Does Higher EQ Equal Higher Stress?

Learn Why Sales Professionals With High Emotion Perception Could Have Higher Stress Levels

A high emotional intelligence is linked to many positive workplace impacts. Improved selling, enhanced team collaboration, successful communications are all important outcomes of EQ training. But is there such a thing as too much EQ?

A recent study featured in the Scientific American article “Too Much Emotional Intelligence Is a Bad Thing”, documents the findings of psychologists Myriam Bechtoldt and Vanessa Schneider of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany. The research study observed 166 male university students and asked them a series of questions to measure their emotional aptitude. They did this by having the students interpret photographs of people’s faces and asked them to assess the level of emotion being expressed in the photograph (such as feelings of happiness, disgust, or disappointment). This ability to determine emotion gave the participants an “EQ” score.

The students then had to give presentations in front of judges who were displaying stern facial expressions throughout the presentations. The scientists measured the concentrations of cortisol in the students’ saliva, both before and after the talk. Students who were rated more emotionally intelligent in the first exercise, had elevated cortisol levels immediately following the experiment and took longer to go back to baseline. Those with lower stress measures were those who were less competent in distinguishing emotions in the first exercise.

Your Sales Reps Should Be Able To Interpret Emotions… and More!

EQ is a critical skill needed to thrive in today’s workplace. Those in a sales role could not survive without EQ, but really for anyone who is required to interact with others, whether inside or outside of the company, emotional intelligence is a must.

According to Dr. Casey Mulqueen, Senior Director of Learning & Development at TRACOM, “The fundamental mistake that this study made was equating emotion perception with emotional intelligence.”

Emotion Perception is the ability to perceive and understand emotions others are expressing and is only one of fifteen other elements measured that determine someone’s emotional intelligence. A high EQ isn’t solely based on emotion perception or EP. This study forgets to take into account the other fourteen various measurements of EQ. Enhanced emotional intelligence is also measured through stress-management, self-confidence, and the ability to be realistically optimistic.

Dr Mulqueen says, “The study title should have focused on EP, which has been studied extensively and is indeed related to negative outcomes such as depression and anxiety. This is because people with high EP more accurately perceive the world, whereas the rest of us are moderately delusional and carry on oblivious to the cues others are giving us. (It’s a good thing, very adaptive).”

Learn more about Emotional Intelligence training here.

Stress Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

One important thing to remember is that stress can be a positive indicator of a fulfilled life in many situations. The things in your life that can cause you stress also provide you a great deal of happiness and fulfillment. Your family causes you stress because those little rugrats are expensive and trying to juggle all of their activities is challenging. But imagine life without them? Stress is oftentimes a good thing – we just have to choose to view it that way.

The article tells us that too much EQ can have negative consequences. At TRACOM we know a thing or two about the adverse effects of stress in the workplace, given our extensive research in resiliency training, and we certainly don’t take that research lightly. But what this study is really telling us is that the students with higher EQs had a completely appropriate and preferred reaction to the judges’ disapproving responses. In fact, they should be feeling stressed!

EQ Allows Us to Interpret and Respond to Emotions

The judges were responding to a presentation through negative behavioral cues and those who were able to observe those cues had a high “EQ” (but really EP). When we are communicating with someone and they are responding with a “stern face” that typically indicates something isn’t going quite right. Our stress levels SHOULD be rising. Our audience is using their behavior as a form of communication, and they are telling us they don’t like what they are seeing or hearing.

Think about it, would you want to have someone working for you that was completely incompetent in understanding emotions? NO. The participants of the study whose cortisol levels were elevated were having a rational response to the scenario taking place. This response is absolutely warranted in a selling situation where one would need to adapt the sales pitch given the emotional response of their audience. Those who were numb to emotional cues would not be able to interpret their audience and, therefore, be unable alter their sales pitch to win a sale. While these individuals may be less prone to stress-related work issues such as absenteeism or presenteeism, they also aren’t going to be able to fulfill the needs of the job. They would not be able to assess their client’s needs to augment their delivery. What this study proves is that without EQ, your sales reps would be screwed.

Dr. Mulqueen says, “If this were a real-world scenario, some of these people may have changed their approach to the presentation. However, since the judges were confederates, they had no chance to do this. Again, EP is not EQ, so some students may have been paralyzed by their failure, whereas others who benefited from EQ training might have been able to channel their anxiety into a new approach with the audience.”
Equipping your sales reps with the tools to be responsive to their audience, and adapt quickly to changing interactions is critical to success.

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