Why do people instinctively wince when they get a call from their boss, even if he is a nice guy who has never done them any harm? The explanation lies in how our brains are wired, says Jerome-Pierre Bonnifay, founder CEO of consulting firm SBIC Services, and it has nothing to do with whether your boss is a nice guy or not. “Your brain’s job is to protect you, and it is automatically wary of a person in authority who has the potential to hurt you,” he says.
Bonnifay is a popular speaker on the global seminar circuit and his workshops always feature a snake. After all, if you can learn to get comfortable with a reptile that has been a source of fear to the human species since time immemorial, what’s a boss? “The snake provides shock value, it scares people,” says Bonnifay. “But by the end of the seminar, they get over their fear and learn to manipulate the snake to do what they want.”
Bonnifay is an authority on Emotional Intelligence (EI), which he describes as the art and science of manipulating others to do what you want. “We know the best way to get people to do something is to make them want to do it. I teach people about the buttons they need to push to make this possible,” he says.
Ever since Daniel Goleman of Harvard University coined the term in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ some 40 years ago, EI (and Emotional Quotient or EQ, which is the measure of EI) has captured the public imagination. The capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people is now considered a vital leadership trait, as is the capacity to recognise your own fears and feelings. Bonnifay believes EI is something that can be learnt. “High IQ alone is of no use if you can’t communicate it. To influence your clients, bosses or subordinates, you have to appeal to emotions. In a competitive world, those with high EQ invariably outshine their colleagues.
Bonnifay spent six years of his childhood in Delhi in the 1960s, when the French government sent his father to work on India’s oil & gas programme. He later returned to France and graduated from the University of Poitiers and then moved on to do his MBA from the Frederick Taylor University in California. In 1993, he started his EI-focused consulting service firm in Kuala Lumpur, where he still lives. All this has given him a global outlook, which is important to the application on EI.
EI is important when dealing with people of different cultures, who don’t speak the same language, which is often the case in today’s globalised business scenario. Quite often, this means being able to make small talk before getting down to the business at hand. For example, in connecting with someone on the phone, those who successfully manage to engage in some conversational banter before getting to the point are usually those with high EI. “Small talk is part of building personal relationships and it always helps business,” says Bonnifay.
Some cultures, including India, nurture high EI in their people, so they connect with other cultures naturally. Others have only recently woken up to the importance of EI. China, for example, was considered inscrutable by the rest of the world till recently. “The Chinese were not too bothered about EI till around ten years ago. They didn’t think in terms of individuals, but talked about community,” says Bonnifay.
Meanwhile, recognising its importance, global companies are now incorporating EQ tests into their recruitment and trying to improve the EI in those already recruited. An insurance company recently did a five-year survey among their sales staff to correlate their performance with EQ and found a strong correlation exists.
It should be no surprise then that those in sales are the biggest believers in EI training. In the field, they are the ones who get all-too-frequent calls from their bosses and at Bonnifay’s seminars, they are the ones who quickly learn to make friends with the snake.