Hire Emotionally Intelligent People

Adrian Furnham

People with more emotional intelligence are happier; they are more perceptive and sensitive to others; more rewarding and more fun; and more flexible, writes Adrian Furnham.

KNOWLEDGE @ BI: Emotional Intelligence

The advent of positive psychology and the economists’ shocking realization that money is only weakly related to wellbeing has lead to a flurry of books on happiness.

The jury is still out with regard to teaching happiness. We all know the heart-sinking person, the pessimist, the complainer, the gloom-and-doom monger. Whatever happens to them they remain negative, helpless and hopeless.

By contrast we know the life-enhancers. They may be called sunny or bonny or simply optimists. They bounce back from adversity and remain resolutely positive.

Heart sinkers and life enhancers

They are, for the most part, stable extraverts, while the heart sinkers are unstable introverts. And there is not much to be done about one’s personality. You are what you are.

We know that people do not change much over time: we do become a little more neurotic and a little less extraverted but these personality traits are remarkably stable despite what happens to us, be it winning the lottery or a terrible accident leaving us paralysed.

We can improve emotional intelligence

But we can assess and improve emotional intelligence (EI). People with more EI are happier; they are more perceptive and sensitive to others; more rewarding and more fun; more adaptable and flexible. They find it easier to make and keep friends, - a crucial ingredient for happiness.

Emotional intelligence is about being aware of, and sensitive to, one’s own and other’s moods. But it is also about the management of those moods. So EI people are better at reading and shaping their own and others’ moods. A key ingredient of success.

Happy people are more successful

Studies of personality, emotion and mood in the workplace have found, not surprisingly, that happy people, simply defined as those who experience positive emotions, are more successful. 

Compared to unhappy people, but matched on other criteria such as education, experience, skills:

  • Happier people find better jobs –with more autonomy, variety and meaning
  • Happier CEOs have happier people working for them
  • Happier people show better job performance
  • Happier people make more money

These findings hold across jobs from counsellors to cricketers and in different countries from German industrialists to Malaysian farmers.

Positive moods, well-being, happiness and success

So what explains these findings? Why is there a connection between positive moods, a sense of well-being, happiness and work success? There seem to be several different factors:

  1. Focus and Distraction: Unhappy people are too prone to taking their eye off the ball at work. They tend to be more self-obsessed and not as vigilant about the needs of others, be they colleagues or customers. EI teaches one to be more ‘other’ focused.
  2. Mood Regulation: The mood conjuring effect is well established. People in a good mood recall more positive things and vice versa. Hence we get virtuous and vicious cycles. Positive people recall happy customers and co-operative peers; unhappy people never let go their negative experiences. Positive people put in more effort to achieve the positive results they will recall.
  3. Decision Making: People with sunny dispositions make better decisions: they are faster, more accurate and more inclusive.  Unhappy people are too ‘hung up’ about small, irrelevant issues and alienate those who are trying to help them. Optimistic people believe that problems are solvable and that they can (with help) make good decisions. The pessimists are energy sapping and often either procrastinate or make poorer decisions than the optimists.
  4. Evaluating others: We all know bosses are best avoided when they are in a bad mood, particularly for annual appraisals. People in a good mood are more encouraging, more forgiving, more tolerant of others and their “little foibles”. Negative moods are associated with blaming and attacking others rather than helping them. Negative people make bad colleagues and team members.
  5. Positive Moods: Good moods make people more generous, more co-operative, more helpful. People in a good mood tend to deflate crises and resolve conflicts. Those in a bad mood increase conflict.

No one likes an unpredictable, moody boss, colleague or customer. This instability is called neuroticism and is associated with anxiety, depression, and hypochondriasis. We also shy away from people who shy away from us. This is called introversion. We quite happily use personality tests in selection, so why not use them to ‘select-in’ dispositionally happy people and ‘select out’ unhappy people? Should optimism be a competency?

A contact sport

Management is a contact sport. We can all, irrespective of our personality, learn to improve our social and interpersonal skills and in the process become emotionally intelligent.

The happiness gurus give this advice:

  • Accept that enduring happiness doesn’t come from worldly and materialistic success;
  • Take control of your time, aim for a little progress each day;
  • Act happy because going through the motions can trigger the emotions you need;
  • Seek work and leisure that engages your natural strengths and skills;
  • Join social groups that reflect your interests, values and passions;
  • Get enough exercise and sleep every day;
  • Give priority to close relationships, by affirming others, and sharing together;
  • Focus on others more than yourself;
  • Keep a record of good things that happened to you (gifts, blessings) 

They should also have added: improve your emotional intelligence. Other people are by far the best source of well-being. Give what you want to receive. Remember, we are people of the head and heart, and they are connected.


This article is first published in Psychology Today on November 29, 2016.

Link to article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201611/hire-emotionally-intelligent-people

Text: Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at University College London and the Norwegian Business School.

Published 5. January 2017

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