'Emotional intelligence' wins recognition in Europe

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The concept of emotional intelligence EI (or EQ - emotional quotient) is a US import which highlights the role of emotions in people's work performance and relationship with others. The signs are that it is indeed gaining currency in European human resources circles.

Derek Dann, a UK-based consultant, runs courses on EI in the City of London for banks and other companies. A typical one lasts for two days and involves 12 or so employees in role-playing games, to look at issues such as handling conflict and influencing people.

&quotWe help clients understand and express their emotions, to recognise their impact on performance and manage the outcomes of that,&quot says Dann.

Professor Paul Sparrow of Sheffield University Management School says that attitudes towards the very concept of management are changing in Europe. &quotWe are making managers differently,&quot he says. &quotManagers today are operating in a highly uncertain situation. They are making decisions on the basis of their experience and intuition and not just rational analysis.&quot

&quotFinance and banking are high risk occupations where subjective decision-making and personality factors have more of an influence,&quot he adds. &quotYou have to handle these highly charged atmospheres carefully.&quot

Whereas IQ measures cognitive abilities, EI centres on competencies such as self-awareness, effective communication and the ability to empathise with and motivate others. EI is sometimes measured but the idea is to pinpoint strength and weaknesses, not provide a Mensa-style absolute.

The brightest intellectually are often not the most successful, so the thinking goes. Daniel Goleman, EI guru-in-chief and author of 'Emotional Intelligence - Why it can matter more than IQ', (translated into over 30 languages) estimates that EI accounts for 80-90 per cent of the abilities that distinguish the best leaders.

Non-believers write off EI as psychobabble. Its disciples, though, say it makes hard-edged business sense. John Whitney, professor at Columbia University Business School, says that at least half of all daily work activities are wasted as a result of mistrust. This has become so routine that many business leaders are blind to it. Yet it affects the bottom line, albeit invisibly.

The key to silencing the sceptics is to provide a rigorous analytical framework within which the principles are applied, says Yves Morieux of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Paris. He prefers to talk of 'the power of emotion', systematised within organisations. BCG in Europe has developed a three-pillared approach, focusing on the psychology of the individual, the sociology of the organisation and the translation of these into profit and productivity.

In Morieux's experience, the banking and finance sector is becoming more receptive to such ideas. &quotThe science of finance is managing risk,&quot he says. &quotBut that's a product-orientated definition. From the customer viewpoint, it's about managing trust. Banks need to develop systems which foster that.&quot

Inevitably, national cultural differences come into play. One survey sums this up neatly. Respondents in different countries were asked whether they agreed with the statement 'Management must have precise answers to almost all the questions that people ask about their job'. In the US around 6% agreed 24% in the UK 46% in Germany and 77% in France.

Many companies are unwilling to discuss EI and the extent to which it plays a part of their thinking an irony there perhaps, as an open discussion of issues is supposed to be the point of the exercise.

In the UK, internet banks seem to be most receptive to theories about EI more traditional organisations less so. &quotManagers are rarely willing to openly talk about emotions,&quot says one London-based training consultant. &quotThe people who most need the training would be frightened to death by the term 'emotional intelligence'. We call it 'personal development' instead.&quot

Many UK banks &quotemploy first class Oxbridge types and then often dare not let them loose on clients,&quot he added. These people are technically brilliant but can't deal with other people.&quot

Across Europe, the picture varies. In the Netherlands, EI is widely accepted. The ING Business School at Heemskerk assesses managers' EQ through a personality test and makes use of the results in its management training programme.

ABN Amro has also signed up to the idea. Two years ago it sent some managers to the US to study EI practice. Its senior human resources executives have also looked at the topic in tandem with the University of Nijmegan.

Staff are also trained in social skills and EQ awareness, and its principles are used in the selection process.

Flemish-speaking Belgium, Scandinavia and Switzerland are also very responsive, EI practitioners say.

It's the green light too at UBS Warburg where the emphasis is on integrating teams across business, regional and global boundaries. &quotWe take it seriously,&quot confirms Bob Mann, managing director of group education, development and recruitment at UBS in London. &quotWe are building elements reflecting EI into our leadership programmes and use it at team-building events with our business teams world-wide.&quot

&quotAs we address business issues on a cross-border basis, we need to be sensitive to the diversity of people's reactions in order to ensure our success. It's just common sense, but critically important.&quot

Employers in Germany are typically more wary. One Human Resources manager, asked whether his bank was an advocate of EI, promptly put the phone down - perhaps demonstrating that the answer was no. Emotional intelligence faces obstacles: a highly vocational education system, a very technical approach to management - and an endemic preference for hierarchy. Use the Du form to a superior at your peril.

France is almost universally hostile. This, after all, is a culture is based on a proud Cartesian tradition of logic and rational thought, nurtured by the grandes ecoles, the breeding ground of the French management elite. And they think they understand emotion anyway. As Brian van der Horst, director of a Paris-based training organisation puts it, &quotteaching emotional intelligence to the French is like teaching the art of seduction. They think they already know how to do it.&quot

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