By Vicky Kanta
On October 4th, I attended an iJOBS workshop on the topic of emotional intelligence. The presenter was Juliet Hart, the founder of Hart & Chin Associates, LLC., a start-up offering workshops for science professionals. Juliet started out as a bench scientist working for biotech and pharma companies such as Johnson & Johnson. However, she soon realized that she particularly enjoyed the human collaborative aspect of science. This led her to transition into human resources and then start her own company to “empower scientists as influential leaders”, which is the motto of Hart & Chin.
But what exactly is emotional intelligence? The “father” of this concept is the science journalist and author Daniel Goleman, who introduced the term in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. According to Goleman, traditional intelligence, as measured by IQ scores, is not enough to help people thrive in the workplace and become good leaders. There are additional skills that we should develop, and the combination of them constitute what is called emotional intelligence. According to Juliet, these skills can be summed up as follows:
This is the ability to acknowledge the emotions you have in any given circumstance, as well as the actions necessary to change things in the future. A very important factor towards self-awareness is our individual personality (e.g. our Myers Briggs type), since different people might have diverse strategies in assessing their emotions.
This can be summarized as having “adaptability and self-control”. It is important to always be in control of our emotions before we enter an important conversation, something that requires practice and perseverance.
- Social awareness
This boils down to developing our empathy skills. How can we put ourselves in the shoes of our advisor or our future employer during a tough interview? Can we try to see our colleague’s point of view when we don’t agree on an important work topic? What would we feel if our roles were flipped?
- Social management
To communicate successfully, we need to anticipate the other person’s needs before they come up in the conversation. For example, reassuring your recruiter that you have the skills necessary for the job before they even express their doubts can go a long way.
Since Juliet was a scientist for a big part of her life, she knew how to relate this topic to us and help us develop our emotional intelligence skills. Her trick is to think of emotions “as a variable in life”. Like most types of data, emotions can be qualified and quantified:
- Are our emotions controlled or uncontrolled?
- Are they positive or negative?
- What is their intensity?
Using those questions, we can go through the “scientific process” of emotional intelligence: First, we identify what we are feeling now. Then, by assessing the factors that led us here, we can understand what stimulus caused this specific emotion. All of us have certain triggers in our everyday life and identifying them is key. We can now attempt to manage the situation and bring our emotions back under control to better achieve our goal. Our coping mechanisms can vary but it is important to experiment with different responses. Finally, we can explain to others what we are feeling and what we can collaboratively do to change the outcome. This way, we are taking control over how we respond.
So why is emotional intelligence so important for scientists in particular? Most of us have already realized that although scientists are smart, highly skilled and motivated individuals, many have not equally developed their self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Juliet pointed out that there is a very common misperception among scientists that “if the science is right, everything will fall into place”. However, this is far from the truth, since this belief can make us avoid the real issues at hand and likely not communicate our real needs to the people that matter, such as our advisor or boss.
Juliet helped us practice on identifying our values and skills by teaching us the “lifeline exercise”. In this exercise, we draw our emotional highs and lows as a function of time for some specific period in our lives. By identifying the “peaks” and relating it to our values, we can find out what we care about the most (e.g. community, success, merit). Furthermore, we can find out how we got there by looking at our actions right before those “peaks”. Those reveal the skills we have utilized in the past that led us to a better emotional place, and we can make good use of them again.
Finally, we had another group exercise in which we were faced with the scenario of asking our advisor for permission to do an industry internship. Given that this is a very real but also scary prospect for many of us, it was very interesting to see how Emotional Intelligence could help us tackle it. To achieve this, we used the “six thinking hats” of Edward de Bono. This process allows us to follow six simple steps to have a successful face-to-face conversation on a topic that we might be dreading on:
- Gather the logistics of the situation. Where and when is this discussion taking place?
- What is the main thing you want to achieve? In this case it would be the fact that you are asking for permission to apply for an internship.
- What are the emotions that both sides are feeling? Putting yourselves in your advisor’s shoes is very important here. What are the doubts and concerns they might have?
- What are the benefits for both sides? Your side of the argument might be clear, but you have to find something that can benefit your advisor too.
- What problems might arise for both of you during this internship? Empathy and understanding are useful here.
- This is the final step, where you come up with solutions to any problems that may potentially arise during the conversation and have answers ready to go when necessary.
At the end of this event, everyone had a better understanding of what it means to have emotional intelligence, as well as some interesting ideas about where we can implement it in our everyday interactions. Whether it is in future interviews, negotiation, or any other situation in which our emotions are key, thanks to Juliet and her useful workshop, we are all now better equipped to handle anything that comes our way.
This article was edited by Helena Mello and Aminat Saliu Musah.