Employers value emotional intelligence and so should you

By Stephanie Youssef

Let’s ponder on the makings of an intelligent student. Critical thinking and analytical skills come to mind. Quantitative reasoning, logic and maybe even creativity.

As students, these are important ideals most of us strive to perfect. However, when analyzing intelligence, some people fail to acknowledge expanded definitions like emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, empathy, trustworthiness, initiative and teamwork and collaboration skills.

In a recent “Last Week Tonight” segment concerning the Canadian election, John Oliver made a comment about emotional intelligence, calling it a “made-up quality” and humorously insinuating that it is unimportant.

Though the comment itself was witty and in jest, his unfamiliarity with the definition and merits of emotional intelligence reflects a misconception that many people carry.

Emotional intelligence, as defined by renowned psychologist and Harvard graduate Daniel Goleman, is the ability to recognize one’s own feelings and the feelings of others, for motivating oneself and for managing emotions well in oneself and in one’s relationships.

Though traditionally defined forms of intelligence are definitely necessary for success, they alone are not sufficient. According to Forbes, some of the top ten skills employers most want in 20-something employees have to do with competency in emotional intelligence — the most important skill being the ability to work in a team.

In fact, emotional competency has been recognized as a fundamental component of successful education programs. The state of Illinois specifically outlines standards in social and emotional learning abilities that are implemented in teaching plans for every grade from kindergarten through the last year of high school.

To gain insight on how emotional intelligence is implemented in programs at the University, I spoke with Amanda Purnell, assistant director of LAS honors.

“We focus several weeks of discussion on emotional intelligence in LAS 122 which is our orientation class for incoming LAS James Scholars,” Purnell said. “We discuss how to apply emotional intelligence to leadership and to their life in real ways that are applicable to their strengths and to help them think about why not only biology, chemistry and history are important to them, but why these concepts of emotional intelligence are going to help them get to where they want to be.”

College students in particular are at a critical point in their lives where they are exploring their strengths, weaknesses, interests and their talents. Much like how a student who enjoys and is good at quantitative reasoning would pursue a degree in mathematics, an awareness of one’s strengths in emotional intelligence can help a student find a major or career path that aligns with his or her capabilities.

Despite the emphasis put on emotional competence in educational and work settings, recent comments Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush made belittling psychology and liberal arts further highlight some common misconceptions about emotional intelligence.

Though people are well aware of the tangible benefits of engineering and other technical majors, many are still unfamiliar with the benefits of learning and building skills in human behavior.

In reality, studying sociology and psychology can help teach students about the classifications of emotional intelligence, its merits and different research studies that have focused on the role it plays in group settings. Purnell highlighted the importance of educating students about emotional intelligence during our talk.

“The more you are exposed to the ideas of emotional intelligence and the more of a chance you have to explore psychology to understand and reflect on different aspects of human behavior, that’s really critical in helping you interact with other people well and be part of an effective team,” Purnell said.

Additional resources available to students are provided through the Leadership Center, such as the Emotional Competence Inventory, I-Programs and Leadershape, all of which emphasize helping students build skills in emotional intelligence.

The off-the-cuff remarks made by Oliver and Bush reflect false notions many have of what constitutes intelligence. Emotional competency is still valued by employers and educators and should be seen as an asset by students of all majors.

Stephanie Youssef is a senior in LAS. 

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