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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

4 Reasons You're Not Getting Ahead at Work That Have Nothing to Do With Your Skills

You’ve heard all the advice about how working hard means good things will come your way. You’ve been doing that. Long days, nights, and even some weekends. You’re getting it done and going above and beyond, which is, what you heard you have to do to succeed in this hyper-competitive career world.

When you look around, though, you notice something awry. You’re not getting promoted or even praised. You’re not introduced to the managers upstairs or given an opportunity to present to the team. But that colleague of yours, the one who was hired two weeks after you, is getting acknowledged left and right, and the last you heard, he’s up for a promotion. Sure, he’s a fine employee and a hard worker too, but he’s not better or smarter than you.

So what’s going on ? What’s he got that you don’t? The answer might be simple: emotional intelligence. EI, as it’s often called now that it’s an official buzzword, is the ability to distinguish your own and others’ emotions so that you can manage yourself and your relationships with others effectively.

In fact, it’s been said that possessing emotional intelligence is so important that even if you did everything perfectly in your job, you couldn’t be considered a top performer without it.

The challenge is that we’re never really taught this soft skill in school. It’s not too late, though, especially if you want to have a thriving and successful career. Here are four key components to emotional intelligence. See which ones you may need to work on.

1. You’re Clueless About You

You’re in a one-on-one with your boss, and she’s asking about your career aspirations. You’re not sure. You don’t really know where you’re headed, or even (gulp) how your skill set can be an asset to the team. In short, you’re failing in the self-awareness department.

One of your most powerful career tools is exactly that. Knowing who you are, what you’re good at, what you need to work on, and how you will use your talents to create success is essential to your professional growth.

High levels of self-awareness are correlated to successful performance. In Travis Bradberry’s Leadership 2.0, the author notes that 83% of people who rated high in levels of self-awareness are also rated as top performers. What’s more: Your overall satisfaction with life increases the more self-aware you are.

Think about how empowering it would be to have a productive and insightful conversation with your manager about your key strengths and how you’re going to leverage them to help make the whole team successful.

An easy way to start building self-awareness is with three simple assessments. Get started by learning about your strengths with the help of Strengths Finder 2.0, your personality type through this online assessment, and your emotional intelligence quotient, explained in Bradberry’s popular Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In short order, you’ll soon be an expert on you.

2. Your Emotions Run Amok

You’re having a rough day on the job as it is when a stressful situation pops up. That 5 PM deadline is looming and you haven’t heard back from the guy in shipping as to whether or not you can commit to the client. You are literally seeing red when your phone call to him goes to voicemail.

Beyond frustrated, you explode. It isn’t pretty. Your co-workers run for cover. Your boss silently questions your judgment. Instead of managing emotions that crop up in the workplace—like your frustration with shipping—your emotions manage you. That’s going to be a problem come promotion time.

When you aren’t good at managing your emotions in times of stress, you’re a liability. If others can’t predict how you’ll respond to provocative situations, it’ll be hard to recommend you for an advancement. Your boss may not be willing to risk his hard-won reputation in the process.

The solution lies within you: Tame your inner emotional tyrant. One very simple way is to use the ol’ “count to 10” technique. When you’re tempted to explode, take a deep breath, and count before you say anything. In that short amount of time, you’ll reverse the grip your emotions have on you—or at least lessen it—and you’ll be able to respond in a calm, professional manner.

3. You Can’t Read the Room

In a project meeting you’re excited to talk about a new idea you have. But not everyone’s on board with you. Several people present just don’t get what you’re saying. Yet, those who try to interject are steamrolled by your presentation. It’s clear you’re not interested in their ideas. As you press onward, one colleague’s brow starts to furrow. Another slouches in her chair and grabs her phone. Others are staring out the window. You’re so deep into what you’re saying that you can’t even see you’ve lost the room, that no one is hearing you.

If you’ve ever been in a situation like this, you have some work to do. You aren’t very good at reading the room. Maybe you’ve been told at some point that you’re not a great listener. Or that you’re not open to ideas different from yours.

If so, your social awareness muscles need work. You must learn to pick up on and respond to the spoken or unspoken cues that give you feedback in the moment. Without this important skill, people are bound to see you as uncaring, emotionally distant, dismissive of their input, perhaps even unapproachable. And if this is the case, no one’s going to want to work with you.

To up your social-awareness quotient, start with two very simple actions. First, observe. Go to your next meeting with a new outlook. Instead of pushing your agenda and ideas, simply observe. Notice how others respond to what’s being said. Work at reading the body language you see in response.

Secondly, really listen. Rather than waiting for your turn to speak, focus on what others are saying. Thoughtfully consider their comments before you respond. Ask for clarification when you’re not sure.

Once you get better at observing, and listening, you’ll improve your interactions, and your reputation, with the team.

4. You Struggle with Managing Relationships

The only way you get work done is through your relationships with other people. If you think about any part of your job, you’ll quickly see how much you need others to totally kill it at work.

Research shows that 85% of your success will come from your ability to manage relationships, communicate effectively, negotiate conflict, and influence others. People will even buy things from you if they know, like and trust you even if a competitor they don’t like is offering a better product at a lower price. Relationships matter!

Building good relationship skills isn’t hard, but it does require awareness and intention on your part. And one very simple step is to be open with and curious about others. In other words, ask people questions that show you care about them and that you want to get to know them. Tell them why you do things they way you do. Allow them to get to know you and hear part of your story. Devote a few minutes each day to connecting with others, and you’ll wonder how you ever managed before.

If you’re performing at a high level and are seeing results, but you’re not seeing opportunities you think you deserve, take a look at your emotional intelligence capabilities—and your colleague who’s getting all the great attention and praise. Are yours lacking and his obviously apparent now that you know what to look for? Don’t let your weak EI hurt your chances of getting ahead and getting noticed.

Photo of two men talking courtesy of Milton Brown/Getty Images.