March 31, 2011
Most PR professionals have heard the story: A bright new hire comes to the organization. His résumé is flawless. He has a demonstrated track record of success in the profession. He’s a thought leader. Then, within months, he’s gone.
Why? Too often, the quick departure may come down to a simple, yet crucial factor — the individual didn’t have the emotional intelligence necessary to succeed in the role.
What is emotional intelligence? Simply put, it’s the ability to be attuned to the people around us — to consider their emotions, and our own, as we make decisions and navigate through our organizations. Our EQ is our measure of that emotional intelligence.
When it comes to making a public statement or working with a client or customer, failure to use good emotional judgments may have even more power to derail our careers than technical errors or lack of experience. In fact, in his 1996 book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman (who pioneered much of the work on this subject) cited the results of a Hay McBer study of star performers at 40 companies, which found that “emotional competencies were twice as important in contributing to excellence as were pure intellect and expertise.”
Learning about EQ
Why is emotional intelligence such a vital trait for PR professionals? For starters, a healthy dose of EQ better equips practitioners for our unique roles as counselors.
“Emotional intelligence is essentially gravitas — steadiness of emotions,” says George Jamison, a principal and head of the corporate communications and investor relations practice at executive search firm SpencerStuart. “Communications professionals are coming into jobs where there is a lot of scrutiny, a lot of pressure. The expectations have increased, and EQ is part of that. [They] are expected to deal with adverse situations and keep their cool.”
Another reason why EQ is so critical for practitioners is because we interface so frequently — and so intensively — with people. And when it comes to people, all communications exchanges are, to some extent, emotional ones.
“There are many [PR professionals] who are highly skilled at what they do, but not many have high emotional quotients,” says Dennis Spring, president of New York-based PR recruiting firm Spring Associates, Inc. “Whatever your business is, you’re surrounded by people, and somehow we’ve gotten away from that. We have to remember that PR is not about social media, it’s about people, and how we all fit, integrate, and react.”
EQ is such a critical component of our profession because we are so frequently the “brand voice” for our organizations.
“PR people don’t get an emotional intelligence pass. It’s tough to get away with being emotionally unaware when you are representing your client’s brand,” says Amanda Kowal Kenyon, senior vice president and director of organizational development at Ketchum Public Relations in New York. “Communicating is inherently a relational activity — we need to have that awareness even more than other professionals.”
Exploring the EQ – PR gap
Developing and using EQ can be challenging for PR professionals. Here’s why:
Enhancing our emotional intelligence
The good news is that PR professionals can study, practice and improve their emotional intelligence — just like other skill sets.
Understanding the EQ – PR advantage
If all of this seems like a challenge, then remember that PR professionals have some natural advantages when it comes to developing and using emotional intelligence. Because we work with so many stakeholder groups — the media, community members, customers, employees — we are continuously exposed to a variety of viewpoints. Our breadth of perspective differentiates public relations from other organizational functions and provides great value to management.
“Bring those perspectives back into the company. Share with your management team a book you think they should read. Have the self-confidence — in whatever way works in your culture — to communicate what you are learning,” Jamison says. “Be passionate about what you do and the places that you circulate, and share that. People will come to respect and value it.”