Nigerian Professionals and Emotional Intelligence in America Workplace – By Paul Omoruyi


How many times have you clicked your email “send” button and wished you could recall the nasty gram  email you just sent to your co-worker or supervisor? What about the countless times you wished you hadn’t used those off-color remarks while responding to a co-worker that condescendingly cuts you off during a status meeting with senior management?

Nigerian professionals in the United States have distinguished themselves across all professional careers – from Medicine to Engineering and the Arts to Information Technology (IT). There is hardly any medical center in the United States where you will not find at least one or two Nigerian doctor(s). I am constantly amazed how quickly people ask me “what do you do for a living; are you a doctor? Most people in the United States tend to think that majority of Nigerians are doctors. Candidly, there are a lot of Nigerians practicing medicine in the United States.

Just as in healthcare careers, Nigerians are widely represented in the IT and Engineering space. I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) 39th Annual Convention in Indianapolis. This Annual NSBE Convention is a global event that attracts thousands of Black Engineers all over the world. In that Convention, one thing that fascinated me most was that it almost seemed as though it was a gathering of “Young Nigeria Engineers”. You can hear Nigerian languages (especially the unique Nigeria Pidgin English) being spoken in every nook and cranny of the Convention Center.

As a matter-of-fact, one of the career fair recruiters from a prestigious US IT firm was forced to say to me that my last name “sounds Nigerian”. When I asked how he formed that opinion, he said “well most of the candidates I have interviewed today are Nigerians”.

So there is no doubt that Nigerian Professionals are known for their high achieving academic record and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) – at least going by the textbook definition of IQ.

However, more and more Nigeria diaspora Professionals in the United States are realizing that high IQ alone is not the elixir to be successful in the American corporate workplace.  A not-so-frequently spoken about skill called Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ) plays a pivotal role in workplace performance and professional success. Americans have a mantra for this – high IQ can get you a job but high EQ will keep you on the job!

One study finds that people with average EQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time and 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence while 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence.

I know the question now is what then is Emotional Intelligence? Well, EQ (according to Wikipedia) “is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal”.

In a nutshell, EQ is the ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of other people around you – what psychologist will can self-awareness/self-management and social awareness/relationship management.

According to, self awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen while self management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and positively direct your behavior. Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on. Relationship Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions and the others’ emotions to manage interactions successfully.

Over the years, I have seen so many smart Nigeria diaspora Professionals with high IQ but significantly fall short in their EQ. You can easily tell from their self-awareness and social-awareness propensities in the workplace.  Culturally, like an involuntary action, most Nigerians will gesticulate, raise their voice or hands and maybe roll their eyes to convey their message. Emotion with body language is a huge part of the communication style. But that is a recipe for disaster in climbing the America corporate ladder.

Colleagues and supervisors who are not familiar with the culture will most likely quickly box you into a biased category of “angry and emotionally volatile”.  Sadly, 99.99% of your co-workers will not be familiar with the culture. Once you are “labeled” as “emotionally dangerous”, then you’re in for a long ride on that job. No matter your experience and ability to do the job; you will be passed over for some key management position because such positions would require people with “high EQ”.

The good thing is that EQ, unlike personality, can be developed and honed over time. You can develop your self-awareness and social-awareness skills; thereby increasing your emotional intelligence. Being emotionally intelligent does not mean that you cannot express yourself or opinion; no, far from that. It simply means that when you do express yourself you do so with dignity and respect while also showing empathy and understanding of other people’s emotions.

Here are some ways to improve your emotional intelligence:

  1. Practice deciding how to behave at work – You can’t control what others say or do but you can control how you want to react or respond.
  2. Pay attention to the culture around you – Take time to understand the corporate culture and people you work with. Little things as knowing that you cannot send an email with all CAPS or microwave fish in the break-room go a long way!
  3. Deal with conflict in a calm and self-assure manner – You do not cut the nose to spite the face. Raising you voice or tightening your facial muscles to express yourself would you prove anything. Always stay calm and collected!
  4. Be open-minded – Put yourself in other people’s shoe from time-to-time. If you have ever managed a team on an enterprise scale project, you will understand why your manager “yells” at the team to deliver on time!

As a Nigerian professional in America, the journey of climbing the corporate ladder will have just a little less challenge if you develop your EQ; so make it a priority!

I hope this helps.

Twitter: paul_omoruyi

Use Facebook to Comment on this Post