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Véronique Tran: Emotional intelligence

Professor of Organisational Behavior in the European Executive MBA programme, Prof. Véronique Tran talks about the difference between emotional intelligence and emotional competence, which can be taught.

Emotions matter.

Hi, I’m Véronique Tran, I’m a professor of organisational behaviour and today I would like to talk to you about emotions. What is an emotion? We talk a lot about emotions nowadays. I think there are a lot of emotions right now during these tough economic times. We talk about fear, maybe even panic, despair, sadness, etc. Not much room for elation, joy. Emotions are also very much used in marketing. If you watch a little bit of TV and you look at advertisements or you look in magazines, there’s not one ad that doesn’t mention emotions. So what is an emotion? An emotion is something you feel that is very brief, that is always linked to an event or a person. So you don’t have random emotions, but in essence you have an emotion because of something or because of someone.

For a number of years, we could not even talk about emotions in the workplace. It was kind of taboo. We thought emotions were from the area of private life, we thought it was either irrational or too familiar and, as I said, private. But thanks to an author, called Daniel Goleman, who wrote a book in 1995 about emotional intelligence, he made it possible for emotions to enter the workplace. He made emotions popular. Was he the only one or was it the moment when emotions were ready to enter the workplace? Probably, but thanks to him, progress has been made and now we teach emotional intelligence, we talk about emotional intelligence and it has certainly become a normal thing to talk about your emotions in the workplace. I’d also like to talk more about emotional competence versus emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has been a big debate for researchers and practitioners – more so for researchers, by the way – because emotional intelligence refers to the fact that maybe it is something innate. If you talk about emotional competence, there’s a hope that we can learn it. And that’s why we try to teach it.

I was mentioning the fact that emotions were not reaching the doors of organisations or the corporate life. Why? Because emotions are considered, as I said, private, but also irrational. Is emotion really irrational? Actually, it’s not. The human being is wired to have emotions. It is an important part of our life, of our survival even. We wouldn’t be here, as a species, if it weren’t for emotions. Referring to fear again, if we weren’t afraid of danger, we would have been killed. If we didn’t feel disgust when eating something bad, we would be poisoned and again dead. We could not bond with others if we couldn’t feel joy. We could not have any interest in life if it weren’t for interest, precisely. Or would we get out of bed if we didn’t have hope tomorrow will be better than yesterday? So emotions aren’t irrational, they’re essential for daily decision-making, for little things and important things.

Why do we call emotions irrational? It’s when indeed the intensity is so strong that they make us feel crazy things. So it’s really a question of intensity, rather than the nature of the emotion per se. And that’s what emotional competence is all about, it’s to understand what triggers an emotion and to regulate the intensity. Is that easy? No, not at all. It’s not easy, it requires practice, practice, practice. And first of all, awareness. If you’re aware of what triggers an emotion, then you can act upon it and you can start inflecting, changing this curve: you can regulate the intensity or even, if you have an intense emotion, you can regulate the expression. Emotions are recognisable on people’s faces, people’s voices, in people’s body language. Again, as I said, if you’re angry, the first thing you want to do is fight or punch someone’s face or yell at them. And the face takes on some very specific expressions. On the contrary, if you’re happy, your face lights up, you want to embrace, you want to hug, you want to approach others. You have a distinct body language when you’re happy. And each time you do that, you send a signal to others. So, really, irrationality is a myth? It’s just because we see the crazy manifestations of strong emotions.

Now it’s time to conclude, so I would like to leave you with 3 key messages. Emotions are a normal part of human behaviour. As such, we need to improve our emotional competence to recognise emotions in ourselves and others. Then we need to appreciate those emotions, meaning we have to understand them. And finally, third point, we have to act upon them. It means we have to adapt our behaviour to the situation and to the people we have in front of us, and I think that those are key success factors for people in general and for managers.

Véronique Tran's resume.
Véronique Tran's publications.