Often, we think of soft skills like emotional intelligence as outside the purview of IT professionals, whom we think of as needing only “hard skills” like coding or computational skills. However, emotional intelligence is just as important for technical employees as it is for salespeople or managers.
Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who popularized the concept, identifies four domains of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Chris Hanes, a learning and performance solutions architect at Global Knowledge, uses a two-facet definition: “the ability to master relationships [with self, others and groups or organizations] and behavior [responding appropriately to situations].”
So, why is emotional intelligence important in the IT field? IT professionals have working relationships with coworkers, managers and subordinates as well as with their teams and organizations. They also must be able to self-regulate in any given situation.
Really, the question should be: Why wouldn’t emotional intelligence be important in the IT field?
Hanes says that due to the popularity of agile project management, it’s more important than ever for IT professionals to be able to work as part of a team. “Having emotional intelligence will help [them] understand themselves and how they are perceived by others, and then they are going to be able to work much more effectively as a team,” he says.
Even solitary work requires emotional intelligence: “You’re just better off if you’re aware of your thoughts and feelings and behaviors and you’re trying to regulate and respond [appropriately],” Hanes points out.
Unfortunately, the formal education for IT professionals does not typically include emotional intelligence training. Instead, Hanes says, it tends “to really focus on logic and objectivity.” The skills that are typically expected of programmers and computer engineers, for instance, enable them to solve objective problems. Those skills alone, however, do not enable them to resolve conflicts, regulate emotions or communicate effectively. Just like in other professions, developing emotional intelligence is important, especially for IT professionals who are on a path to become managers.
“For a technical person, one plus one is always equal to two” says Mark Edmead, an IT transformation consultant, course author and instructor at Learning Tree International. “But when dealing with people, there are no absolutes – everyone is different. So people skills training is even more important because it forces the person to deal with the emotional aspect of the relationship.”
Fortunately, as Angela Yochem (CIO of BDP International) said in a 2015 CIO interview, the IT field “attracts intelligent, passionate, interesting people,” and “the same openness to new ideas that attracts people to technology brings motivation, integrity, and comfort with change – all elements of high IQ.”
Emotional Intelligence Training for IT Professionals
“The principles of emotional intelligence are the same for everyone,” says Hanes, “but it’s really about the context.” Emotional intelligence training should use real-life examples and practice, preferably with real team members. In fact, when emotional intelligence training is done as a department, “it serves as a team-building exercise, you get to know yourself better [and] you get to know your colleagues better.” Then, team members and leaders can integrate what they learn daily into the culture of their organization.
Since IT professionals are obviously comfortable using technology, training on computers or other devices should be provided. Hanes recommends using blended learning: “There needs to be some aspect of in-person group training” for a topic like emotional intelligence, but offer “self-paced, computer-based training” before or after it.
Edmead says that IT departments can help their employees develop emotional intelligence by providing online assessments. However, he cautions that assessing emotional intelligence “is just the beginning.” For the necessary practice to improve emotional intelligence, he recommends using coaching. An emotional intelligence coach can work with employees to examine their encounters with others to identify what they did well and what they could do next time to improve.
There are a variety of assessments that measure emotional intelligence, so using them before and after training can help managers determine if the training was effective. Ultimately, though, it’s vital to really understand the goals of emotional intelligence training and make sure those goals are tied to business results. That connection will help ensure a return on investment and make the biggest impact on organizational results – which, after all, should be the goal of any training program.