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Why employers value emotional intelligence – and 3 ways to develop it

Technology means emotional intelligence might be even more important than IQ - but how do you develop it? Source: Rawpixel/Unsplash

“You can’t judge a fish on how well it climbs a tree,” Einstein famously said about the education system – but the developing Industry 4.0 means you can’t judge a fish on just how well it swims either.

“How well does the fish navigate its current and judge the contextual swimming conditions?” is probably a better question to pose to the new job market, according to education and business experts.

Industry 4.0 – which refers the age of automation, in which many manual labour and administrative jobs are set to be replaced with more efficient technologies – means intelligence and productivity are no longer enough.

According to Tim Kiddell, speech writer for the UK Prime Minister, emotional intelligence is also going to be a crucial skill in the graduate market as Artificial Intelligence and automation rewrite the global economy.

“Artificial Intelligence will expand the world in ways we cannot imagine,” Kiddell said, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Students need to learn to work alongside automation. Source: Unsplash

“As machines are used to do many functional tasks, it will be our people skills, humanity and ability to empathise which will be needed.”

The ability to approach challenges from other people’s perspectives and show kindness will be central to success beyond education says Kiddell – and he’s not alone in this opinion.

In fact, according to a LinkedIn survey of 2,000 business leaders, 57 percent of employers said soft skills are the first thing they look for when searching for new employees.

The survey shows business leaders value graduates with knowledge on how to lead and work within a team, those with clear communication and collaboration skills, and people who demonstrate good time management.

All these qualities require a high level of emotional intelligence. From understanding how to motivate others, being able to navigate tricky personalities and allowing everyone to be heard in their contributions – these skills all stem from having empathy and social awareness.

While this is all well and good, ‘emotional intelligence’ can seem somewhat elusive when you’re trying to develop the skills employers find so valuable.

Emotional intelligence might seem hard to grasp – but it’s possible to develop. Source: Shutterstock

Understanding how others feel and picking up on subtle social cues aren’t exactly qualities you can learn overnight – especially when the traditional higher education system doesn’t yet recognise their importance.

Many institutions are steeped in tradition, with some of the most prestigious universities far outliving current workplace trends, so they tend to prioritise intellectual development over much needed emotional capabilities.

But that doesn’t mean these sought-after skills are impossible to develop – it just means students need to take matters into their own hands.

There are a range of online courses students can take to build their professional emotional awareness, but with deadlines and financial stresses to worry about, these may not be an option.

But current and prospective students fret not – there are some simple exercises you can do to develop emotional intelligence alongside your studies:

1) Take note of non-verbal communication

Understanding non-verbal cues is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. In fact, it’s estimated that a whopping 93 percent of communication is transmitted through non-verbal communication, so being able to consciously interpret these cues can really help you read situations and better navigate conversation.  

You might feel like this, but with a little practice you can improve… Source: Giphy

Start by tuning into people’s body language and facial expressions when they speak. After a while, you should begin to recognise patterns in people’s emotions and physical reactions, helping you read a situation deeper than the words being spoken aloud.

You can use this awareness to your advantage – understanding whether someone is stubborn because they’re anxious or motivated because they’re feeling valued are useful skills for working within or leading a team.

2) Understand yourself better

Self-awareness is another crucial quality in building emotional intelligence. By understanding your own thought patterns, internal responses and external reactions to different situations, you can healthily conduct yourself and understand those around you.

You’ll soon be a master at knowing and understanding your own behaviour. Source: Giphy

To develop awareness of your own reactions, try and take a step back from your thoughts and emotions and watch them come and go. Imagine you are a pedestrian on the side of the road, watching your thought vehicles drive back and forth. All you need to do is sit and observe.

After a while, you should start to notice how different situations give rise to specific thought patterns and the emotions these thoughts create. You can use this new-found knowledge to challenge opinions and behaviours that prevent you from being the best version of yourself, as well as notice and emphasise behaviour patterns others.

3) Learn how to respond, rather than react

Once you’ve developed emotional intelligence, you can use these skills to confidently navigate social situations.

One of the major pitfalls of humans in social settings and causes of conflict comes when people react to situations, rather than rationally respond.

Developed emotional intelligence allows for productive conflict resolution and rational reasoning. Source: Stefan Stefancik/Unsplash

A reaction is an immediate kickback to a comment or problem, which often isn’t rationally considered. A response, on the other hand, is a thought through reply which aims to resolve the situation in the most effective manner.

With self-awareness and nonverbal understanding in your emotional intelligence arsenal, you’ll be ready to rationally consider tricky situations – an essential skill to anyone working in a team, managing a group or liaising with sometimes difficult clients.

While these skills are only the tip of the emotional intelligence iceberg, they’re a good start to developing soft skills alongside your degree, and are tools that will shine brightly in job interviews after graduation.

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