Archive | September 2011

Intelligence Has Many Sides: It’s easier to acquire hard technologies than to grasp soft emotions

Everyone has, many acknowledge, and a few actually experience, the distance between what we see ourselves and how others see us.  In order for such an experience to occur, one has to have a keen sense of self-awareness, and you can’t possibly grasp that distance if you lack the ability to gauge how others see you.  However, by itself, the concern for how others see you does not arise from self-awareness; rather, often it’s a sign for being self-centered.  So, the key, once again, readers, is in the relationships.  Of course, having these perceptions doesn’t automatically lead to possessing skills in managing relationships at workplace, or elsewhere.  But those abilities, to be self-aware and to be empathetic with others, is the foundation of “emotional intelligence” (EI) which while gaining some traction with organizations, is still regarded as light-weight and irrelevant by many.

colorful emotions

At the very basic level, emotional intelligence, as defined by Daniel Goleman, refers to the “abilities to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others.”  He further breaks the concept down into four essential domains:  self-awareness, self-management (the “regulate” part), social awareness, and relationship management.  The basic tenants of EI have been around for decades, but Goleman put it on the organizational and public awareness radar screens with his enormously popular 1995 publication, Emotional Intelligence, followed by 1998 publication of Working With Emotional Intelligence.  Since then, increasing number of organizations have put the concept in their Training and Development curriculum, ranging from ½ day course to 4-day sessions; and not all with positive results.  We all have seen an organizational concept “catching fire” and becoming trendy, and its subsequent institutionalization and trivialization.  As I discussed in earlier entries on change: Changes for individuals and organizations don’t come easily and transformation doesn’t take place in days, especially for those transformations worthy of staying power.

By now, you are probably familiar with some of my views, in particular:  it’s relatively easier to master technical knowledge and skills and much harder to acquire capabilities in softer areas, such as management of relationships and emotions.  Goleman talks about three types of competencies:  technical, “purely cognitive abilities” such as analytical reasoning, and “abilities in the EI range” such as conflict management.  EI does involve analytical thinking, hence he distinguishes it from the “purely cognitive abilities.”  He found that “for jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined.”  And the higher one moves up the management rank, the more EI competencies matter.

mosaic of blue and yellow

The following figure illustrates Goldman’s framework of EI:

Self(Personal Competence) Other(Social Competence)



  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Accurate self-assessment
  • Self-confidence
Social Awareness

  • Empathy
  • Service orientation
  • Organizational awareness
Regulation Self-Management

  • Emotional self-control
  • Trustworthiness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Adaptability
  • Achievement drive
  • initiative
Relationship Management 

  • developing others
  • Influence
  • Communication
  • Conflict management
  • Visionary leadership
  • Catalyzing change
  • Building bonds
  • Teamwork & collaboration

From “The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace,” by Cherniss, C. & Goleman, D. (Eds), p.28

weave emotions into a tapestry

When I glanced at the table, the item of “developing others” jumped out at me.  In my experience, that particular item is often neglected by managers.  I think a probable reason for this negligence is cost, both in monetary consideration and the time taken from production-oriented tasks.  But that’s “penny wise, pound foolish.”  In my role in the Diversity Office, almost a decade ago, I requested to go to a conference on — of all topics — diversity, to which my manager’s response was, “you don’t have the time.”  Shouldn’t I be the one to judge that?  Besides, I was on a half-time basis!

Most people would agree that EI, like other (soft) management skills, are important, and intuitively they get it.  Yet, people are still a bit weary and suspicious of these “touchy-feely” topics.  But, research in EI has linked these skills with neurological studies, and has shown where each of these functions reside in our brains.  For instance, patients with lesions to the amygdala cannot discern nonverbal cues for negative emotions, such as fear or anger, and cannot judge trustworthiness in others.  I wonder if I know some of these people!

While these softer skills are harder to learn, they are learnable, as long as we allow time for people to internalize what they learn.  For instance, training and development (T&D) would be a waste of organization’s money and participants’ time if the design does not incorporate longitudinal perspective.  To produce sustainable effects such programs should allow participants time to think through how to apply what they learn, design their own application program (with before and after comparisons), go through a trial period with periodic feedback from various sources, have chances for follow-up questions and answers with trainers or experienced people.  Having a mentor would add to the strength of a thoughtful program.  Equally important in the design of such a program is what to do with participants who feel frustrated or make mistakes.  Of course, in most of the writings on EI, many authors have noted that those with higher EI skills tend to be optimistic, self-confident, allowing for mistakes but ready to overcome their own failures.  But we can’t just view those with higher EI scores as the model to emulate; it’s the process that matters in internalized growth.

nature’s mosaic

In the recent firing of the Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, she was quoted in New York Times business section, “people should understand that they will learn more from a bad manager than a good manager.”  Read more:   Oh, how inspiring that message is!  Now, managers all over should aim to be bad managers, and bad managers should congratulate themselves for their teaching skills?  I wonder how she’d score in EI test!

But this is part of the struggle in management:  Topics like Emotional Intelligence, Appreciative Inquiry, Evidence-Based Management, etc., that advocate positive framing do seem to encounter cynicism, suspicion, or doubt at best.  It is so much easier to be poor than to be good in rendering judgement, isn’t?  In the ever-increasingly stressful and busy life in organizations, it really requires strong and deep commitment to be good and better in the management of tasks and relationships, not limited to only managers.  So, when you encounter those colleagues, be they of lower rank than you or above you, with noticeable EI skills, pay close attention to them, won’t you?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Capital Isn’t Just About Money Or Equipment: Ignore relationships at your peril

When we hear “capital,” images immediately pop into our heads of money (in large amounts) or buildings or equipment.  Of course, we realize and understand that people’s knowledge, skills and experiences are equally important, more in some businesses than in others; these less tangible assets are termed “human capital.”  But in organizations, per Kenwyn Smith’s definition, it is the relations among parts, and the relations among relations, that really matter.  And implicit in the relationships that actually facilitate execution of work is the trust people develop over time.  Of course, there is work that can be done by lone individuals, or machines, but most work in organizations relies on relationships.  These relationships, or networks, are “social capital,” even less tangible than human capital.  A group, an entity, that exhibits a high degree of trust (and necessarily trustworthiness) is likely to function much better than one with less trust/worthiness.  It sounds simple and intuitively obvious…so, how are you doing with your various relationships within your family or at work?

James Coleman, a sociologist, gives a wonderful example of how social capital is manifested, in the form of parents, children, and education.  A couple with postgraduate degrees, say, a Ph.D and a M.D., work hard to bring in high financial rewards for the family.  Immediately, we have high employable skills resulting in way above-average financial capital with which to purchase the best toys, private schools (if that’s the choice), several computers, a great house, exotic vacations, and whatnot.  However, if the parents do not invest enough in the relationships with their children, their highly educated backgrounds and money will not usually translate into success for their children’s education and beyond.

airy honeycomb dessert, accented by black- and blue- berries

In the workplace, we rely on social capital to gain information, to learn important contextual stories not captured in memos, to expedite work when necessary, to trade favors and obligations, etc.  When we see other people’s, or groups’, impressive performance and work products, we often neglect to note the solid but invisible social capital upon which these visible outcomes are dependent.  I have mentioned several times throughout this blog that emulating the visible factors supposedly accounting for others’ successes is poor practice, because copying the superficialities leaves out the hard work of building human and social capital that is so essential to success.

I am sure you have noticed that you have different qualities of friendships among your friends, that you interact differently with your siblings, and form different relationships with colleagues.  Here is a rather drastic example:  Ana was an experienced administrative assistant at HQ with more than 10 years of service in the role.  However, and for whatever reasons, the office’s fairly new and young chief-of-staff (COS) kept finding faults with Ana’s performance, to the point that Ana’s work began to slide, and the COS had made noises to have Ana fired.  The company’s Purchasing Department manager, Diane, had a good reputation for nurturing her staff, and had in the past received several “problematic” staff members transferred from other departments.  About the same time Ana was struggling with her COS, Diane’s newly hired assistant, Rose, though very competent, was struggling to mature into her role, not helped by her complicated family situation.  The COS also would like to see Diane fire Rose, this new assistant.  Do we have some pattern here?!

Diane had a heart-to-heart chat with Rose, and decided to give her more time and opportunity to mature.  As Diane put it, “How is firing people going to help them learn and/or acquire new skills?  And threatening people with possible firing surely guarantees downward performance.”  Later, in some interesting maneuvering, Diane got Ana transferred to her department, and served as a mentor for Rose.  Ana was like a fish put back in water, and Rose’s performance rocketed.  And oh, by the way, the other transferred members were all doing better after the change of station.

Much of the work, especially in the social domain and in the “soft” work within organizations, depends on relationships, which are never static.  It seems that the COS’s view of people who reported to her was based on how people should perform and behave, without any consideration of the social environment.  In her world, even allowing Rose to have some family concerns, Rose should perform consistently.  Diane had always made it clear to her people that while work was important, their families’ needs sometimes took priority.  She might not have the financial resources to provide adequate support if a staff member needed to take a leave of absence for family reasons, but she would attempt to find others to cover the absent member for a while.

Diane’s style is a wonderful marriage between using “appreciative inquiry and “building relationships.”

passionfruit jelly & mango mascarpone on orange torte…it’s the combination!

Now, having sung the virtues of emphasizing relationships, I have to address the issue of introversion.  A few entries ago, I discussed concerns of introverts and extroverts in organizational setting.  For introverts, building, attending and maintaining relationships do not come easily.  I do not imply that it’s effortless for extroverts, but relatively speaking, it is easier for them.  Yet after all, most introverts have families and friends.  It appears that the majority of people in management are extroverts, and their policies, decisions, and expectations are geared for extroverts.  So, can introverts make effective managers?  Diane of the above story happened to be a profound introvert.  It didn’t come easy for her; however, she was in tune with others’ social and emotional issues.  She possessed high “emotional intelligence,” a topic I will cover in the next entry.

I conclude with two observations:  1.  I wish there were more research done on the confluence of networking and social/human capital with introversion and extroversion in the workplace.  2.   Not unrelated is that in our dichotomous system of either-or (either manager or manage-ee, either research or application, either teaching or research, either competitor or collaborator, etc.) it’s generally the ones with vast networks that get ahead.  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, I just like to see a little more genuinely diversified distribution.

CODA on 9/11

On 9/11 ten years ago, United States lost not only tangible lives, landmark buildings, planes, and intangible quality-of-life of the deceased’s loved ones, we also lost much more from our collective confidence, generosity, appreciation, and psyche.  I may even add that the heightened dysfunction of our government is part of that loss.  I think bin Laden got more than he thought he would.  Indeed, a very sad day!

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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