Why is Emotional Intelligence and the development of Human Skills so important for Engineers and other STEM professionals now?

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Our Women Like Me partner Caroline Morris, of Wide Eyed Group Leadership Consultancy, is an executive coach who works with leaders and their teams.  She began her career in STEM building customer management systems for large organisations and throughout her career she has combined her love of tech and people, helping people to embrace their unique qualities and bring their whole selves to work.  She is an Emotional Intelligence assessor and Time to Think facilitator who is obsessed about becoming, and helping others to become, better listeners! In this guest post, she explores the importance of emotional intelligence and human skills for STEM professionals.

As someone who was drawn to science and maths subjects, and who then worked in STEM I often reflect on how things have changed from when I first started my career.  When I started out as a consultant, although I was considered a people person, I was far more focussed on the process.  If we followed the process, I believe it would all be OK.  I noticed though that some of my colleagues did not always do this.  At first this irritated me, yet as I developed my own Emotional Intelligence I realised (probably not quickly enough) that as people some of us are “people people” whilst others are “process people”.  Some would rather I pick up the phone to discuss something whilst others would rather I updated the job ticket. 

This over the years has shifted my perspective from process to people, I am now firmly in the people camp.  If we can get a team of people to function well, then the process is an enabler (the cherry on the cake as it were), rather than the be all and end all.

I often take this reflection into my work with multi-functional groups especially when they have a breakdown in communication.  The situation is likely that they have different communication methods and need to become more curious about each other’s preference.  To do this we need to become more self-aware and aware of others, all part of developing our Emotional Intelligence.

Where did Emotional Intelligence originate?

Emotional intelligence developed from the discipline of Social Intelligence, which allows people to develop relationships, self-awareness and empathy.

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ in 1990 describing it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.

Emotional Intelligence expands into other “people” skills, such as how adaptable we are, our ability to be straightforward, and how optimistic we are based on how much resilience we have.  The founder of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, identified that for successful leaders, having a high level of EQ was more impactful on their success than their IQ.

EQ unlike IQ, which is set by our late teens, is something that can be consciously developed and continues to develop throughout our adult life.  To find out more Daniel Goleman has a wealth of TedEx talks and details on his website:

What does it take to be emotionally intelligent?

Emotional Intelligence covers a wider spectrum of human skills from self-awareness, adaptability, resilience and optimism to how straightforward we are and are perceived to be.  These are skills we develop to a greater or lesser extent throughout our whole lives.  What fascinates me is how often the conscious development of this is avoided by STEM professionals. 

I recently delivered a workshop on how to “Collaborate & Share as a Team” to a group of Data Analysts and Data Scientists, this was a rare group who had voluntarily chosen to attend.  They acknowledged they were out of their comfort zone and that they often found the “soft skills” quite difficult.  I remember one of my coaching friends once saying if only they had been called “hard skills” and people would realise that in fact they are difficult and that is takes effort to develop them, rather than as is sometimes consider that they are “soft and fluffy” and some kind of “other” intended for other people….

I believe that now more than ever it is essential that STEM professionals embrace the difficult and consider how they might develop their Emotional Intelligence.  As Artificial Intelligence enhances and more and more of the repeatable predictable processes can be carried out by robots and software, our differentiation is our EQ.  Our ability to adapt, to connect with each other and to understand nuances is extremely sophisticated.

Where do we start?

I always begin my Leadership and EQ workshops with a reflection on what it takes to give people great attention…  As a Time to Think Facilitator and fan of Nancy Kline,  I am a great advocate on developing our listening skills.   It has transformed how I and the people I have worked with connect with others.   It’s a great way to notice how we communicate with others, interact with different people and connect with our colleagues.  By listening to someone, allowing them to speak without fear of interruption and allowing our own judgements and thought processes to be put to one side allows us to become deeply interested and curious in someone else’s perspective.  The first step in the important quality of empathy.

“Sometimes the best thing we can do for another human being is to listen to them without interruption” Nancy Kline

How many times have you been in a meeting when someone has finished your sentence or interrupted your flow?  This is one of the most inefficient styles of communication and often means that we do not really explore alternative perspectives and diverse ideas.  When we know that we won’t be interrupted (rather than being lucky enough not to be: Nancy Kline) then we are able to expand our thoughts and often answer our own problems.  As the listener we develop a deeper state of curiosity and learn about what is important to the person.  It might change our thinking or help us to question deeply entrenched ideas. 

It is so easy to say, and yet each time it works.  Once we feel heard the magic happens.  We feel our needs are met and thus our feelings towards another person changes.

This is the first step on an ongoing journey to develop our EQ.

If you would like to commence your EQ journey… then reflect on where you want to develop yourself, the following may help…



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