Historically, someone’s IQ (intelligence quotient) was viewed as the major determinant of success. People with high IQs were assumed to be destined for a life of accomplishment and achievement, with researchers debating whether intelligence was the product of genes or the environment (that old nature / nurture debate).
However, critics began to realise that not only was high intelligence no guarantee for success, it was also too narrow a concept to fully encompass the wide range of human abilities and knowledge.
It’s common knowledge that the brain is an extremely complex organism. It can process language, numbers, feelings, thoughts and emotions. Put very simply, the brain can be broken down into two components; the ‘systemiser’, which excels at logic and rules; and the ‘empathiser’, which excels at dealing with people and emotions.
If this is the case, why is having a high IQ being used as the only determinant of success?
EQ, is a measure of a person's level of emotional intelligence. This refers to a person's ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions (the ‘empathiser’ part of our brain), and it’s becoming a more and more prevalent subject when talking about business success.
Before we really get started, it’s worth noting that empathy is not the same as "people pleasing", and is also very different to sympathy. What empathy really means is being able to understand the needs of others. It means that you’re aware of their feelings and how it impacts their perception and decisions. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they see things; rather, being empathetic means that you’re willing and able to appreciate what the other person is going through.
Empathy is a completely human reaction.
We can develop empathy when we focus on others and commit to developing ourselves as individuals.
Even with all this knowledge and information about human nature, empathy is still an emotion. For some reason, emotion in business can still be seen as a weakness. Ever heard the phrase it’s nothing personal; it’s just business?’ So have I. And how disheartening can it be when you hear that?
It may be ‘just business’, but you put your personal effort, care, attention, and time into your work. You go out of your way to make your employer happy, or to make the customer happy. Why should you be expected to just switch off a part of your brain that is completely naturally active?
Those who find emotion a weakness need to wake up.
Empathy lies at the root of every successful product and service; it creates a culture where employees anticipate the impact they have on colleagues and customers. Without empathy, how can you know what customers want or need? Without empathy, how can you know what your product or service is worth?
A major mistake many new entrepreneurs make is focusing on being the cheapest, best or most innovative solution. Many clients don’t buy the best or the cheapest; they buy what best suits their purpose, what will fulfil their needs. If you can’t tap into emotions, how are you able to understand the needs of others? How can you be aware of their feelings?
And as a result, how can you truly understand how their feelings may impact their perception and subsequent decisions?
In my role, I’ve found empathy to be my biggest strength.
Being an account manager, you’re not only dealing with different organisations with different needs and requirements; but different people, with different personalities, different goals, and who want different things for their staff.
Having a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with a product that is so heavily reliant on service can never work in my opinion. Having one product which is technically ‘the best / the cheapest / the most successful all round’ might be the right thing for one workforce, but might not work at all for another. If you don’t appreciate what that person / organisation is going through, you can’t effectively tap into their needs, and so can’t work with them to find a solution that works for them.
Empathy comes more naturally to women.
A study found that 50% of women in the technology industry felt they needed to act like men, which was categorised as not displaying emotion at work, and instead displaying logic, classic IQ and rationale. Some women were advised that in order to compete with their male counterparts for promotions, they should switch off any natural emotional responses altogether. Granted, being grateful, patient, committed, and motivated are important, but not the only prerequisites for success. There's still one piece left, which is one’s ability to connect with other people.
Working in the technology industry myself, I can’t imagine anything worse than switching off this innate sense in order to preach to someone about why our product will work for them, without understanding what it is that they want or need from it. I can’t imagine my preaching would resonate with them. If my opinion doesn’t align with their requirements; they aren’t going to be engaged, inspired, or motivated to drive it forward.
That’s where empathy has a huge role to play: if you can understand someone, you can engage them; if you understand their workforce, you can engage their workforce.
Research has proved again and again the benefits of an emotionally intelligent workforce . L’Oreal sales agents selected on the basis of high emotional intelligence outsold those who ranked with a lower E.Q by £50,000 over the course of a year, and those salespeople also had 63% less turnover during the first.
The Research and Innovation group had similar findings among insurance brokers. Those who were weak in emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative and empathy, sold policies with an average premium of $54,000, whereas those who displayed strong emotional competencies sold policies worth $114,000. Even the most successful debt collectors scored significantly higher in the emotional intelligence competencies (Bachman et al 2000).
Empathy is human nature, and should not be switched off, but instead utilised.
Next time you get a chance, listen attentively to those around you, pay more attention to both the verbal and non-verbal cues that are a part of everyday communication, understand people’s needs, and think about how these needs affect their decisions. You might just find a solution that traditional IQ wouldn’t have been able to rationalise.