Generally career advancement focuses on mastering new technical skills or improving proficiency in existing skills. Most often, career trajectories emphasise increased earnings and climbing the organisational ladder.
Focusing on position titles with an ever-widening span of responsibility and authority, however, only considers the cognitive aspects of career choice, while undermining equally important and commanding emotional competences we each possess.
Taking time out to develop an ability to attend to your own emotional literacy can greatly improve our career decision-making. Here, I am talking about applying the old adage, ‘Know Thyself’. The more we are aware of what makes us passionate and engaged, the more likely we are to settle on a career path or a job that is right for us.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence [EI] refers to a set of skills and an understanding of emotional self-mastery, initiative, self-confidence, optimism, adaptability, and creativity. Numerous research studies have repeatedly verified that individuals with high emotional intelligence tend to be more successful overall in both work and life than those with less emotional intelligence, regardless of their level of cognitive ability.
According to neuroscientists, EI develops from ‘gut feelings’ and resides in the primitive or ‘lizard brain’ suggesting it is part of the basis for survival. With sufficient attention to emotional intelligence, we can incorporate new ways of thinking about career directions and choices.
How you can use EI
Applying EI as a planning approach involves self-assessment along with looking at temperament, personality characteristics, and the ability to monitor your feelings. How can choices be made that reflect the best fit between the individual and the position, or the field of interest, or the best type of organisation to work in?
How do you respond to obstacles in your path? How good is your interpersonal literacy—the ability to read the minds of superiors and subordinates? Do you listen to your deepest sense of what feels right, or do you dismiss and ignore your emotional intelligence? All these things are to be considered.
He, she and EI
Men and women may differ on their use of emotional intelligence, but as Daniel Goleman, the author of several contemporary books on EI points out, women are no ‘smarter’ than men when it comes to applying the tools of emotional intelligence.
For example, a woman may be understanding and supportive of a subordinate who makes an error on a Power Point presentation, but not with herself in the same situation, while a guy may have the ability to handle personal stress effectively, but be inept when attempting to identify his personal motivation for professional development.
Some EI strategies for you
The ability to use emotional intelligence can grow stronger with practice and experience. Let me give you a few tips:
Take a step back and slow down. Keep a journal; journaling is a way to let your thoughts and feelings flow unencumbered. What feelings are emerging about the opportunities that are presented?
Try a mindful meditation about your career. Focus on the level of anxiety you can tolerate. What is your degree of openness to feedback and criticism? How able are you to balance other aspects of life with work? Is this balancing act important to you, and if so, how important? Contrast that with how ambitious you are and the degree of importance it holds for your self-esteem.
Shape what is best for you
Identify your strengths and preferences. Denying divides our energy between trying to avoid what is actually true and continuing to pursue directions that are not right for us.
I encounter individuals who are doctors or lawyers. They are in these professions because their family expectations were too strong to resist. Now, they are unhappy, unfulfilled and depressed. Perhaps you or someone you know is in a career only because at some point a school counsellor determined it as the appropriate direction. Ask yourself, do I prefer competition or would I rather collaborate? Do I like to work alone or on a team?
Using existing measures such as the Myers-Briggs online emotional intelligence assessment survey and other career-oriented instruments can objectively help in shaping career choices. But you need to take these results and sit with how they feel.
Use colleagues, peers and mentors as resources to evaluate the goodness-of-fit between you and opportunities. Finally, investigate the culture of your dream work organisation to assess how it feels to you.
Trusting your perceptions is key in knowing what makes you truly happy. Possessing optimism and flexibility, a desire to grow, a positive attitude about people, places and things offers a good starting point for making emotionally intelligent decisions about work.
Overcoming difficult challenges, communicating with others, and being willing to adapt to circumstances indicates how we manage ourselves in frustrating situations.
Recognising the degree to which we focus on creatively managing these obstacles demonstrates the application of emotionally intelligent workplace behaviour. Paying attention to the degree of self-regulation achieved in these situations can enlighten our awareness about career choices, decisions, and actions.
Use your social skills
The people we know generally help our career along. Building and sustaining relationships are the EI skills often associated with essential workplace success. They are equally necessary for career advancement.
Working on improving communication and conflict management allows you to cultivate the widest and most diverse group of friends and colleagues. The broader your circle, the more help you will be able to access as you advance your career.
Having the emotional intelligence to effectively cooperate, assess the political landscape and understand others, also strengthens the bonds that will allow others to provide you with suggestions, mentoring and career opportunities.
Cultivating these skills and abilities will help in directing you toward a rewarding career path. Try it.