Why EQ May Be More Valuable Than IQ
This article set my teeth on edge. Not because of untruths, but because the experience is both very true and horrifically relatable: Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable – The New York Times
While the examples in the article are, decidedly, drenched in corporate cruelty and lack of concern for their customers, the idea that IT folks willingly behave in these stereotypical ways really bugs me. Those of us who work in IT fall into one of two categories: we are either categorically obtuse, finding fault with users for not understanding tech well enough, or we are constantly fighting that exact stereotype, with our customers and within our own community.
Do You Fit the Stereotype?
As someone who spent the bulk of her adult years doing IT work, I can say that:
- I never treated my customers poorly,
- It was exhausting to deal with customers who were treated badly by other IT “professionals” (I use that term loosely),
- It was equally exhausting dealing with colleagues who cared only about the tech and not about the people, and
- It was infuriating to deal with tech support as a customer…specifically a female-presenting customer.
While any of those statements could (and may) be fodder for future articles in and of themselves, today I’d like to talk about why IT folks have a bad rep and why we’re (sadly) so easy to make fun of (I’m lookin’ at you Maurice Moss). I call it Scorpion-syndrome.
Remember the CBS show Scorpion? It was based, loosely, on the life of one Walter O’Brien…the genius with an IQ higher than Einstein who hacked into NASA when he was 13. As an adult, he put together a team of geniuses who loosely worked with government organizations to participate in a variety of rescue operations. The team is brilliant, each member in their own area of expertise. But they lacked the one thing that can make or break a company (or friendship or relationship of any kind): EQ (Emotional Quotient).
EI (Emotional Intelligence) is that ability to be self-aware. It’s the ability to understand how what you say or how you behave will affect others. To someone with a low EQ, the question, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” will result in a technically correct answer (at your height, your weight makes you technically…yes, you are fat) devoid of any concern for the jean-wearer’s feelings.
EQ and Career Choices
STEM tends to attract a lot of low EQ people. No, let me reverse that. Low EQ people tend to be drawn to STEM fields. And it makes a lot of sense, if you take a step back. STEM deals in absolutes. There are defined sets of rules. 2+2 will always equal 4. Absolutes don’t need to be couched in feeling words. It’s a safe place to be oneself if you struggle with EQ issues.
Harvard Business Review has a video on EQ. They describe it as having 5 parts:
- Self awareness – this is the ability to understand your own emotions and how those emotions affect others. Someone who is self-aware can tell you their good points and their bad points in a clear way without partaking in self-flagellation.
- Self regulation – this is the ability to think before acting. This trait helps people handle ambiguity and helps them observe without judging.
- Motivation – money is a great motivator, but it’s temporary. The motivated person works for the enjoyment of the work.
- Empathy – this is the ability to put oneself in the other person’s shoes. The empathetic person builds relationships that are deeper, more personal than transactional.
- Social Skill – the person whose social skills are strong instinctively knows how to grow their network. The person who has strong social skills is often a persuasive leader.
So the questions are: Can we improve upon our own EQ? How do we recognize low EQ? Is there a difference between being hampered by low EQ and just being a jackass? How do we work with others who have low EQ? Each of these questions is probably a doctoral thesis on their own, but let’s see if we can find some high level answers.
Improving Emotional Intelligence
Apparently, a lot of research has been done on the topic. It seems that there are definitely some things we can do to improve our EQ. The biggest one is to improve our limbic system. The limbic system includes the hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala. It handles emotions (amygdala), smells, and memory (hippocampus) and it affects sleep, appetite, moods, bonding, hormonal actions (hypothalamus), and more.
Improving these brain parts can improve your EQ. Making these changes a regular part of our day is a struggle for many because they don’t seem to be quantifiable…they’re not “absolutes.” They’re more squishy.
A healthy limbic system, one that maintains homeostasis, can be achieved and enhanced by any of the following:
- Exercise – 20–30 minutes 3–5 times a week is great for everything, including building your brain function
- Mindfulness – make a practice of doing something not electronic and embracing stillness and silence
- Visualization – guided imagery and meditation
- Human Connections – make relationships, not work, a priority
- Physical Contact – hug someone (with permission, of course)
- Diffuse Essential Oils – because this feels squishier than the others, I feel it’s important to say that smells cause your brain to produce hormones that regulate body systems (homeostasis)
- Eat Well – a balanced diet with treats of blueberries, chocolate, fatty fish (ok, that’s not a treat but you can’t beat Omega-3s), and enjoy your coffee’s antioxidant and neurotransmitter boosts
You Gotta Have Friends
And, as O’Brien did by hiring Super Nannies, make sure to have some people close to you who can help you learn Emotional Intelligence ways. It can be learned. As Walter describes them, “They babysit the geniuses and teach the high IQs to speak human.” Improving one skill improves other skills. Working on the above list improves the limbic system. Improving the limbic system improves other parts of the brain. Improving other parts of your brain improves EQ skills. And until you can improve your limbic system, speak with this in mind: Always Be Kind.
I know there are some real jerky users and customers out there, and you don’t necessarily have the luxury of walking away. I see you. And I feel you. Use those interactions as a way to practice taking a breath and repeating the mantra “always be kind” before reacting to them. You can do this. You don’t have to be the stereotype. Your die is not cast. You have smarts and you’re self-aware. Now nourish all that and watch your career trajectory grow.
Come visit us in the JumpCloud Community to talk about the challenges you face, ask career questions, and find helpful guides and templates to put to use in daily work. We hope you’ll share your knowledge to help others along the way. If you’re new, ask us questions and we’ll help you find answers.