Theresa May's apparently poor emotional intelligence (EQ) has been widely mentioned in the press in recent days following the election and appears to be in evidence again now. Feeling deeply about a situation and being affected by our emotions but not being able to act effectively on them is an example of underdeveloped EQ. To be clear, developing EQ is not some slick ad man's way of selling your product/message more effectively for the purposes of 'spin' or manipulation. It is about the genuine and deep development of our ability to understand our emotions and those of others and to be able to manage those emotions intelligently rather than merely being buffeted around by them (as for example, we might see with people who act aggressively or who run scared when under stress).
Why is this important? It is healthier, literally, for us to behave from a higher EQ position and it enables us to be more ethical, kinder and more effective in our relationships with other people. In Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature he makes the case for the development of empathy, an important component of EQ, in the increasing civilisation of society. (Whilst I consider that the recent fashion for empathy is a problem as it can be over-played and misapplied, we can all relate to the problems a lack of empathy causes).
High EQ is considered to be an essential plank in effective leadership. Empathy allows us to be able to stand in another person's shoes and see the situation from their perspective. That requires us to pay attention to others, to be genuinely interested and curious in their situation and experience, to listen to them and be willing to connect with them. We then need to have the self-confidence, assertiveness and relationship skills to act on those concerns. All of these are components of EQ.
It is said that we all have a deep-rooted need to be understood - when we aim to achieve that understanding of others we make better decisions, act more courageously and in the best interests of all.
What would a high EQ response to this disaster have looked like? I think it would have included a rapid visit to residents and the emergency services, a willingness to listen and understand with direct contact, and thereby to have withstood highly charged and legitimate emotions like anger, and to have acted clearly and speedily firstly to ensure care and support for those affected and then in getting to the root of the problem to ensure it never happens again. Good effective leadership would have achieved all of those things. Theresa May has done some of these latter things but seriously missed expressing empathy. In focusing on the practical task at hand and ignoring the emotional content she has unnecessarily caused harm.
Most of us, fortunately, will never have to manage such a situation but whatever your role and whatever situations you are faced with you will handle them more effectively the higher your EQ. Our EQ develops over time as we mature and can be further developed more specifically on the way.
Wherever you get your EQ development from, do be sure to get some.