“Once you are in a field, emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful, because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do once we are in a given job.”
Daniel Goleman, researcher
A college student spent weeks studying for a final exam in his zoology class. When he entered the lecture hall on the day of the test, he saw several pedestals at the front of the room. There was a partially covered bird cage on each stand, and only the legs of the bird in each cage were visible. The student chose a seat in the front row, hoping to get a better view of the subjects once the exam started.
The professor soon entered the hall and gave the instructions for the test. The students were to observe the legs of each bird and then identify its genus, species, common name, and habitat.
The student began to panic. There was no way he could determine anything about the birds by just looking at their legs. As the time passed, his attempts to complete the exam seemed futile. Finally, his frustration got the better of him and he marched up to the professor, slammed his unfinished paper down on the desk, and said, “This is ridiculous! How could you expect us to know these birds by looking at their legs? I’m outta here!”
As the student made his way to the door, the professor noticed that the student’s test did not have a name written on it. “Excuse me,” the professor called out. “What’s your name?”
The student pulled up the legs of his trousers and said, “You tell me!”
Funny? Perhaps. But all too real. It’s another example of messed up communication, expectations, and human relations which is at the very center of the research on Emotional Intelligence.
The professor was NOT emotionally intelligent because he never gave his students a clear understanding of what was important to learn and what was expected of them. And the student was NOT emotionally intelligent because he responded in a very inappropriate and unprofessional manner.
And yet the research is clear. The people who are most likely to succeed in life, work, and relationships are the ones who are the smartest emotionally, not necessarily intellectually. They have a degree of competency in the four areas of Emotional Intelligence: Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. Let’s dig a little deeper into those first two areas.
1. Self-Awareness = Do you know WHAT you want?
Some people never quite figure that out. They just live their lives on auto pilot and don’t bother with what they call “silly, touchy-feely, psycho-babble.”
Well, it’s not silly. As Chuck Palahniuk points out, “If you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t.” And an African proverb states, “Chance comes to those who know what they want.”
Florence Barker certainly demonstrated a clear sense of self-awareness. She walked into my seminar at the age of 82, weighing about 90 pounds, and using a cane. When I asked what she was doing in my program on Emotional Intelligence, she said she wanted to put more adventure in her life. I didn’t know what that meant to Florence.
Nonetheless, I presented the program, asking the participants to focus on the risks they needed to take to get more of what they wanted out of life. I then asked each person to write down all the risks they would take after the seminar. When I asked each person to speak out their number one risk on their lists, Florence enthusiastically said her risk was “to learn to drive an 18-wheeler, a semi-truck, and drive across the country.”
I thought she was a bit senile and didn’t give her much more thought, but I did think, “God bless her. At least she knows what she wants.” And that is the first step towards greater Emotional Intelligence.
With that in place, you need to go on to…
2. Self-Control = Do you know HOW to get what you want?
Lots of people don’t. Some people lack the Process and other people lack the Passion. I’ll address both issues in greater detail in my upcoming book, “The Payoff Principle.” And both are important, of course.
The dancer, Roselyn Pador Isada Alovera talked about the Process when she said, “Success means something different to each one of us, but it comes to those who are willing to work hard and who continue to be dedicated to making their dreams come true.”
And Page Smith talked about the Passion when she wrote, “The future is given shape by our faith, or condemned to drift and disaster by our indifference.”
But let me take you back to the rest of Florence Barker’s story. She knew what she wanted, but did she have the Emotional Intelligence to get what she wanted? You decide. A year after my program, I received a newspaper clipping and a letter from Florence. Here she was driving an 18-wheeler. She had taken some truck-driving training at a local vocational school, found an over-the-road truck driver, and asked if she could join him, and there she went.
For ten years in my programs I shared the story of Florence. Then two years ago I was back in the city where I first met her, giving a keynote address to a thousand people. I shared her story once again, saying I didn’t know if she was alive or not, but she had inspired me for years. Someone in the audience said, “Yes, Florence is still in town, 92, and doing great!”
After the program, someone told Florence I was talking about her across the country. She wrote me a great letter afterwards, but the two key sentences were these. She wrote, “At age 92, I’ve come to the conclusion that those folks who are not trying new things are either physically incapable or just plain stupid.” But her second line was even better. She said, “I’m now into hang gliding but my kids are objecting.”
You can’t help but respect people like that … with the Emotional Intelligence to know what they want and get what they want.
What about you?