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How and Why Managers Need to Improve Their Emotional Intelligence

A researcher argues Emotional intelligence (EI) was the almost universal answer to the question of what leadership capabilities will be most important.

This comes as little surprise to Andrea Zintz, Ph.D., president of Strategic Leadership Resources (

"While we often associate emotions with personal matters such as relationships and family, the fact is they play a critical role in the business world—and can actually make or break careers," Zintz says. “EI influences how decisions are made and the quality of results, and it also effects reactions to stress; it’s definitely worth examining how it’s contributing to individuals’ success, or holding them back.”

She notes that one practical approach to improving EI is based on a new science-based theory of emotion developed by Charles Jones. His theory helps people understand emotions in an empowering way: the way we interpret what they communicate has more to do with how we attribute their source. The road to enhancing EI begins with correcting a common misconception which, when accepted, diminishes both people’s inclination and ability to resolve stress.

"Notice how you process your emotions and what triggers you to respond as you do," Zintz suggests. "Most people are quick to justify their responses based on external causes – events and circumstances. He hurt my feelings. That scared me. This is a stressful day. Common to all these statements is the assumption that emotions as well as stress are caused by the situation and other people; there’s a lack of awareness of the connection between emotions and the internal processes that assist in dealing most effectively with what’s occurring."

Zintz says through this process, people’s emotions are sending them signals that there’s a need the subconscious mind isn’t confident it can meet. Each emotion is connected to a separate human need, i.e., resentment is connected to a need to air a grievance, and anger with a need to assert a right, as reflected in these examples:

  • If people mess the mark on a work project, they may attempt to rationalize it by saying things would have been different if their boss had been clearer with his instructions—when what they’re missing is that they didn’t listen to the feelings of confusion and/or frustration arising from the subconscious mind that might have connected them with the need to get clearer by clarifying the boss’s instructions. This would have been an effective strategy for achieving the goal with positive results for the person and the boss.
  • People’s response may be anger when they see the boss taking credit for one of their ideas—and the anger is telling them that their subconscious mind isn’t confident in how to meet the need to assert their right. This realization may lead to more effective and creative ways to meet the need, which may include letting go of the claim on that idea.

"The good news is that you can learn to increase your effectiveness by attributing the source of emotions to a signal from your subconscious mind about its confidence in meeting a need," Zintz says. "For an example of how this works, when most people see a gun pointed their way, their reaction is going to be fear. Their subconscious sends a signal to the conscious mind that there’s a threat it doesn’t know how to handle. Policemen, however, are fully trained for these situations, so they’ll react differently due to having greater confidence in their ability to meet their need for mitigating a threat; they’ll be on high alert and probably calm."

Zintz notes that the first step to improving EI is to stop mistaking the cause of emotions as events and circumstances. Jones calls this the “projective “ interpretation.  Next, correctly attribute the source of the emotion to a temporary inability to meet one or more needs. Jones calls this the "adaptive" interpretation. Then, employ strategies to increase the level of confidence in meeting psychological needs, so it’s possible to:

  • Change a belief—choose to let go of an attachment upon realizing the belief isn’t warranted.
  • Change behavior—behave more assertively, more collegially, etc.
  • Change environment—switch teams or projects, or companies.

"When you use the adaptive interpretation of emotion, it will enable you to examine the bigger picture and what you can control: your response to the situation,” Zintz said. “Your EI will improve when you foster a partnership between your conscious and subconscious mind—and your career may benefit as well."


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