Emotional Intelligence at the Heart of Tomorrow’s Engineers’ Challenges

By Grégoire Banse

Virginie Francoeur, Professor of Change Management at Polytechnique Montréal, wanting to encourage engineering students to meet challenges, offers those with exceptional communication skills the chance to have their writings published. She presents Grégoire Banse, undergraduate industrial engineering student. This article was first published in Reflet de Société magazine in their July 2023 issue (No. 31.5).  

Better known for their logical Cartesian minds and their capacity for innovation than for their interpersonal skills, engineers are sometimes described as introverted or even eccentric.

This description suggests potential gaps in communication and cohesion between an engineer and their work environment. These are gaps to be filled between those working on the margins between the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) and the soft sciences (social science and the humanities).

According to a 2021 survey carried out by Quebec’s Order of Engineers (OIQ), involving almost 2,850 members, it’s considered essential for future engineers to develop solid interpersonal skills. For one in two OIC members, emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationship skills are aptitudes that will gain in importance over time. These are at the heart of an engineer’s work, especially when leadership and coordinating multidisciplinary teams have to be carried out with a lighter touch. To this end, it’s crucial that an attentive eye be pointed towards emotions transmitted during social interactions.

Creating and maintaining a healthy work environment, and managing one’s emotions, will give new graduates an edge when they get on the job market. In the United States in 2011 a study revealed that 71% of 2,662 managers consulted put a greater emphasis on an employee’s emotional intelligence than on their intellectual intelligence. When a choice for a promotion boiled down to a candidate with greater intellectual intelligence and one with emotional intelligence, 61% said they’d go with the latter. Their reasons went something like this: “Employees with high emotional intelligence are more likely to remain calm under pressure;” and, “they know how to resolve conflicts efficiently.”

Conscious of the need to prepare future engineers for the working world, universities are offering courses on team management and emotional intelligence. In Quebec, the Polytechnique Montréal offers courses on managing change and teamwork to all its engineering programs (chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, computer, physical, etc.). Internationally, the University of South Florida offers its engineering students a course on emotional intelligence and leadership. So this non-exhaustive survey shows that these concepts are growing in their importance at engineering schools.      

According to psychology researchers Mayer and Salovey, emotional intelligence depends on the synergy of four processes: perception, use, understanding and management of emotions.

– Perception deals with the ability to pick up on our own emotions and those of others. It includes distinguishing between frank and false or misleading emotional expression in others.

Use of emotions is the capacity to consider the links between our emotions and our thinking. It means knowing how to use emotions to make better decisions and adapt better to the environment around you.

Understanding emotions is the capacity to pick up on different complex emotions arising from the same situation. A sharp understanding of an emotional state involves both the causes at the origin of these emotions as well as their reach.

Managing emotions is the ability to deal with emotions in order to ensure that the positive ones take precedence over the negative ones. This aptitude also has us pick out the most appropriate emotion for a given situation, as well as the most efficient strategies for regulating emotions.

Finally, the numerous scientific articles published on this subject attest to the need for engineers to consolidate their social skills, particularly emotional intelligence. They already have solid technical skills, but they will sometimes find themselves in situations where interpersonal knowledge is as useful as practical knowledge. Happily, Mayer and Salovey’s emotional intelligence model opens the door to understanding and developing management and leadership skills.      

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