Starting our new series on soft skills in the workplace, Amy Jacobson argues that, for actuaries, emotional intelligence is as important as grey matter
Emotional intelligence (EI) is frequently billed as one of the top five skills that employers will demand of staff in the near future, but is it really relevant to actuaries? Of course it is.
Actuaries have to deal with other people as much as those working in any other profession. When humans interact in any way, inside or outside of the workplace, EI is at play. As with leadership, we don’t have the luxury of deciding whether to incorporate it into our everyday interactions with others – it’s always there.
It is understood by researchers and professionals that the greater someone’s EI and leadership skills, the more likely it is that they will benefit from positive outcomes in their relationships. Where it isn’t a focus, or where skill levels are low, the success of their interactions is heavily impacted.
Being an actuary is about so much more than just maths, statistics and past experiences: it’s also about predicting the future, solving problems, communicating effectively and thinking strategically. This is where the combination of IQ and EI creates the adaptable and effective actuarial professional.
The concept of EI was first discussed as early as the 1930s; it became a coined phrase, and then a popular term, thanks to the work of prestigious psychologists such as Peter Salovey (now president of Yale University in the US), John D Mayer and Daniel Goleman.
EI is all about understanding what makes you tick and, more importantly, what makes those around you tick. It’s about owning and being able to control your emotional responses, the impact you have on those around you, how well you communicate and what you achieve in life. We don’t always know the people we interact with at work very deeply, so the strength of our EI will help us to identify the best way to communicate if we are to achieve our desired outcomes.
The brain always responds well to a call to action, especially when we can relate to simple and familiar words. For this reason, I have created a five-part methodology that incorporates the neuroscience surrounding EI, to help people:
- Own It
- Face It
- Feel It
- Ask It
- Drive It
The plan of action
This is about owning who we are and our current state. No one else is responsible for the person we are and how we behave, it is 100% on us – we choose how we feel. Everything we have chosen to do in life, and have achieved, is based on our will. These choices were made based on our priorities and the potential consequences at the time. That’s ours to own.
In a world of data and statistics, there will always be subjectivity. The mind paints a picture that explains the data based on interpretation. Our interpretation of each situation can be heavily influenced by our values and beliefs – and, at times, by our unconscious biases. We must be aware of our values and beliefs and what makes us tick, so we can recognise when it is influencing us. Our EI controls this influence, determining the way we portray the facts.
Growth tip: to take ownership of our thoughts and actions, we must first understand how we are wired. This is not about changing who we are but instead about being aware of and working with our wiring, rather than against it.
All our thoughts, at some point, travel through our emotional mind. We are always feeling an emotion – every second of every day. There will be times when things don’t quite go to plan, when the unexpected occurs or when we’re surprised by an emotional response that we’ve had to something. ‘Face it’ means dealing with our emotions, limitations and fears, and being able to manage them. This is by far the toughest area of EI. There will always be triggers in life; our response is the only thing we have control over, and we don’t always get it right.
Growth tip: identify your negative triggers (for example: what makes you angry?). Decide how you want to feel instead (for example, calm) and think about what triggers that more positive response in you. How can you recreate the good triggers for a negative situation?
To be able to predict the future and the risk factors, we have to have a certain level of understanding about human beings and what makes them tick. It is natural for us to see others through our own measures and expectations. To ‘feel it’, we must get out of our own head and focus on how other people feel, how they are wired and how they react to us. This is where leadership (the skill, not the job role), empathy and empowerment become more important than being a ‘fixer’. It’s not just about us solving problems – it’s about us empowering other people to identify and solve problems.
Growth tip: empathy is about recognising the emotion that another person is feeling. You don’t need to know about the situation causing that emotion, just the emotion itself. If you were feeling that same emotion, what would be the worst things and the best things that someone could say to you in that situation? Empathy involves bypassing the worst things and implementing the best things.
‘Ask it’ is all about asking the right questions and answering the questions that are asked of us. Communication, a vital skill for actuaries, is not about us saying something; it is about the person hearing it. If that person doesn’t understand or receive the communication, then the communication has failed – and that’s on us, not them.
To be a great communicator in a highly technical field, it is key that you understand the other person and their preferred communication style, as well as how to deliver your message in a way that suits them.
Growth tip: the power of the pause is the greatest communication skill. Being comfortable with silence for just three seconds help us to digest the situation, engage our subconscious mind and our EI, and allow the other person to process the information and tap into their own subconscious mind and EI.
High performers know how to leverage their motivation drivers and work smarter, not harder. We’ve all had days when we’ve worked hard but felt like we achieved nothing. Our mind has been jumping across many tasks and ‘spot fires’, which means a lot of brain power and time has been wasted on refocusing and distractions. The more we understand the circadian cycle and the functioning of our mind, the more control we have over it.
Growth tip: the fewer times our mind must refocus to change task, the more we can achieve. Create blocks of time where your mind is 100% present with no interruptions, and remember to take a break to reset. Never underestimate the need for a break – our physiology requires a rest to reset and perform at our highest performance level.
The choice to learn
Is EI innate, or can we develop it? This is hard to answer but some young children do show naturally high EI. There are also adults who have high levels of EI but may not even know what it is – it’s just who they are. There are others who lack EI in certain areas, some of whom are aware of it and some of whom are not.
EI can be taught if we want to learn it, but it cannot be developed by those who don’t want to learn or grow. We must continually recognise the need for it, and reframe and review our skills.
No one is emotionally intelligent all the time. We learn EI skills, and in every situation we can choose to respond in an emotionally intelligent way. Sometimes we nail it, sometimes we don’t. Ownership, reflection and growth is key – the choice is yours.
Amy Jacobson is an EI specialist in Australia, and the author of Emotional Intelligence: A Simple and Actionable Guide to Increasing Performance, Engagement and Ownership (Wiley)
Image credit | iStock