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Understanding Emotional Intelligence: perhaps a secret to success?

Submitted by Lori Conlan February 19, 2013

Last week at the NIH, Daniel Goleman delivered a talk about Emotional Intelligence and how it influences leadership.  The premise of Emotional Intelligence is that understanding your emotions, the emotions of others, and how the two interact allows us to be more successful and happier.

Emotional Intelligence suggests that to be successful the following traits are important:

  • Self awareness:  being able to assess and understand your emotions and having self-confidence
  • Social awareness: having empathy, organizational awareness and service orientation
  • Self-management: having emotional self-control, adaptability, initiative and optimism
  • Relationship management: developing others, influence, providing inspiration, conflict management and teamwork

While that all seems well and good, we often hear that scientists lack these types of people skills.  The urban myth is that as long as you are smart enough you can succeed, without having to worry about how you interact with others.  But, there is no researcher that operates in a vacuum—especially today in the word of team science and collaboration. So, how do you become more aware about these topics, and use them to become more successful?

  1. Reflect on how you respond to stressors.  Are there particular things that you know are hot buttons for you?  In the topics that cause you stress, are there any similarities?  What happens?  Be detailed when you think of these; who is involved, what do you say (or not say), what is the outcome?  What do you wish you would have done or said?
  2. Practice different responses.  One way to get a better response is to practice it, even if it does not feel “right”.  Think about this as writing with your non-dominant hand.  It is possible, but it takes practice to make it legible.  Is there a time when you saw someone else handle a situation well, what can you take from that challenge you witnessed?   When you reflected on a situation did you see another response that would have been better?
  3. Understand the other person’s position.  This is not to say that you agree, but that you see the problem from their perspective.  How can you use that information to build a working relationship?
  4. Breath.  By focusing on your breath you can help reduce stress.  This is also called Mindfulness.

There is no passive solution to understanding these topics, you have to practice.  We teach techniques in OITE leadership and management courses.  Workplace Dynamics covers understanding yourself and others and our Management Bootcamp has a whole session on working with Emotional Intelligence.  We have even started to present these topics at national meetings such as Experimental Biology.

If you are an NIHer, you can Watch Daniel Goleman’s talk from last week.  If you want other information on Emotional Intelligence check out the book list on sites such as Amazon or from your local library. Research the topic, and learn to be more successful in science by embracing that people are part of our success.

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