Emotional Intelligence Brings Generations Together for Business Success
By Dr. Lori LaCivita, PhD
While today’s multigenerational workforce is positioned to be one of the most effective and productive, the generational differences in values, beliefs, leadership styles, and motivators can also lead to conflicts that negatively affect productivity. As four generations now work side by side, industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologists are taking a closer look at emotional intelligence (EQ) to learn how to close generational gaps.
I-O psychology studies the intersection of business and psychology; it’s the strategic science behind human behavior in the workplace. I-O psychologists use scientific research to better understand human behavior and they have identified EQ as a critical link since the early 1990s.
Emotional intelligence addresses specific components of one’s self, including self-awareness, personal reflection, and the development of human interaction. It gives an individual the ability to read their environment, understand how and why they and others react, and craft a response. Emotionally intelligent professionals can choose their battles wisely and are able to command respect without having to overtly demand it.
The five categories of emotional intelligence
The following characteristics are what allow individuals to assess their own environment and human interaction:
- Self-awareness—An ability to recognize emotion as it is occurring; adeptness at tuning in to true feelings and evaluate and manage them in real time; emotional awareness and self-confidence.
- Self-regulation—The ability to manage emotions and use them to motivate oneself in a positive direction; trustworthiness and conscientiousness.
- Motivation—Having clear goals and a positive attitude; learning to catch negative thoughts as they occur and reframe them in more positive terms to achieve goals.
- Empathy—Understanding; the ability to recognize how other people feel and how their feelings change their behavior; knowing how to focus on developing relationships with other people and learning what they need to progress positively; this characteristic is particularly important for teams.
- Social skills—Interpersonal skills; how we empathize and negotiate with others, especially in a global economy; understanding how we can become a source of influence, be persuasive, and communicate well.
People with highly developed emotional intelligence can understand what’s happening around them in real time and become more helpful and useful employees because they possess the skills to influence events and achieve goals. Anyone, regardless of age, can have high emotional intelligence, but their driving forces differ greatly.
Motivators by generation
The specific qualities or characteristics that lead to increased productivity vary by age. Understanding each generation’s talents is critical to minimizing conflicts and optimizing an organization’s efficiency. It is essential for HR managers to be aware of these differences in order to take positive steps to reduce conflict that stems from generational differences.
The traits of each generation are highlighted below:
- Millennials (born 1981 and after)—Want to make a quick impact; are flexible, mobile, and able to meet the needs of the moment; are confident; and reliant on technology that may impact communication skills to navigate conflict.
- Generation X (born 1965–1980)—Are goal oriented; think independently and globally; want flexible hours; want to be busy; and question authority.
- Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964)—Want a mission and meaning in their job; less respectful of titles and positions; disapprove of absolutes and structure; seek personal gratification.
- Traditionalists (born 1925–1945)—Respond well to directed leadership; are team players; show dedication and sacrifice; adhere to rules; resistant to change and technology.
An emotionally intelligent workforce works harmoniously and cohesively—no matter how many generations are represented in a team. They are also able to develop relationships and business networks that promote the interests of the organization in the long term.
EQ allows people to validate, understand and work with others to improve problem-solving skills and reach improved outcomes. EQ is also helpful in identifying and creating leaders who help keep people engaged and focused on the problems at hand.
Unlike IQ, which is static throughout one’s lifetime, EQ may be enhanced and developed. Understanding its importance can greatly improve an HR manager’s success in the workplace.
Many people intuitively know that “soft skills” or social skills can be even more critical in the workplace than education or hands-on-experience. It’s up to HR managers to assemble a workforce that possesses the trifecta of positive workplace characteristics—emotional intelligence, human capital and social capital—to make their company’s employees the most successful and generationally diverse workforce to date.