Coach at work: 'I lack the emotional intelligence to be promoted'
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Coach at work: 'I lack the emotional intelligence to be promoted'

We put your workplace woes to an executive coach.

I work for a company that develops simulation software for the military. I was interviewed recently for a promotion into senior management, but it went badly. The feedback was that I'm not emotionally intelligent enough to lead a multidisciplinary team. So I missed out on a promotion even though I'm sought-after in my field.

The thought of giving our people on the ground a tactical advantage because of my simulations is very cool and I don't really want to work anywhere else. But my boyfriend, who teaches yoga, was relieved when I told him I'd bombed at interview. He thinks war games are immoral and that he has enough emotional intelligence for both of us. He hopes I'll get fed up where I am and move to a tech field that's more touchy-feely, like climate change simulation. Where do I go from here?

We can improve our emotional intelligence through training.

We can improve our emotional intelligence through training.Credit:Janine Fabre / Defence

The coach:

Oy vey. I'm not much liking the smell of your boyfriend's moral high ground from here, but let's start with what's going on with you at work before we look at you at home.

By the sound of it, you have the great pleasure of working in precisely the field of your dreams. You built it, and they came; and even better, you see your work in the context of something that really matters to you: keeping soldiers safer in the thick of battle. Amen to that. You've made a value judgment (the lives of "our" boys are more important than the lives of "theirs"), which coaching leaves undisturbed. Doing what you love: tick.

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The coach: Jacqueline Jago.

The coach: Jacqueline Jago.Credit:Sari Sutton

If you want to get promoted, and your colleagues think your emotional intelligence (also known as "EQ" as distinct from "IQ") needs some work, then let's get to it. EQ is predictive of high performance, particularly in tasks with high emotional demand: like supervising a multidisciplinary team, where it's your job to make sure everyone's talking to everyone else and the designers and coders can play nice together. It also makes for happy home lives, of which more later. Let's start by defining EQ as the capacity to recognise your (and other people's) emotions, to moderate your emotional responses, and to take into account emotional information in making decisions.

A recruitment panel's view of what you're like to work with is not necessarily going to be accurate, by the way; referee reports are a true record of their writer's limits. Nor are managers always accurate in their assessments of their staff; few would say they feel OK about developing their staff. In terms of you and your EQ, it's possible you're highly developed in key areas but held back by a glitch (e.g. communicating what you're insightfully observing in your staff) that is quite coachable. Whatever needs strengthening in you, it'll be important to get yourself to a trusted colleague or coach for a more detailed discussion about what's working, or not, in how you relate to yourself, your colleagues and your team.

I suspect that your learning style will respond very well to treating your burgeoning EQ as a research problem, and making yourself a guinea pig in your own experiments. You could begin by reading the literature (anything recent by Daniel Goleman), and then start designing small and do-able tasks at work to help you grow your emotional muscles. If you really want to go crazy, you could design a way of measuring the results, and seek/share advice on one of the many online communities of geeks who are learning, like you, to inherit the emotional Earth. Small adjustments in behaviour add up to high competence over time – but if you want visible change, you'll need to persist and work through the mundane freak-outs (by you, and those close to you) that come with change and change resistance.

Now, about that boyfriend of yours: the one with all the emotional intelligence. Just between you and me, you're about to glean a whole lot of useful information about what's going on underneath all that certainty. His diagnosis of his own aptitude could also be off; folks who like to help others tend to think of themselves as emotionally intelligent, but the two (helping and EQ) don't necessarily go hand in hand. How he responds to your increasing capacity to know what you know and feel what you feel – and to articulate it in a way that bonds your team and gets you what you want – will speak volumes about his emotional smarts and whether he's invested in You Being Splendidly You, or in needing to be needed. You might find it's you who ends up with more flexibility here than Mr Yoga. Good luck.

Jacqueline Jago is an executive coach and the principal of Bloom Coaching & Consulting. Send your questions to counsel@canberratimes.com.au.