Applying Emotional Intelligence to Testing

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“IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted.” Anonymous

So, what is emotional intelligence (EI)(also referred to as emotional quotient (EQ))?

Emotional intelligence refers to the understanding of our own emotions, how to use this knowledge to deal effectively with people and problems to reduce anger and hostility, and create an atmosphere of collaboration to produce positive energy.

The concept of EI owes its immense popularity to New York Times science journalist, Harvard psychologist, and author Daniel Goleman who wrote the 1995 best-seller, ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’.

How is software testing an emotional activity?

Before we answer this, let us try to analyze the basic behaviour of testers.

According to an older definition of Testing- “To tell somebody that he or she is wrong is called criticism. To do so officially is called testing.”

Testers essentially are people who like to disrupt and break things so as to find out the true quality of a product. They have the inherent need to question things, are persistent in their questioning, and at the same time are also pessimists by nature. Their basic mind set is that unless they criticize, the quality of the product will not be improved.

The biggest joy of their life is when they break a product – or when they find a Bug.

Now, you may wonder what sort of a connection EI can have with the world of testing. The answer – a huge connection. To understand the link, let us try to understand EI a bit more.

People who have a high level of EI are self-aware (know what they feel and why), self-managed (know how best to manage negative emotions, create positivity), socially aware (know the nuances of how to interact with others), and good at relationship management. Such a person also knows how to deal with anger, control negative thoughts, process constructive criticism, and deal with conflict.

All of the above qualities may actually be listed as pre-requisites for someone who wishes to join the band-wagon of testing community at any level. It is but natural in our professional lives as testers to face and undergo a wide range of similar emotions. Elacts as a tool that guides us how to identify and respond to these (- especially the negative) emotions in the best possible manner that is not counter-productive.

Testing professionals, apart from the inferences from the plethora of tools available today, also trust their intuition a lot. The test results so achieved may lead to any of the regular emotions that we face, such as amusement, anger, frustration, etc.

Professionals in the Testing arena also have to regularly face very highly strung scenarios as they work in very uncertain environments wherein tests may pass or fail. A lot of times, it is upon the shoulders of testers to inform about build failures, and also to inform if the code is not written per the best standards. On the other hand, when an already overloaded testing team is told that it’s time or resource size is being halved – it leads to further frustration and creates an atmosphere of animosity.

Naturally, these activities at times lead to fracturing of egos and unnecessary debates and endless hours of unproductive meetings. These heated reactions, per EI terminology, are a result of letting the “amygdala hijack” take control.

Amygdala is a small, almond-shaped structure at the top of the brainstem that is associated with the human tendency of “fight or flight”. It usually is what makes us burst out emotionally much before we have really thought through. Controlling the amygdala hijack is a major aspect of EI.

A good EI level helps us control the immediate reactions and makes us more empathetic towards our colleagues, and helps us try to understand why they may be reacting in a particular fashion. This genuinely helps create an amicable and friendly atmosphere in any organization – more so where DevOps culture is the need of the hour.

A mature EI level will always help us provide criticism in a manner that is more conducive for mutual growth rather than just for pointing fingers. For example, a person having such EI levels will always try to give inputs when alone, or in a mail where no one else is Cc’d. Handled so, it will surely bring down the number of conflicts.

If you are a professional tester low on EI levels, don’t fret as there’s good news. EI levels can be substantially improved at any stage of life unlike IQ. Work on controlling the amygdala hijacks and see your ranks rise in the world of Testing.

Reference: Emotional Intelligence in Software Testing


  • Cigniti Technologies

    Cigniti is the world’s leading AI & IP-led Digital Assurance and Digital Engineering services company with offices in India, the USA, Canada, the UK, the UAE, Australia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, and Singapore. We help companies accelerate their digital transformation journey across various stages of digital adoption and help them achieve market leadership.

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