According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Future of Jobs Report, emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020.
The sought-after skill is actually a collection of personal traits including self-awareness, empathy and self-regulation, which have come to be described together with the single term “emotional intelligence” or EI. The realization that EI has become an important predictor of job success, even surpassing technical ability, has been growing over the last number of years. In fact, in a 2011 Career Builder Survey of more than 2,600 U.S. hiring managers and human resource professionals:
Why are companies putting such a high value on EI as they evaluate the performance of existing talent and bring on new hires?
The ability to deal with the stresses of rapidly changing business environments and the need to cooperate across borders as markets and workforces become increasingly global are just two of the seven reasons listed below.
Handling pressure and functioning well under high-stress situations requires an ability to manage our emotions.
People with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more aware of their internal thermometers and therefore better able to manage their stress levels. They have developed better coping mechanisms and have healthy support systems that allow them to work effectively even in highly stressful situations. The increasing rate of change in the workplace will increase stress and put a premium on those who are able to manage it.
As teamwork becomes increasingly important in the workplace, people who are able to understand, get along with and work well with others will become increasingly sought after.
People with high emotional intelligence have well-developed people skills, allowing them to develop relationships with a diverse range of personalities and people from various cultures and backgrounds. As insurers expand to other parts of the globe, whether through acquisition or by setting up local operations, these attributes will be recognized as some of the strongest personal assets for leaders of diverse workplaces, elevating their companies to the world stage.
Everyone has a strong desire to be heard and understood. The ability to effectively listen and respond to others is crucial in developing good working relationships. Most people are too busy thinking of how they will reply to be able to actively listen to what others are saying.
Because of their increased ability to understand others, people with high emotional intelligence are in a better position to put their own emotions and desires aside to respond and focus on listening to what others are saying. They are able to pick up on tone of voice and body language—strong indicators of what is going on with the speaker.
Open, timely and honest feedback is essential to job performance. People with highly developed emotional intelligence are less defensive and more open to feedback, especially when it involves areas of improvement. Their high level of self-regard will allow them to look positively at areas where they can improve rather than taking the information as criticism of their performance. Their strong sense of self will allow them to realize that these areas of improvement are opportunities that can make them even more productive and valuable employees.
Team harmony and working well together means responding effectively to the feelings of others. People with high emotional intelligence are able to use their understanding of where others are coming from to create higher levels of trust and cohesiveness. This allows teams to focus on the task at hand rather than become embroiled in internal bickering and politics. Their sensitivity to the needs of others acts as a lubricant that allows team members to work together without friction.
When colleagues witness emotionally intelligent co-workers who remain unruffled even when things don’t go according to plan, or those who reach out to understand and assist others during challenging times, they want to emulate those positive behaviors. Indeed, the emotionally intelligent employees may have a great level of influence in an organization even if they don’t hold titles or official designations. Their example of rising above the daily irritations and problems earns them respect from those above them as well as their colleagues.
Because of their ability to more clearly see things from another’s point of view, people with high emotional intelligence can make better judgments on how their decisions will impact others. Not only will this sensitivity result in better decisions, but they will also be able to do more effective damage control in situations where the decisions have some negative impact. Being able to better judge the impact of decisions allows them to be more proactive and anticipate the reactions of others.
Bringing It All Together: Hiring for EI
With the rate of change and workplace pressures increasing, people who have enhanced ability to adapt, manage their emotions and work well with a diverse range of people will become much sought after by employers and human resource departments in all areas of the workplace across industries.
In the insurance industry, carrier leaders will likely recognize some of the traits outlined above in some of their C-suite colleagues and among the ranks of insurance professionals who report to them. But as business challenges like merger integrations, operational restructurings, workforce automation and disruptive competitors grow in the coming years, the need for emotionally intelligent professionals will only increase.
How do we determine if someone has these skills?
In a traditional interview, many smart people have figured out how to answer to make it appear that they are emotionally intelligent, whether they actually are or not.
As a first step, get the interview out of the traditional office setting. Go to a quiet coffee shop, park or some other place where the interview won’t be interrupted. Instead of the typical question-and-answer method, try to turn the interview into a conversation that will promote open and honest responses from the candidate.
During the interview conversation, focus on these seven questions.
Instead of asking directly, the interviewer can start the conversation by telling a personal story about dealing with an annoying family member or colleague. Then ask if there is anyone at the candidate’s last job or in their personal life who bothers them. This will give valuable insight into how the candidate perceives people, tries to understand them and gets along with others.
A person low in emotional intelligence might answer, “I hate it when I try to tell people something and they just don’t get it.” Another response from a low EI person might be, “It bothers me when I know I am right and someone still wants to argue with me.”
A person high in EI might respond with, “A person who is rigid in their thinking believes their way is the only way or the right way. There is always more than one way of doing things.” Or they might say, “Someone who looks to blame when something goes wrong, instead of looking for solutions.”
Here, the interviewer might start out giving an example from one of his or her days from hell. The next step is to listen to how a candidate dealt with a similarly difficult situation. Did they dwell upon the problem or look for solutions? Do they take responsibility or look to blame others?
In the accounts coming from emotionally intelligent candidates, interviewers are likely to find evidence of coping mechanisms and flexibility in dealing with change and unpredictability.
The relationships people build with others tells us a lot about how they see themselves and what they value in others. How well does the response fit with the culture of your organization? This also provides feedback on the candidate’s level of self-awareness and how aware they are of their impact on others. Humor, unless it is sarcastic and demeaning, is always a good sign.
When asking a candidate about something he or she can teach, the goal again is to look for clues of the job seeker’s ability to understand and work with others in an emotionally intelligent way. It’s not to gain a new skill at no cost.
So, as candidates begin to try to teach a new concept or skill during the interview conversation, the interviewer should respond by asking questions that indicate a lack of understanding.
How do the candidates react? Do they seem to get frustrated and impatient, or do they ask questions to gather more information on what it is that’s hard to grasp? Are they able to explain the idea simply, and are they flexible in how they describe it after learning that their first approaches weren’t understood? Do they take responsibility for not describing it well enough, or do they seem to blame the interviewer for not getting it? Look for signs of frustration and impatience in their facial expression, body language and tone of voice.
People tend to model themselves after those they admire. Is the object of their admiration a people person, someone who inspires and uplifts others, or is it someone who appears to only be concerned about themselves?
Dig further by asking if there is anything they do that they have picked up from those they admire. Going even further, an interviewer can ask if there is anything about that person that they don’t like or would not like to emulate.
The interviewer can give an example of something that he or she has achieved to get the candidate started. As they respond and talk of their achievements, do they include and credit others, or are they a one-person show? Do they talk about how it made others feel, how proud family, friends or co-workers were? Is the achievement based on the work of a team or is there a sense that they think they are solely responsible for their own success?
By asking a candidate to imagine starting his or her own company and the types of people that would make up the workforce, you will gain valuable insight into how the interviewees view people, how well they see themselves working with others and how they value people.
Do they focus on people or on outcomes? What is their style of relating to others, and what types of co-workers are they most (or least) comfortable working with? Do they like to work closely with others, or do they prefer to work independently?
The more interviewers can move away from the traditional interview model, the more valuable information they can obtain about the level of emotional intelligence of potential hires. This means that interviewers need to be creative and willing to share their own stories and experiences to get applicants to open up with honest descriptions of how they respond to workplace challenges. Such an approach will provide clearer insights into how potential new employees and future leaders will ultimately help or hurt insurers that face a host of external challenges as well.