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​For Internal Audit, EQ Trumps IQ

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Emotional intelligence (EQ) trumps IQ every time. The smartest person in the room can quickly look foolish when unable to control his emotions or when unaware of how his or her behavior and attitude are affecting others. For internal auditors, who often find themselves in challenging interpersonal situations, emotional intelligence is critical to success.

Emotional intelligence is at the crux of handling interpersonal relationships fairly and empathetically. This is especially true for internal auditors. The profession requires internal auditors to communicate in what often become tough, high-stress situations. What we say and do in these difficult conversations reflects back not only on us as individuals but on the entire internal audit department. Understanding and managing this key reputational risk is critical.

The renowned psychologist credited with coining the term emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman, directly links emotional intelligence capabilities to leadership excellence. After reporting for The New York Times for 12 years on the brain and behavior sciences, he wrote the book Emotional Intelligence in 1995, which became an international bestseller. After 30 years of studying the strengths of outstanding leaders, he asserts that a well-balanced array of specific emotional intelligence capabilities actually prepares a leader for tough challenges, such as delivering difficult feedback to employees, ruffling feathers to drive change, or thinking outside the box.

Goleman defines emotional intelligence as comprising 12 competencies, both learned and learnable, that go beyond obvious expectations (see the February 2017 Harvard Business Review article "Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?"). Growing stronger in these competencies allows for outstanding performance. The 12 competencies are nested under four main domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Emotional self-awareness is difficult to identify as lacking simply because the person is not self-aware. Many leaders talk about issues without realizing they are the biggest culprit. This often results in degrees of "the blame game" as these individuals are so unaware of their own shortcomings, they are convinced that everyone else is the problem or even that others are out to get them.

Being able to control emotions while delivering difficult information, making hard decisions, or experiencing confrontation is key to being an exceptional leader, according to psychologist J.P. Pawliw-Fry, the author of Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. He spoke at the recent IIA General Audit Management (GAM) Conference about how the brain stops complex thinking in reaction to stress, during what he called an "amygdala hijack."

Self-management, particularly emotional self-control, can quickly become an issue for anyone. Pawliw-Fry asked GAM attendees to identify three things that happen to them during an amygdala hijack, when someone has said something challenging and emotions take over clear thinking. For me, my stomach tightens, I feel pressure to explain myself further, and I want to convince others I'm right. As leaders, we need to recognize what our brain does under pressure, how that behavior affects those around us, and exercise control.

An effective tool for beginning to understand your own emotional intelligence is a comprehensive 360-degree assessment. The information gathered from your superiors, subordinates, and peers doesn't just identify weaknesses but also strengths, which can be better used during trying situations. According to Goleman, research shows the larger the gap between an individual's self-ratings and how others see them, the fewer emotional intelligence strengths the leader actually possesses and the poorer the performance.

Good leaders don't tunnel their vision, and instead look broadly at situations, at the need for change, and then devise effective ways to get there. I highly recommend 360-degree assessments for internal auditors at all levels as a strong first step to improving emotional self-awareness.

That's my point of view, I'd be happy to hear yours. Because emotional intelligence is so critical to internal auditors, I plan to circle back to this topic in future blog posts. I hope you'll join me in the conversation.

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