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Emotional Versus Mechanical Intelligence in the Work Place

If you’re interested in emotional intelligence you will probably have heard of Daniel Goleman, who made ‘EQ’ - or ‘EI’ – famous, and whose book by the same title has sold more than five million copies worldwide.

Depending upon which search engine and website you visit you will also read the names of many other researchers and psychologists who have studied intelligence during the last 60 years.

But how about Edward Lee Thorndike? Ring any bells?

In around 1920, Edward Lee Thorndike, a US psychologist, presented the concept that we have three forms of intelligence. Our abstract intelligence helps us to think, to analyse and be creative; we use our mechanical intelligence to move, to type, to blink, to talk (get the idea?); and the third type of intelligence that Thorndike identified was our social intelligence, namely our capacity to communicate with each other. In today’s language, he was talking about our emotional intelligence.

Why is this important for Human Resources?

Think about the last vacancy notice you created or read. Depending on the type of job it was you will have included a description of tasks and skills that fall under abstract and mechanical intelligence. But what about the social bit?

We all assume that one human being is going to be able to communicate with another human being, but it’s not always the case. And it’s one of the reasons why, thankfully, some companies have begun to place more emphasis on ‘inter-personal’ skills. After all, you wouldn’t employ a sales person who had stunning academic qualifications but who wasn’t capable of having a friendly conversation with a potential client, would you?

I think that technology is fabulous. It means that I can share my ‘message’ with you via this platform, it means that I can communicate with friends on the other side of the world within seconds, and it means that I have access to millions of pages of information about millions of subjects at my fingertips.

You will also be using technology to share information, organize data so that staff get paid on time, and a host of other processes that help you save on time and money.

To use all this technology however it is our mechanical intelligence that we rely on the most, followed closely by abstract.

Before ‘communication’ begins I have to think about what it is I want to do, but then my concentration is on using my fingers to type on my laptop, to ensure that I get the letters in the right order to form words, or that I have the correct spelling of a website in the search engine box.

When using my mobile ‘phone I have to move my fingers to the correct numbers to talk to the person that I want to. For those of you who play games online, you are constantly clicking the mouse or tapping the screen.

By frequently clicking your mouse or tapping a screen or typing on a laptop, you are reinforcing and strengthening the neural pathways that contribute to forming habits. Your brain is strengthening the parts it needs to perform those actions. And there’s nothing wrong with that …

Or is there ?

The more we focus on using technology, the more we use our mechanical intelligence. In my workshops there are frequently participants who do not feel comfortable using a pen and paper to make notes.

What they don’t understand is that by reinforcing their mechanical intelligence, and depending on technology to assist with their learning, the more likely their social (or emotional) intelligence will suffer. In fact it isn’t only likely, it’s already happening.

To some extent our abstract intelligence is also having a hard time. For example, how many times have you sat down to your desk, hands hovering over the keyboard, thinking about what it is you need to write, and staring into space waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for inspiration?

Generational and cultural differences already present a challenge to those recruiting and managing multi-cultural teams. But the differences in the capacity to communicate are the greatest of all, and it’s up to you as an HR Manager to ensure that you’re bringing people on board based not only upon years of experience or technical know-how, but also based upon whether they can hold a conversation with their colleagues without going into meltdown.

I'd love you to join me on my new programme, specifically for managers, to teach you how you can use emotional intelligence to ensure you get the right people doing the right job and to increase staff engagement.

Most of all though, I want to help you transform how you feel when you go home at the end of the day, confident of your contribution, and looking forward to making a difference to everyone you work with.

Simply comment below or send me a message by clicking here: MESSAGE

See you on the other side -


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