How to Enhance Emotional Intelligence at Your Firm
Does EQ outweigh IQ when it comes to success in the workplace?
When it was first introduced, the idea of emotional intelligence (or EI, as it’s come to be known) was often dismissed in “serious” business circles – relegated to the self-help section of bookstores or the second-tier speaking schedule at professional conferences.
Today, however, many business leaders have come to acknowledge the important role EI plays in determining success in the workplace, both for employees and the managers who hire them.
A recent survey from OfficeTeam, a division of staffing firm Robert Half, found that nearly all human resources managers (95 percent) and workers (99 percent) said it’s important for employees to have a high emotional quotient, or EQ. In addition, more than one in five employees (21 percent) believe EQ is more valuable in the workplace than IQ, while nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said the two are equally important.
But do these same sentiments hold true in the accounting profession? In this highly technical field, can you rise to the top on “hard skills” alone? Or should you consider EI an essential part of your skill set – one you need to consistently cultivate – if you hope to succeed at your firm?
While there’s no doubt that technical skills, experience, and smarts can get you far in the accounting profession, EI can be the “difference maker” if you want to climb the ladder and truly prosper, said Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam.
“Today’s accounting professionals aren’t working in a bubble or strictly number crunching – they’re playing a larger role in their companies. They often serve as strategic advisors, partner with other departments, and work with external contacts,” Britton said. “That’s where the ability to communicate, collaborate, and lead others is required. The ability to do that well sets future leaders apart from the crowd.”
What is Emotional Intelligence?
OfficeTeam’s research guide, Emotional Intelligence at Work: What It Is and Why You Should Care, defines EI as “a person’s capacity to be aware of, control, and effectively express emotions. Perhaps more importantly, it involves understanding how others feel and using that knowledge to manage how you interact with them.”
According to the guide, EI pioneer Daniel Goleman, PhD, co-director for the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, has identified the five key components of EI in the workplace as:
- Social skills
“Emotional intelligence includes abilities like emotional balance, reaching toward goals, adaptability, empathy, teamwork, and influence,” Goleman said in an interview for the guide. “These are the kind of people who make a team or business high-performing.”
Accounting professionals who can demonstrate high EQ, as well as superior technical skills, are most likely to make the short list for top management positions at their company or firm, Britton said.
Recent statistics from accounting and finance leaders appear to bear this theory out. In a 2016 survey from Robert Half Finance & Accounting, 54 percent of CFOs said they give equal weight to technical and soft skills when evaluating candidates for staff-level accounting and finance positions. When it comes to filling management-level roles, 50 percent of finance executives said technical and nontechnical skills are equally important.
“As accounting professionals continue in their careers, technical skills are a given, and it’s those soft skills, like emotional intelligence, that are instrumental for advancement,” Britton said. “When you hit those senior ranks, you’re expected to be able to build influence across the organization and interface with a variety of internal and external stakeholders.”
Internally, she said, accounting professionals who are self-aware are valuable because they have a read on their own emotions and triggers. Armed with this knowledge, they manage how they react to situations and stay even-keeled, which leads to better conflict resolution and problem-solving, especially when facing a mix of work styles and urgent accounting requests.
“When the team’s stressed out closing the books at year-end or disengaged, being self-motivated and imparting that enthusiasm to colleagues is an asset,” Britton said. “Empathizing with others is handy for truly understanding what others are saying directly or indirectly, as well as for interpreting what’s driving or affecting their actions.”
Externally, accounting professionals with EI are better able to maintain successful relationships with clients and secure new business for the firm.
“Partners – and those on the road to that position – must be able to read people and situations. No two clients are alike, and professionals need the knowledge and skills to assess each situation and determine the best way to proceed,” Britton said.
5 Ways to Enhance Emotional Intelligence
So, how can you refine EI skills to improve your chances of advancement? How can you learn to keep your own emotional reactions in check and better read the verbal and nonverbal messages other people are sending you to build effective working relationships?
OfficeTeam suggests that any employee can use the following tactics to enhance the five elements of EI:
1. Commit to boosting your self-awareness. Most people think they have a solid read on how they come across to others, but in reality, that’s often not the case. Be on the lookout for which of your emotions, like frustration or stress, are most likely to boil over. Take charge to manage those emotions before they affect your job performance.
If you’re unsure about what might trigger your emotions in different situations, ask for input from people you trust and who know you well.
2. Think before you react. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Emotionally intelligent people are able to consider the whole forest rather than getting distracted by the trees. When you feel upset and want to react immediately, remember that doing so can hurt how others view you. By taking the time to think things through, you’re practicing self-regulation.
3. Motivate yourself and your team. When you’re motivated to tackle each day with enthusiasm, you’re far more likely to have positive interactions with the people you encounter. That’s EI, pure and simple, according to OfficeTeam.
4. Understand others through listening. A big part of EI is empathizing with the feelings, wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. This includes people at all levels of your team, as well as clients of the firm. To understand others, you need to first listen closely to them.
5. Polish your social skills. Having strong interpersonal skills can help you build capital throughout your career, whether it’s making a positive first impression or creating long-term professional relationships that could open doors to your next opportunity. Practicing active listening, being proactive about resolving conflicts, maintaining a friendly tone, and publicly recognizing others’ ideas and achievements are just a few ways to practice strong interpersonal skills.
These skills are important to all professionals who hope to succeed in the workplace, Britton said, but they are especially critical to those who hope to ascend to top management positions, including those who hope to make partner at their accounting firm – a rise that requires people to possess a certain degree of unflinching honesty about their own personal skills.
“Part of the task for accounting firm leaders is tapping their emotional intelligence to recognize their weaknesses and biases that could hurt the firm if left unaddressed,” she said. “This is difficult. After all, partners get to that role after years of success and seeing their ways work. Succeeding in a senior-level position, however, requires evolving and growing, which can only happen when professionals understand areas of strength and where improvements are required.”
Deanna Arteaga is a professional freelance writer and public relations specialist who for the past six years has covered CPA industry trends for AccountingWEB. She also writes about CPA firm marketing, higher education and professional development for CPAs, and workplace trends in the accounting profession. She has more than 20 years...