Some think the little piece of paper hanging on their wall, the one with their alma mater's name, is the most important foot in the door to a successful career. Others believe their connections will take them to the places they want to go. Most are taught hard work, grit, intelligence, and putting in time is the key to success. While all those are important, they pale in comparison to the trait most successful people have - emotional intelligence.
Consider this situation where emotional intelligence comes into play - you are the newest hire at a company. You are eager in your career as an accounting professional learn but also feel pressure to perform and general tension around the office from your superiors. You're putting in 12-14 hour days and are happy to do so. Your boss pushes you to stay later, arrive earlier, and asks you to come in Saturdays this month. You still like her because she tells you to take advantage of the office kitchen which they keep stocked to make it through long days. They even have a happy hour a couple of nights a week.
But then the looming tensions come to a head when you are taking a quick break to fill up your coffee. The CEO happens to be at your branch today, and while walking by, they see you and take a few steps back. They ask who you are, you greet them with a handshake and explain you just started to which they say, snidely, "Glad to see our new hire earning their pay." before walking away. Shortly after a general email goes out from HR reminding everyone not to abuse the kitchen policy by using it as a place to "hang out."
This moment is where we see very high functioning people fall flat on their face. While they may have all the intelligence, technical skills, and social aptitude, they are unable to avoid small confrontations turning into catastrophic moments. Instead of a resolution, they feel a grudge; instead of productive, they turn resentful of working as hard as they have.
What has happened is they have seen everything going on at a surface level and reacted only to those events. They respond to someone else's emotions with the emotions which come quickly rather than breaking down a situation into what may have brought it about. Rather than processing what they are feeling, looking at actual causation, and figuring out how to steer their emotions in a positive way they let kneejerk feelings control their actions. These kneejerk reactions are the same thing that caused the CEO to comment in the first place, causing the HR person to send a slightly too harsh email, which in turn will make you feel upset.
An emotional outburst of anger on your part could come from this. You could send a sarcastic email back to HR asking if you need to ask permission to use the bathroom from now. You could feel resentful of your boss who has told you to use the kitchen and take care of yourself, feeling like they've let you be thrown under the bus. You could doubt that your time at this company will last long.
Or, you could doubt your emotions and be skeptical in a healthy way of how the CEO handled the situation. Replacing what you feel in a moment with an understanding of everything going into the moment is where emotional intelligence comes in. It may seem odd, but you can imagine the story of the CEO before she made that comment. The pressure he felt. The fact that it was just before dinner and she may have been hungry, resulting in too harsh of a criticism. The idea that she took the time to stop and have an interaction and maybe what you took as a slight was their sense of humor you haven't learned yet. Also, you are exhausted, you were hungry, you were looking for a pick me up at the time, and maybe these factors made you a little too sensitive.
People with high emotional intelligence are often able to realize all the feelings going into a situation. They then can tell a different story than meets the eye because they see past surface level and into their lives and those around them. Through this, they learn how to be a better employee, friend, and co-worker. By doing this, they remain productive, confident, and don't feel the need to lash out or bottle emotions up. They just move on and focus on reacting to their work rather than petty social issues.
Take a moment to think about every positive personality trait and qualification as parts of a bridge leading to success. You have the education, you are working on getting your CPA, you stay in shape, and focus on positivity. Through all those things come gaps which need to be filled in with emotional intelligence it takes to figure out why you feel what you feel. Can you take the moments which create a story, understand why you are feeling the way you are, and formulate a proper reaction? Can you recognize the difference between facts and opinions? Can you spot when anger is, at least in part, due to lack of sleep or food rather than someone else's behavior?
Recognizing these gaps in your life will help you realize no one gets to control your actions. People will be annoying, hurtful, and discouraging, but you being annoyed, hurt, or discouraged depends on the story you allow yourself to tell. Taking some time to understand your emotional intelligence, the plot you either go along with or twist can make you a happier and more successful person.
More reading about emotional intelligence? Check out David Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.