“It’s not how much you know, it’s how much you know and who you know,” my dad used to tell me throughout college. I would routinely nod and dismiss, believing I knew better than he did what the keys were to career success; knowledge would always take precedence over networking, in my mind.

Then I got into the workforce, and realized that my old man had a thing or two to teach me yet. As I observed the office interactions around me, I saw how the people who gained my trust and respect didn’t necessarily make flawless decisions or have all the knowledge they needed to excel in the tasks on their plate. But the consistent trait they all had was their ability to make other people feel genuinely valued — both as part of a revenue-generating team and as people in general. They were also confident, but not to the point of sheer arrogance, and faced challenges with a kind of calm energy that made other people trust them. The “soft skill” these co-workers were displaying, to their distinct career advantage, was emotional intelligence.

Sociability over smarts?

The concept of emotional intelligence gained prominence in the 1990s, with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence.” In his book, Goleman described the findings of John D. Mayer, a professor of psychology at University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey at Yale University, who published an article together on emotional intelligence back when the reigning discussion around intelligence and its link to success was still focused on IQ. After happening upon their article, Goleman investigated the idea of emotional intelligence further through studies and research of his own, and discovered that emotional intelligence — that is, the ability to manage one’s own emotions and perceive others’ feelings — has an equally (if not more) powerful effect on career success as conventional intelligence. In fact, according to the University Consulting Alliance, Goleman found that 67 percent of all abilities associated with strong job performance were related to emotional intelligence.

Numerous studies have backed up Goleman’s assertions. For example, a 2010 study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University and published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that emotional intelligence was incredibly important to job performance. Another study by Multi-Health Systems and discussed in Inc. found that when stress negatively impacted employees’ emotional intelligence, their job performance and career advancement suffered.

Why do emotions have such a powerful impact on our behavior and professional performance? The main reason, and one that you might not expect, is that even the decisions we believe are utterly rational still have a strong emotional element. As Mark Craemer of the University Consulting Alliance explains, “What portion of the decisions you make at work are emotional versus rational? Most people say 20% or less. In fact, we decide 100% of everything emotionally and then spend hours, weeks or months underpinning these decisions with logical justifications.”

Does the fact that emotions underpin pretty much all of our decisions mean that we can’t make wise choices? Not in the slightest. In fact, if you can learn how to harness the power of your emotions and use them to enhance your thought processes and decision making, the result can be positive.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace

In his article for the Harvard Business Review, Goleman described the five key components of emotional intelligence he believes are essential to professional success: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. According to Goleman, while IQ and technical skills do matter as “entry-level requirements for executive positions,” these five skills that constitute emotional intelligence are essential for leadership success. “Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader,” he writes. Below are the definitions of these essential elements of emotional intelligence, and explanations on how you can foster these abilities in yourself.

  1. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and comprehend one’s emotions, motivations and changing moods, as well as the effect that one’s emotions have on other people. Cultivating self-awareness can often begin with simply taking stock of how you feel and act throughout the day, and also asking yourself how your actions and moods correspond to other people’s reactions to you.
  2. Self-regulation is the ability to control — and in some cases even productively channel — negative and/or disruptive emotions and impulses. Self-regulation also necessitates thinking before acting, and making a habit of suspending judgment on others in order to fairly evaluate the people and situations one encounters daily.
  3. Motivation is defined as the drive to work for reasons that transcend money or status. True motivation comes from a desire for wholly internal rewards, such as fulfillment from learning, pursuing a genuine interest or from positively impacting other people around you.
  4. Empathy is simply the ability to understand the emotions, moods, and dispositions of other people and to tailor one’s actions so as to optimize interactions with different individuals.
  5. Social skill is the ability to build and maintain social networks and strong individual relationships with others. This often entails having some of the other skills outlined above, such as empathy and self-regulation.

Successfully managing one’s emotions in the workplace does not mean suppressing these emotions. Doing so only results in an increased likelihood of an emotional outburst later down the road (if the latest Disney movie “Frozen” is any indication, emotional suppression can lead to hurt feelings, and, in some cases, an impaled snowman).

Instead of bottling in emotions, try acknowledging your feelings while reframing your thoughts to stay positive even in trying situations. For example, if you get reprimanded at work, acknowledge that you feel less than awesome, but also tell yourself truthfully that this the situation is a great learning opportunity, not only in terms of your work product, but also in terms of navigating conversations with your supervisor. While you maintain optimism, try assessing how the emotions you feel relate to your interactions with other people. Do your most unpleasant interactions correspond to the days when you feel most stressed and/or resentful? Do people connect with you better when you have a more positive outlook on a given day? Building this awareness can not only help you thrive in a corporate setting and enjoy happiness in the workplace, but also lead to a more effective and satisfying life in general.

This article was originally published on OnlineDegrees.com