The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Your Compliance Officers

In order to dive into the importance of emotional intelligence, it is imperative to understand the concept first. Emotional intelligence really took off in the ‘90s when Daniel Goleman released his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Conversations quickly arose among business leaders around the idea that having a high IQ may not be the only predictor to success and quality leadership.

By definition, emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Perhaps the most widely discussed explanation is the theory of emotional intelligence developed by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. The theory presents four levels of emotional intelligence: perceived emotions, facilitating thought, understanding emotions and managing emotions.

The most basic psychological process is perceiving emotions accurately—for instance, comprehending nonverbal signals like body language. This leads to the ability to facilitate thought surrounding the emotions of others, as well as our own. Pay close attention to emotions and leverage them to help prioritize where to direct your attention. Following the ability to think critically about emotions is the ability to understand them. If someone reacts in anger, an emotionally intelligent individual would likely be able to identify the cause of that anger and constructively approach the situation. Lastly, the highest form of emotional intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer is managing emotions by responding appropriately to our emotions, and the emotions of others.

Why is emotional intelligence important to develop in your compliance officers?

Harnessing emotions is crucial when applying them to tasks that involve critical thinking and problem solving, a constant aspect of a compliance officer’s role. For instance, in times of crisis, if your team of compliance officers have uncovered a major risk to the organization, it is necessary to think clearly and calmly to address the situation efficiently. This inherently comes from having a high emotional intelligence. Catering to clientele—while simultaneously navigating the dynamics of a team environment—requires the ability to control your own emotions in times of stress or conflict and empathizing with the emotions of those working with you. Most importantly, emotional intelligence is a critical aspect of great leadership. Great leaders utilize emotional intelligence to inspire and communicate with their team and to work together effectively toward a common goal.

The following are steps to enhance emotional intelligence within your compliance team:

  • Educate your employees on the concept of emotional intelligence and the benefits of having a high emotional intelligence versus focusing solely on IQ. Education around emotional intelligence is a personal journey as well as a professional journey, and can impact employees’ personal and professional lives greatly. By simply calling attention to the importance of emotional intelligence, employees will likely begin to recognize situations that will benefit most from regulating and understanding emotions.
  • Measure employees’ and new hires’ emotional intelligence using performance assessment tools like Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence-Test, which is designed to test the four domains of emotional intelligence laid out by Mayer and Salovey. Evaluating an individual’s ability to perceive, use, understand and regulate emotions will bring light to how they handle stress, manage clients and navigate team dynamics.
  • Implement the use of emotional intelligence from senior management to junior compliance teams. Rather than singling out specific individuals in performance reviews, encourage all employees to be self-aware of how their emotions affect themselves and their teams. Encourage them to explore how their emotions can help or hinder them from achieving good relationships with clients, coworkers and developing quality leadership skills. Lastly, encourage employees to become better listeners as this encourages empathy, resulting in higher emotional intelligence and better communications between individuals.

While some may argue nature vs. nurture regarding emotional intelligence, research shows it is a skill that can be learned to a certain extent. It is the responsibility of senior management to educate their compliance officers on how emotional intelligence can benefit their team and their interactions with clients, and it is then the responsibility of the individual to take these learnings and apply them to their everyday role.

Merritt Cooke, independent consultant, San Francisco, CA, USA,

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