Enhancing Job Performance

It’s a pretty common desire in the workplace to want to get ahead, get a promotion, maybe make more money or build a sense of accomplishment.


There have been many theories over the years about the best way to achieve these things.


Now Dana Joseph and Daniel Newman, psychologists at the University of Illinois, argue that success in a career requires a mix of three elements: on-the-job know-how, emotional intelligence and certain personality traits that include conscientiousness, cognitive ability and emotional stability.


Being able to perceive, understand and regulate emotion, possessing job skills and having certain desirable personality characteristics help people excel at work. The authors note that this is especially true for jobs requiring “emotional labour”. This refers to having to express positive emotions as part of your job, making customers happy or delivering friendly, cheerful service. Usually people working with the public engage in emotional labour.


The researchers integrate emotional intelligence concepts with our understanding of the importance of IQ and certain personality traits to understand what makes a top performer. Psychologists Joseph and Newman highlight three key factors important to enhanced performance.


1. Emotional Perception and Conscientiousness.

Emotional perception refers to the ability to identify emotions in oneself and others, as well as in other sources. People who are more aware of verbal and nonverbal cues and their own emotional states have a broader base of emotional information and can give a more accurate appraisal of a person or situation. Having more emotional information than other people helps you fashion a more appropriate response to a situation. According to the authors, conscientious individuals are responsible and achievement driven. They are characterized as thorough, organized, methodical, cautious, careful and detail-oriented. These individuals can have above-average levels of interpersonal functioning and an increased capacity for self-conscious emotions like guilt and shame.


Feeling guilt and shame might not seem like a bonus to conscientious people, but socially appropriate behaviour relies on a proper dose of these emotions. They check inappropriate behaviour. Hence, conscientious people tend to read the emotional cues around them to determine when their behaviour is appropriate.


2. Emotional Understanding and Cognitive Ability.

Emotional understanding entails being aware of how emotions evolve over time, how they differ from each other and which emotion is appropriate in a given context. For example, knowing that a person who is left untrained will feel incompetent or lack confidence, ultimately taking its toll on their long term performance and job satisfaction, indicates emotional understanding. The emotions an employee feels when left to flounder will intensify. Knowing this and the consequences for the workplace points to the ability to understand emotions.


Emotional understanding includes the ability to assess how a situation affects you personally and what, if anything can be done about the situation. How you answer these questions when involved in an interaction at work reflects your emotional understanding. Being able to analyze emotional situations is about being emotionally intelligent and smart. People with higher cognitive abilities are able to acquire not only large amounts of job-related knowledge, but they also gather significant amounts of emotionally related knowledge as well. When making a study of what is important in the interactions in which they engage, highly intelligent people are more likely to be high performers.


3. Emotional Regulation and Emotional Stability.

The ability to regulate one’s emotions is a key dimension in emotional intelligence theory. Emotional regulation influences job performance greatly and refers to how people govern their emotions, when they have them, as well as how they are experienced and expressed. It’s related to high performance since being able to regulate our emotions allows us to create and maintain a positive outlook which increases cooperativeness and motivation. When you regulate your emotions, you are less likely to suppress them and more likely to use them to flag the need to take a second look at a situation. This increases the likelihood of solving interpersonal problems and the chances of viewing situations from a positive perspective.


People who are emotionally stable tend to be less insecure, less anxious and less depressed and more adept at regulating their feelings effectively than insecure people. Being able to handle difficult emotions, use them effectively in handling tough interpersonal situations and keeping one’s outlook positive ensures that one’s productivity will stay high and increase the chances of being a star performer.


Relying on intellect alone or solely on one’s emotional and interpersonal savvy to get ahead, is not enough according to Joseph and Newman. Add conscientiousness, cognitive ability and emotional stability to the mix and you have a winning combination.



Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at sunmail@newmangrigg.com


Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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