So You Think You’re So Smart: IQ vs. EQ

BrainOur guest blogger today is Donald Billings who has a thing or two to say about emotional intelligence.  Donald is a well-known legal technologist with a major law firm. Whatever he says, I have to sit up and listen.

Now, I have to admit, I'm not an expert on the topic of emotional intelligence but apparently, whether we believe EQ is a current fad or is here to stay, it's has been taken quite seriously in the past few years. Here's Donald:

When it’s time to hire, we legal technologists usually go for two skillsets: technical and business.

Of course, that’s not surprising; our work is often complex and risky.  However, when evaluating skills or even culture fit, we often overlook the fact that the same personality traits that make us great at the technical aspects of our job can lead to challenges when dealing with the more humanistic elements of the business. 

Although IQ plays an important role in personal success, especially in complex disciplines such as the sciences, studies have demonstrated that emotional intelligence—or EQ—can play an even more important role. In fact, experts in this field argue that IQ contributes only 20% to life success. 

Which means that the majority of your achievements come from emotional intelligence.

So it stands to reason that mastering emotional intelligence and understanding professional interpersonal relationships in today’s workplace should be considered as much a core skill or competency as technical ability or general business acumen.

Do as I do 
An emotionally intelligent leader is adept at recognizing and examining his or her emotional responses in an honest an introspective fashion. When we are better able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our own personalities, we can avoid many of the triggers that often result in unnecessary workplace conflict or tension. 

This can be particularly useful for those of us who spend significant time supporting or servicing the litigation industry, where our internal/external clients are trained to engage and argue for a living.  In these situations, failing to hire—or to develop—emotionally intelligent staff can result in unproductive debates, or worse, escalating conflicts that might otherwise have been de-escalated (or never have occurred in the first place). 

When we fail to understand emotional intelligence, we risk allowing our emotions to mimic or further influence negative emotions around us. This can create a feedback loop in which negativity and conflict build to a point where even the most trivial disagreement can derail a project, or (in an extreme example) irreparably damage business relationships.  

We’ve all experienced situations where tensions were high, voices were raised, and both verbal and non-verbal communication led to what can best be described as non-constructive dialogue.  Recognizing and managing our emotional responses as they are occurring allows us to more easily avoid or defuse many of these situations.  

So what are some of the markers of Emotional Intelligence?  Goleman argues that first and foremost is: 

Ability to empathize with others.  Whether it’s a client, a member of your staff, or that angry person standing in front of you at the grocery checkout, what’s paramount is not just listening to what a person is saying, but truly empathizing with his position.  However, it’s important not to confuse empathy with agreement. When you empathize, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with another person’s position, merely that you understand her perspective. Remember, the more self-aware you are, the more skilled you will become at reading other people’s feelings.

Understand and recognize your personal biases.  We all view the world through our own individual lens that was shaped and honed by our cultural, educational, and experiential influences.  That lens shapes our perspective and how we view the world and others.  As a result, two individuals looking at the same set of circumstances may come to two completely different conclusions.  Are you looking at the problem from the lens of the technologist? If so, is that influencing your position in a way that someone without a technical background might not understand?

Focus on relationship management, not just people management.  The ability to express feelings is a key social skill, and emotions are often contagious.  As managers, it’s important to realize that we send emotional signals during each and every encounter, and our staff, clients, and others around us may actually mimic our emotions.  During social interactions, people tend to mirror the body language of those around them, leading to what’s known as “mood coordination.” The better you are at reading others, the more effectively you can control the signals you send. This awareness will help you to manage the effect you have on others.


Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R. (2008). Social intelligence and the biology of leadership. Harvard Business

Review, 86(9), 74–81. 

About the Author: Donald Billings has 20 years of experience in leadership, entrepreneurial, and consultative roles serving global law firms, fortune 100 companies, and non-profits.

He holds a B.Sc in computer science/software engineering, master certificates in business administration, legal studies, and information security management, and an M.Sc in leadership with a focus in innovation & technology. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration with a focus in technology entrepreneurship.