Decades of research show unequivocally that men and women are equal in general intelligence (IQ), but that isn’t the case when it comes to emotional intelligence (EQ). There are subtle, and not so subtle, differences in men’s and women’s expression and understanding of emotions that must be explored and understood.
Gender is a common place for people to assign labels around emotion. Such generalizations have pegged women as everything from the “fairer sex” to overly emotional, and men from emotionally aloof to explosive. You’ll find that none of these platitudes are true.
There’s an enormous amount of research suggesting that emotional intelligence (EQ) is critical to men’s and women’s performance at work. Emotional intelligence is responsible for 58% of performance in all types of jobs, and 90% of top performers are high in EQ.
“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” -Timothy Leary
TalentSmart has tested the emotional intelligence of more than a million people and it’s clear that women have the upper hand. While women’s overall EQ score is just a couple of points higher than men’s, this is a statistically significant difference that shows that women have greater skill in using emotions to their benefit.
It just doesn’t answer the pressing question: why?
To understand why women outscore men, we have to look at scores for each of the four emotional intelligence skills by gender. There’s a reliable pattern in the data that points to some interesting explanations for the gap.
Self-awareness is how well you understand your own emotions in the moment, as well as how well you understand your tendencies—the people and situations you handle well and those that push your buttons. This is the one place where men and women have perfectly equal scores. It’s also a place where men have been given a bad rap. People often assume that men aren’t tuned in to their emotions or don’t understand them. Clearly, that isn’t the case. Of course, men also have a tendency to hop on this bandwagon—by feigning to have no awareness or understanding of their emotions—in the hope of avoiding any accountability for their actions. Now we know better.
Self-management is what you do with your emotions once you’re aware of them. Since you can’t make emotions disappear, effective self-management requires channeling your emotions into producing the behavior that you want. This is the one area where men outscored women. I believe that the best explanation for gender differences in emotional intelligence is how we are socialized growing up (reinforced by societal gender pressures we experience as adults). In the case of self-management, men are often expected to be emotionally “strong” and in control of their emotions, which may explain why they outscore women slightly.
Social awareness is how well you understand the emotions and experience of other people. This requires the ability to tune in to body language and other unspoken signals, since people don’t usually come out and say what’s going on with them. This is an area where women outscore men by a fairly large margin (statistically speaking). This is also a skill that women are socialized to practice and possess from childhood in ways that men aren’t. Right or wrong, women are expected to take care of other people (and are rewarded for doing so). This gives them an upper hand when it comes to social awareness. Men, to their detriment, aren’t rewarded for social awareness in the same way that women are, and this carries over into adulthood.
Relationship management is the pinnacle of emotional intelligence. It requires that you use self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness in concert to better your relationships as you interact with other people. You cannot hope to get the most out of your interactions with other people until you understand your emotions, cue in to their emotions, and use this knowledge to adjust your approach on the fly. Women have a slight edge in relationship management for reasons described in the social awareness section above.
Emotional intelligence presents a significant advantage for women in the workplace. Whether you’re a man or a woman, don’t just sit back hoping that you’re one of the high-EQ types. EQ is a flexible skill that you can improve with effort. To that end, here are a few things that you can do to improve your EQ today: