The more I read about EQ (or  Emotional Intelligence) the more I wonder if people are defining it properly. For years, I've heard that  EQ is about an ability to read people--to pick up on body language, to assess a situation and read feelings, to display a warmth and emotional connection that sets you apart from others, to smile more or shake hands more vigorously. It's almost always defined as an ability to pick up on non-verbal cues and "sense" when people are frustrated or happy or sad...and that's it.

The problem with this definition is that it's practically useless in a business context.

So you can read people and pick up on emotions. Fine. That gives you some advantage in conversation or maybe in the sales process, but really it is just another tool among many by that definition. It gives you some insight and a way to interpret body language and pick up on some mysterious non-verbal signals, but you can mostly just pat yourself on the back and say you can "read people" and that's it. It gives you some bragging rights.

The actual definition of EQ, which mostly originated from a book of the same name in 1996, is partly about managing emotions and picking up on emotions. Yet, the part that is often left out--the important part, if you are thinking about business advantages--is how to manage your own emotions and how to influence others accordingly. By the classic definition of EQ, President Trump has a terribly low EQ since he doesn't seem to care about what other people are feeling and doesn't seem to read the correct signals. He's practically immune to EQ. By the classic definition from 1996, however, he is off the charts. He has an incredible ability to influence others using EQ in a way that takes the popular, more common definition and crumples it into a wad of nothing.

You can see how this often plays out. You will often hear stories about someone who didn't read people and acted in anger, or maybe it's someone who didn't read people correctly and paid for it when a business decision ended up looking cold and impersonal. It's too bad, because that's only half of the definition. It's less common to hear stories about people who used EQ to influence others in a way that led to a more well-regarded product or service--a practical use for something that is often defined as all about feelings. Leaving the influence out of EQ makes it stagnant. It's really just a touchy-feely exercise that makes you feel good and nothing more.

Here's the question to ask yourself. Let's say you have always thought you can read people well. How has it helped? What does it really mean? I agree that picking up on non-verbal cues does help you understand others, but in business, if we're not talking about influence then there isn't that much to talk about. All marketing is influence. All sales is influence. In some ways, all business is influence.

When you start thinking about EQ as some magical sixth sense and that's it, the entire concept falls flat because it's value is diminished. EQ was always supposed to be about tracking and managing your own emotions and then influencing others so that you are not always just reacting--you read emotions then influence.

I've experienced this many times, both from the standpoint of not managing my reactions properly and paying the price (making people mad, breaking a healthy relationship) and by managing my emotions and then using more of a practical, seasoned, and predictable approach (and seeing that people agree with an idea or join a cause).

That second part of the definition is where the action takes place. It's where EQ can help you the most, not just by listening more intently or smiling more. It's the part where you can build up a business and start promoting a product in a way that gets attention.

If you've been forgetting the classic definition from 1996, the part about managing your emotions and influencing, try thinking about how you can make changes in your own job or your company that tap into that deeper meaning of the concept. If you think of a change to make that leads to more influence, share your thoughts with me directly by email.