A Primer on Emotional Intelligence

“What did people do before there was emotional intelligence?” I was asked at a leadership workshop a short time ago. The term emotional intelligence has grown in popularity and become an important concept in leadership over the past twenty years. But before we began using the term, emotional intelligence was a skill of great leaders. We can see references to emotional intelligence from the ancient Greek philosophers and from King Solomon in Proverbs. One of the reasons why Abraham Lincoln is considered to be one of our greatest presidents is because he seems to have had strong emotional intelligence. Dale Carnegie’s classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is full of emotional intelligence.

While emotional intelligence (“EI”) has existed forever, it’s just in the last 20-30 years that it has been labeled, studied, and grown in awareness of its importance in all sorts of social interaction. The term “emotional intelligence” seems to have first been used by Michael Beldoch in a scientific paper in 1964. In 1983, Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was an introduction to a different way of thinking about intelligence, including the idea of intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. The doctoral thesis of Wayne Payne, A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence, was published in 1985. In 1989 Salovey and Mayer published a model of emotional intelligence, as did Stanley Greenspan. All of these papers were academic works in the area of psychology and sociology.

The work that really ignited interest in emotional intelligence was Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ, which reached the mass audience and achieved best-seller status. This book was prompted by the previous academic papers and by the growing ability of neuroscience to actually see and measure the emotional activity of the brain. It spread the idea that emotional intelligence can be important in developing positive relationships, and therefore can impact the quality of any type of social interaction.

Goleman’s book opened the floodgate for a stream of books by many authors and scientific studies and papers postulating and examining the impact of EI. While measuring and comparing EI in individuals is not an exact science (one of the criticisms), it is generally recognized that emotional intelligence contributes to more effective relationships and therefore, better results. Goleman claims that 67 percent of all abilities associated with strong job performance were related to emotional intelligence. Travis Bradberry, the author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, claims that 90% of top performers at work are also high in emotional intelligence while just 20% of bottom performers at work are high in emotional intelligence. He also claims that 58% of job performance is due to EI. A 2010 meta-analysis conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University and published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that emotional intelligence was very important to job performance. Some results from specific studies are as follows:

  • Restaurant managers with higher EQ create 34% greater annual profit growth, increased guest satisfaction, higher employee retention.
  • In a study with naval officers, emotional intelligence proved to be more powerful at predicting leadership efficacy than either IQ or managerial competence.
  • Of the leaders with high emotional self-awareness, 92% created positive workplace climates.
  • After supervisors in a manufacturing plant received training in emotional competencies, lost-time accidents were reduced by 50%, formal grievances were reduced from an average of 15 per year to 3 per year, and the plant exceeded productivity goals by $250,000.
  • Plant efficiency increases by 9.4% during major EQ initiative focused on managers and the creation of vital teams.

Emotional intelligence consists of skills and traits relating to understanding and managing emotions. The various models of EI fall into two camps: the ability model that defines emotional intelligence as a cognitive ability and the mixed model that defines it as a combination of cognitive and learned personal aspects.

The Mayer and Salovey model was the earliest model and defined emotional intelligence in the following four branches:

  1. The ability to perceive emotions in oneself and others accurately.
  2. The ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking.
  3. The ability to understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.
  4. The ability to manage emotions so as to attain specific goals.

The most popular of the later, mixed models are those described by Goleman in Primal Leadership or by Bradberry in Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Goleman labels these as domains, with traits and skills in each domain. Bradberry labels these as skills, with specific strategies in each skill.

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship management

In other publications Goleman has used five domains: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Both the Mayer and Salovey model and the Goleman model are hierarchical in that the lower levels are prerequisites for the higher levels.

While some models describe emotional intelligence as a cognitive ability, it is clear that emotional intelligence can be developed and grown through specific effort. The intentional change theory of Richard Boyatzis, referenced in Primal Leadership, is one method. A related tool for growing EI is a cohort leadership group where the group members can provide input into each others’ lives and growth. The general idea behind growing in emotional intelligence is retraining the brain, or developing new neural networks that provide the pathway to responding to emotional triggers in a different, more preferable manner. There are a variety of assessment tools that provide relative measures of emotional intelligence.

Mayer and Salovey defined emotional intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Other definitions of EI include “the ability to identify, assess, and control one’s own emotions, the emotions of others, and that of groups” or “the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.”

Since emotional intelligence impacts social interaction and relationships, the development of EI skills can contribute to more effective leadership, marriages, parenting, politics, community, or any other scenario requiring personal interactions. Those with low EI will struggle in awareness or control of their own emotions or will find it difficult to comprehend and deal with emotions in others. On the other hand, those with high EI can function at a higher level in terms of their own emotions and understanding and building effective relationships with those around them.

How effective is your emotional intelligence? How are you growing?

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