Most of us would prefer to get through the workday without a scuffle. After all, very few of us are actively looking for a fight.
That said, getting along with our colleagues is no walk in the park, and this tension can influence our performance. Sometimes, an employee in our department is simply the wrong person for the job -- their own grandiosity, critical nature, lack of interest, or incompetence leads to a toxic environment that drags everyone down.
Consider this example: At one company, several engineering teams were understaffed, owing to a yearlong hiring freeze. The engineers felt overworked, and the CEO was concerned about missing long-term deadlines. The company formed a cross-team committee to decide how to fairly allocate new hires to the teams. However, the head of the committee was an independent-thinking engineer who had a reputation for being argumentative and critical of others. The committee easily agreed on where the first new hires should be allocated, but there were issues after that. The lead engineer wanted to assign the next hire to a protégé of his who ran a less-important team; other members objected that would misalign the organization. Rather than backing down, the engineer went to several committee members individually and argued with them in a way that they perceived as hostile and controlling. The committee members spent time discussing his behavior, and a few of them lost sleep over the issue. The whole process was far more time-consuming and messy than it needed to be.
Or consider the research scientist in a pharmaceutical company who had hired a new chemist. She came with an amazing set of recommendations from her former colleagues, and indeed appeared remarkably talented. After a month or so, however, the new hire was performing at a barely adequate level. When the supervisor pointed out the discrepancy between his expectations and her performance, she explained she had fallen behind but would catch up. Unfortunately, the issue persisted. Finally, the supervisor called in a colleague from human resources to speak with her. Over a series of conversations with HR, she began to acknowledge that she no longer found her profession interesting and she needed a change. Six months after she was counseled out of the organization, she joined the marketing division of another firm, where she blossomed. This story had a happy ending, but the supervisor wished the chemist had understood and acknowledged her own desires sooner so she might have saved herself -- and his workplace -- some considerable disappointments.
Employees like the supervising engineer and the newly minted marketing specialist face complex issues that involve understanding their own personalities and those of others. We draw on an ability to reason in this area I call "personal intelligence." When our understanding in this area fails, we can make poor choices that compromise our working relationships and, perhaps, our reputations.
In 2008, I introduced the concept of "personal intelligence" in part to organize an emerging understanding I saw taking place within psychology of how people understand their own and others' personalities. This understanding included new studies on self-knowledge, person-perception, how children seem to be able to "read the minds" of their friends, and how we use our knowledge of traits to anticipate the behavior of other people. Personal intelligence is the capacity to reason about this personality system.