Imagine for a moment a brilliant future for the construction industry. Imagine an industry that is completely service-oriented and customer-focused, where there are zero defects and total customer satisfaction. Imagine an industry where there is trust, communication and teamwork. Imagine an industry where projects are brought in ahead of schedule and well within budget.

Why isn’t the industry like that now? How can the industry transform itself? There are many seemingly unsolvable problems but I believe that the root causes relate to something called emotional intelligence. It can be defined as social competence, people skills, or soft skills.

After studying the emotional intelligence profiles of over 200 construction professionals, a typical profile emerges. They have relatively high assertiveness, independence and self regard, but relatively low emotional self-awareness and interpersonal skills, which means they don’t work well in groups.

They also tend to have relatively high stress tolerance and reality testing, which means that they handle stress well, but tend to live in a world of chaos. They also tend to have low impulse control and flexibility. In addition, the happiness scores for this group tend to be relatively low.

With this typical profile, most construction managers tend to be perceived as aggressive, independent and capable. But they may also come across as people who don’t listen, ask for other’s input or opinion, or involve others in decision making. They tend to be blunt and undiplomatic, have a hard time delegating and tend to micromanage. They also spend little time on developing themselves or others.

Without the strong interpersonal skills to balance competencies like assertiveness, independence and self-regard, these strengths can become weaknesses.

Think of the best owner’s representative, architect, designer, laborer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, superintendent, or project manager. Don’t most of them possess good people skills? Isn’t this a vital part of what makes these people effective and what makes you want to work with them? Don’t we continually receive requests for our best people–the ones who have those great interpersonal skills? Isn’t it a shame that we can’t put them on all of our projects?

If we know that these people skills differentiate the stars, then why don’t we try to cultivate these skills in all of our employees? With emotional intelligence, we have found a way to measure and improve these soft skills.

If companies focus on the people side of the business and use this incredible tool, they will begin to hire the right people, nurture them, help them to develop themselves, give them direction for their careers, plan for succession, decrease turnover rates, increase retention, increase customer service, increase teamwork and increase productivity. They also will reduce accidents, stress, and burnout.

Firms that embrace this work will improve the industry image so that young people will flock to our ranks, and we will be proud to have our sons and daughters carry on the proud contracting tradition.

If we let things continue as they are, the industry may be in trouble. Our inaction may cripple construction. But our focus on people will lead us to lasting solutions.

When you get right down to it, business is all about people. And people are all about emotional intelligence. Let’s put the people dimension back into our business. Let’s make the phrase "people are our most important asset" more than just a slogan. People are your only long-term, competitive edge, and companies who take care of their people will thrive.

Brent Darnell is president of Brent Darnell and Associates Inc., Atlanta. His book, The People-Profit Connection, Using Emotional Intelligence to Enhance People Skills and Increase Your Bottom Line, now is available at www.brentdarnell.com. He can also be reached at 404-816-4701.