Practical knowledge, intelligence, and adaptability are secrets to success in any workplace, but they’re not necessarily what propels individuals or companies to the forefront of the field. While our mobiles become increasingly important in how we communicate with others, the ability to relate conversationally and emotionally is a skill that underpins our day-to-day, highly visual style of communication.

Emotional intelligence (sometimes abbreviated as EQ) is increasingly topping hiring requirement lists due to its vital role in company culture. And in the mobile tech industry (where app/mobile design requires a fundamental understanding of human behaviour), it’s a term you’re going to hear a lot more of in 2017.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to personal attributes — empathy, motivation, self-awareness, self-regulation — that enable harmonious and effective interactions with other people. To differentiate it from measurable and job-specific ‘hard’ skills, EQ is often referred to as a ‘soft’ skill, but this terminology almost undermines its importance.

Soft skills are hard work; EQ is your ability to identify and understand emotions in yourself and others, and then use this to manage your behaviour and relationships.

Other phrases used to describe it include: ‘people skills’, ‘transferable skills’, ‘interpersonal skills’, and ‘social skills’.

A 2015 survey by Hay Group showed that nine in ten employers think soft-skilled graduates are increasingly important as globalisation speeds up. Surveys also showed that 80% of employers struggle to find graduates with the soft skills required for the job.

The benefits of a high EQ

As the next generation of thinkers and inventors, we need to understand each other in order to make the world an easier place to live in. Technologies like the Internet of Things, apps, and mobile devices require human qualities to boost efficiency, while frontier innovations like smart cars and assistants will need a ‘heart’ to become truly ubiquitous.

Academic smarts are important, but people with a high EQ play a crucial role in effectively applying them to get the job done. High EQ folks work better in teams, are better at dealing with change, are often more skilled at conflict resolution, and have better problem-solving capabilities.

There are also links between high EQ and salary. A 2015 report by TalentSmart showed EQ as a strong predictor of performance:

90% of workplace stars had a higher EQ and made, on average, an extra $29,000 per year when compared with low-EQ employees.

EQ is good for your mind and body. Emotional intelligence skills strengthen the brain’s ability to cope with emotional distress, a resilience that assists the immune system and protects from disease.

There’s an app for that

The good news is that, from your phone, you can learn and develop soft skills just as practically as hard skills.

Start with the Mobile Emotional Intelligence Test, or MEIT app , which helps evaluate a person’s ability to perceive how others are feeling. By identifying the emotions displayed on faces and details of different emotions, it measures and tracks the user’s knack for empathy.

Once you’re more aware of your EQ, hit the Mood Meter app for further analysis and tips to build up an EQ artillery. Developed using years of research from the Yale Centre of Emotional Intelligence, the app helps identify and label emotions, observe how these change throughout the day, and better understand how emotions affect actions. The app records users’ emotional states and provides options and guidance to “stay” in that state or “shift” to a new, more positive one.

Self-awareness is one of the most effective inputs for a strong emotional intelligence. By increasing mindfulness of your physical, emotional, and mental state, regular meditation can improve your relationships, make you happier, reduce blood pressure, and even slow down the ageing process. It’s no wonder then that Headspace is amongst the most downloaded apps in this field. Endorsed by UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, the ‘meditation for beginners’ app introduces basic mindfulness principles over a 10-day trial, with subscribers given access to guided sessions on health, performance, and relationships (plus one-off sessions like a two minute ‘SOS’ cooldown).

Though it takes a level of maturity to hone your mindfulness, these skills can be taught early on in life too. Brooklyn design studio Tinybop produced ‘Me’ as an app to help kids identify their emotional state, in the hope that doing so will help identify that of those around them.

Take a course

Founded by prominent philosopher Alain de Botton, the School of Life focuses on soft skill instruction for both individuals and businesses. The school offers courses at over 13 locations around the world and also pulls together articles, videos, and tools online to help encourage emotional awareness and intelligence more widely.

Find a mentor

Mentoring is a time-honoured way to build skills, and it’s no different with EQ. In his book, Make Work Great, author Ed Muzio has some sound advice on the mentor selection process:

“When you’re approaching a potential mentor, compliment that person with a specific example in which you’ve seen him practice that skill. Then ask whether that person would be willing to share ideas with you about how you might achieve the same level of capability. Maybe it will grow into a long mentoring relationship, or maybe you’ll just pick the person’s brain for a few minutes.”

Not everyone is lucky enough to have Jeff Bezos (Amazon) or Ursula Burns (Xerox) in the next office to talk to, but in an increasingly connected world, we have unprecedented opportunities to connect with mentors in different states or countries. LinkedIn offers a starting point, but more specific mentor apps like Shapr or The Dots connect with users in industries like accounting and design. See the Red Wire guide on how to connect to a mentor for more.

Volunteer your time

Working with non-profit organisations also helps build soft skills by working in teams and dealing with different people from different backgrounds. Adding volunteer work to a CV also demonstrates an awareness of soft skills, and a willingness to improve them through practice. In this case, practice will never make perfect, but engaging with different people is one of the best ways to learn.

An impressive CV of business achievements might get an interview, but it’s the ability to communicate, emphasise, and work in a team that determines success in the workplace. There’s at least one certainty in the shifting economy; soft skills will always be in hard demand.

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Tanya Phull

Head of Social Media

Tanya Phull,
Head of Social Media

As head of social media at Vodafone, Tanya is an expert in customer engagement and emerging platforms. As an American-born expat and wanderluster, Tanya is always equipped with the best tech tips for travellers.