotional Intelligence.””¨

First defined in the mid-1980s and later popularized by Dr. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (or EI) is,
“The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” That is, our level of EI depends on how well we understand how we feel about different situations and about people, and how well we understand how others feel. And, do we use this knowledge of what makes us tick and what makes others tick to better manage our own emotions and the way we deal with others?

This doesn’t mean that we do away with our emotions – far from it. But, rather, we try to get underneath how we’re feeling and ask ourselves WHY we’re felling that way, and then make a conscious choice as to how to react. For example, Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.”

I’ll write more about EI in future blog posts but, meanwhile, please try a little mental exercise with yourself. Ask yourself what are the “hot buttons” that make YOU angry? What are the triggers that make YOU upset? Is it, for example, arrogance in others? A lack of respect for your opinion? Might it have nothing to do with others and, instead, have to do with losing your temper when you’re rushed, or a nervousness that you feel under pressure?

Whatever are the hot buttons that get you angry or upset, try to notice them and understand them. And, next time – before simply reacting to the situation – take a minute or two and decide HOW you want to react to it. You’ll find yourself more in control and less likely to say or do something that you’ll regret later.

Let me give you an example from my own work life. As a management consultant, I was once meeting with a very senior operating executive who was not at all interested in nor convinced by my recommendations. And, I was a young hotshot, convinced at the time that my opinion was absolutely right. I found myself arguing with this very capable executive to the point where we went back and forth over our different points of view for about five rounds.
Luckily, some piece of EI started to kick in for me. I asked myself, “Why is it so important that I be right in this situation?” OK, I realized that I wanted to impress the executive but maybe it would be better to stop arguing and start listening. Could we even find a compromise and agree to test our relative points of view?

In sum, I stopped myself from my heady and headlong rush into aggravating a client – by pausing, realizing what I was doing, and trying a different tack. And, I’m happy to say, I kept that client and even met with him later when he had moved on to another senior position with another company. Surely this was a better outcome than the one I had been rushing toward.

The moral of the story, and of this blog post? There are many kinds of smarts, and many kinds of smart people. However, if we can develop our Emotional Intelligence we’ll get along with others – and with ourselves – so much better. And isn’t this a worthy goal in business and in life?