Q&A: Dr P. Sethu Madhavan Puravangara: “Emotional intelligence is very important for success”

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 7 Jun 2016

Expert on assessing emotional competencies on why HR should be focused on building employees' soft skills

Dr P. Sethu Madhavan Puravangara

A higher emotional intelligence (EI), sometimes also referred to as emotional quotient (EQ), is linked to better pay, greater teamwork and general success at work, but HR managers are often not aware of how to nurture emotional competencies. People Management spoke to Dr P. Sethu Madhavan Puravangara about why EI is important, how to measure it and how to develop it, and its specific relevance in the GCC workplace.

How would you define emotional intelligence?
The concept refers mainly to the ability to understand emotions in oneself and others, and express or regulate them effectively. Some authors have also used the concept of Emotional Competence (EC), which refers to the social skills that are based on EI.

What should HR managers know about how high EI relates to improved teamwork and better performance?
By incorporating individual assessment and feedback tools, and EC tools into various HR processes – such as recruitment, training, coaching and mentoring, 360 feedback, succession planning and leadership development and team-building events – organisations can institutionalise positive behaviour and a healthy working culture over a period of time.

Should HR managers assess employees' EI?
Psychometric tools, including EC tools, are very useful not only for recruiting the right talent, but also for facilitating their growth and retaining them in the company. Though one may use EC tools for recruiting all categories of staff, it is more applicable when recruiting supervisory and managerial staff, because a high level of EC is critical for success in these roles as these workers are required to deal with people all the time.

Some studies report that a higher EI is directly linked to a higher salary. Do you agree?
I do tend to agree and of course there are some research studies supporting this. However, I am sure that all of us have seen people without any great academic background or qualifications moving fast up the career ladder – mainly due to their social skills and emotional competencies. On the contrary, we may have also come across a technically sound and academically qualified person who has failed to excel in the workplace due to behavioural and emotional problems.

How can businesses improve the EI of their employees? Are there specific challenges to improving EI in a Middle-Eastern work environment?
EC, if not EI, can be significantly improved through various methods. The first step is to assess individuals and provide feedback. Making people realise the impact of EC on their success or failure will motivate them to reflect and regulate their behaviour. Sometimes, they may have very low or high scores in some areas, which may work as ‘de-railers'. Objective feedback, based on a reliable tool, can help individuals understand such de-railers and overcome them. Other methods include coaching and mentoring, training sessions, counselling, self-managed learning and behavioural therapies.

EQ is actually very important for success in the Middle East, where you might be dealing with colleagues from as many as 50 different countries in one company. It is critical to have the sensitivity and empathy to understand a diverse set of people and their values. A higher EQ also helps people to relate to others in more effective ways, and to confront them in a culturally appropriate manner. So the challenge in general is not about developing the EC of people, but in ensuring that they have the highest EC required to cope with such a culturally diverse workforce.

How does your EC assessment tool work?
Most EC tools have placed an emphasis on understanding and managing the self and others. The data I have collected indicated that apart from this, understanding and managing life in general is also important for corporate leaders.

Being a soft skills and EQ trainer, I feel there's a need for a tool that can be used quickly in and out of the classroom. The psychometric tool I developed is the 'Three Dimensional Emotional Competence Inventory (3D-ECI)'. It's designed to be used for self-assessment as well as a 360-degree/multi-rater feedback tool.