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Emotional Intelligence

Updated January 13, 2023 by Carl Lindberg

Everyone should care about Emotional Intelligence - postmen, firefighters, doctors, and, last but not least, leaders. Emotional Intelligence is a complex blend of abilities and traits that determine how you make sense of your relationships with people, but also how you get along with yourself.

Recognizing others’ emotions, understanding one’s own emotions, and empathy, are all different manifestations of Emotional Intelligence. An emotionally intelligent person, for instance, generally makes correct predictions about how people they know would react to certain situations and events. These predictions can be formed around different goals - avoiding a certain topic upon seeing a negative nonverbal reaction of the other person, influencing others’ behaviors, or empathy. As an experience CEO, I truly know the importance of EI in all kinds of situations and in life in general.

Emotional intelligence can be manifested in both private and professional spheres of life. In the office-type context, Emotional Intelligence verges more towards understanding the social dynamics, solving conflicts, and assertive behavior. And Emotional Intelligence very much determines such important outcomes as position, social network, and even income.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important in the workplace?

Literally, emotional intelligence is important in every work context that includes person-to-person communication. Good physicians, for instance, generally have solid Emotional Intelligence, because it’s an important factor in their work, even if they strictly speaking only work with physical ailments. A doctor’s work, however, also includes the interpersonal (and intrapersonal) finesse, knowing how to approach each patient, and, last but not least, influencing them to follow up with treatment plans. Leaders also need to know how to influence people, which is an essential part of their work activities and absolute must to fully grasp relationship-oriented leadership aspects. Leaders also need to know how and when to provide commanding leadership, and when to fall back to democratic leadership, two very different approaches to assertiveness.

We’ve all seen it - you probably know at least one very intelligent person who underachieves simply because he or she doesn't really understand the social dynamics. On the other hand, chances are that you know a few individuals who are moderately (or even modestly) intelligent but who nevertheless achieve a lot simply because other people like them. (Charismatic Leaders are often very emotionally intelligent.)

That’s what Daniel Goleman emphasizes in each and every book he wrote - Emotional Intelligence is often as important (sometimes even more important) than “regular” intelligence. This is also one of the reasons why Emotional Intelligence is repeatedly mentioned in the trait theory of leadership.

As a CEO with two decades of leadership experience, I can personally testify that Emotional intelligence has huge importance in leadership. Leaders use EI to motivate, communicate, inspire, understand, find information, and to gather and understand feedback among many other things. How would you use visionary leadership without knowing how to define a vision that really speaks to people? What good would coaching leadership be if the leader cannot establish rapport, motivate, and understand the person being coached? This is why EI is at the core of Daniel Goleman's Resonant Leadership and the Six Leadership Styles.

What are the components of Emotional Intelligence?

While keeping in mind that there are different theories on Emotional Intelligence, we’ll give a list of Emotional Intelligence components that are quite frequently encountered in academic literature:

  1. Self-awareness: Understanding your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values, and drivers. Accurate self-awareness means setting clear goals that are in sync with core values. Self-reflection is an important part, and a self-aware leader will consider what they need to improve, realize when they are making mistakes, and have a limited need for prestige. Self-awareness also means that you understand how your behavior is perceived and what emotions you signal.
  2. Self-management: Having emotional self-control while also being honest and open with your own emotions. It is not about never being worried or angry. It is about knowing when to be worried or angry. A leader with good self-control does not have sudden aggressive outbursts. If he or she gets angry, it will be in a controlled fashion, for good reasons, and at the right place at the right time. Self-management is also about adapting emotionally to change and having the capability of pushing yourself to your targets, i.e., an internal drive for success.
  3.  Social awareness: Understanding how others feel, how they perceive things, and how things impact them. Social awareness also means understanding social settings such as networks and hierarchies, formal and informal, in the world surrounding you. This includes understanding what different stakeholders expect from you. Ranging from your boss to your customers, team members, etc. you need to gauge their needs and expectations.
  4. Relationship management: Influencing and developing others, bonding, handling conflicts, and many other interactions between people and teams. You need to be able to figure out how to get others to move in the desired direction. How to inspire people and how to get them to cooperate towards the same goal, for instance.

In his best-selling book, “Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman adds another component - motivating oneself - motivation can be seen as an element of self-management, so I decided to keep the simpler categorization of Emotional Intelligence components.

As you can probably tell, these four competencies connect and depend on each other. If you lack self-awareness, how will you be able to be genuinely empathetic? After all, you will not understand how your behavior impacts others. Furthermore, relationship management will be challenging if you lack self-management, etc.

A person with solid Emotional Intelligence has good interpersonal and intrapersonal communication, being able to establish a connection between self-awareness and social awareness - understanding others through understanding oneself, and vice versa. But there is so much more to Emotional Intelligence - specific abilities or skills like recognition of emotions, emotions-based decision making, and influencing other individuals. (Critical skills when applying affiliative leadership.)

It is clear that Emotional Intelligence is determined by both genetic and environmental factors. More specifically, emotional intelligence has a 45% heredity, which is quite high. What this means is that people are born with weaker or stronger tendencies towards developing solid Emotional Intelligence. However, the non-hereditary factors (culture, social class, upbringing, social experiences to a certain extent), intervene and sometimes allow for good development of Emotional Intelligence even in people who do not have a strong genetic predisposition, while on the other hand limiting Emotional Intelligence even in people with strong genetic predispositions. This sort of logic goes for numerous other psychological concepts like intelligence or personality traits. Heredity percentages for different forms of intelligence sometimes go over 80%, while personality traits have heredity estimates similar to that of Emotional Intelligence, which is why it is more likely that Emotional Intelligence operates more like a personality trait than pure ability.

We’ll dive deep into each component in separate articles, as each of these is quite special and has its own “competencies” as Goleman puts it. For now, we’ll focus on Emotional Intelligence in general, giving an overview of different theories that will hopefully help you understand the true nature and importance of this psychological construct.

The History of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence and similar concepts have been discussed throughout the second half of the 20th century - most notably by Howard Gardner, who challenged the traditional views of intelligence with his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Simply put, Gardner didn’t believe in general intelligence, or general ability - the idea that intelligence should be a unitary construct that determines success in all areas (mathematics, languages, etc.). He emphasized that there are many “Intelligences” such as verbal-linguistic, spatial-visual, existential, and, what’s the most important for this article - interpersonal intelligence. Note that there’s also the intrapersonal intelligence and communication, which have been subsumed in more recent Emotional Intelligence models.

Emotional Intelligence as an Ability

Next came the works of authors like Salovey and Mayer who developed a model of Emotional Intelligence and ways to measure it. Salovey and Mayer believed that Emotional Intelligence is, first and foremost, an ability, similar to classic intelligence - the ability to monitor one’s and others’ feelings, to discriminate between them, and to use emotional information for actions. The vocabulary itself points to Emotional Intelligence as an ability, not as a personality trait. In this context, Emotional Intelligence functions more like a problem-solving machine, than an empathizing human being. This problem-solving machine consists of many lower-order abilities or judgment-making processes. Each social situation can be regarded as a problem that needs to be solved. Tests based on Emotional Intelligence ability theories usually include different tasks that should nominally have objectively correct and wrong answers. To me personally, it seems like the analysis of intelligence goes towards finding core processes that can be generalized onto many different situations, which is why regarding Emotional Intelligence purely as an ability might not be useful.

Components of Emotional Intelligence, as defined by Salovey and Mayer, are:

  1. Appraisal and expression of emotions (involving self and others, and both verbal and non-verbal modalities)
  2. Regulation of emotions (in self and others)
  3. Utilization of emotions (planning; creative thinking; redirected attention; motivation)

In essence, this categorization doesn’t differ that much from the one proposed by Goleman - although Goleman seems to separate the interpersonal and intrapersonal Emotional Intelligence, while self- and other-directed abilities occur together in the model developed by Salovey and Mayer. Along with another researcher, Caruso, the pair has by 2003 developed a scale (MSCEIT) for measuring Emotional Intelligence - which is not unlike tests of classic intelligence, containing numerous tasks that you have to solve. The test is available for purchase - considering that a lot of resources have been invested in its development - it will be the smartest to use it in contexts where Emotional Intelligence matters the most such as workplace topics, choosing new leaders, recruitment, etc. However, you may want to think twice before buying it (or practically any other Emotional Intelligence test) - for instance, a study has found that MSCEIT scores of business leaders weren’t related in any way to the way employees rated these leaders.

EI as A Mix of Personality Traits and Abilities

Daniel Goleman’s model and Goleman's six leadership styles see Emotional Intelligence sees both as a general ability but also a personality trait. Several tests have been developed for capturing Emotional Intelligence as described by Goleman - The Emotional Competence Inventory and The Emotional Intelligence Appraisal, which are not unlike your typical personality tests, where you decide whether a statement describes you or not on a scale from 1 to 5.

It has to be noted that it’s not clear how these scales contribute to the description of a person’s abilities and traits. For instance, a study has shown that scores from the Emotional Competence Inventory have weak relationships with real Emotional Intelligence behaviors and peer ratings. To complicate things further, Emotional Competence Inventory scores do not contribute to the prediction of Emotional Intelligence-related behavior better than traditional Big Five personality traits (Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness). What this means is that if you want to use the Emotional Competence Inventory in the workplace, you may as well simply use a Big Five test, since it has a much stronger theoretical and research background, and it does an equally good job in predicting Emotional Intelligence-related behavior as Emotional Competence Inventory.

Emotional Intelligence as a Trait

Perhaps the most interesting direction in making useful tests of Emotional Intelligence are trait models, heralded by Petrides. This researcher, along with his colleagues, developed a model of Emotional Intelligence consisting of some of the following facets: adaptability, trait optimism, stress management, and trait happiness. I chose to mention these facets on purpose because they nicely show how Petrides contributed to the field by introducing new aspects which have been largely ignored by other researchers. At the same time, these new facets, relating mainly to well-being, are the reason why Petrides’ Trait emotional intelligence questionnaire explains certain behaviors better than Big Five.

Emotional Intelligence as a trait, simply put, means that emotional intelligence is similar to typical personality traits such as extraversion or neuroticism, in the way it functions. If we want to be very specific, Emotional Intelligence is quite similar to agreeableness, which is one of the Big Five traits that captures one’s friendliness, warmth, and empathy. Honesty/Humility, a trait from another popular model of personality, HEXACO, also resembles Emotional Intelligence, although to a lesser extent, as Honesty/Humility is about modesty, fairness, and sincerity.

So if you’re planning to buy an Emotional Intelligence questionnaire for your company, Petrides’ test might be the best choice. Note that other tests I’ve mentioned aren’t necessarily bad or counterproductive - they are actually quite good in describing certain aspects of Emotional Intelligence. These certain aspects, however, are already covered by traditional tests of intelligence and personality, while Petrides’ questionnaire seems to bring something new to the table.

Conclusion

There you have it, hopefully, I’ve been able to give an intriguing introduction to Emotional Intelligence and all its conceptualization in the academic literature. Perhaps things have gotten too technical at certain points, but I had to do that in order to explain why some Emotional Intelligence questionnaires are perhaps better than others. To all leaders and managers who are ready to delve deeper into the theory and research behind Emotional Intelligence, this discussion will be invaluable for making future choices regarding the measuring of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace.

References

Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bloomsbury: London. eISBN: 978-0-747-52830-2

Primal Leadership, by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

van der Linden, D., Schermer, J.A., de Zeeuw, E. et al. Overlap Between the General Factor of Personality and Trait Emotional Intelligence: A Genetic Correlation Study. Behav Genet 48, 147–154 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10519-017-9885-8

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185–211. doi:10.2190/dugg-p24e-52wk-6cdg

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R., & Sitarenios, G. (2003). Measuring emotional intelligence with the MSCEIT V2.0. Emotion, 3(1), 97–105. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.3.1.97

Byrne, J. C., Dominick, P. G., Smither, J. W., & Reilly, R. R. (2007). Examination of the Discriminant, Convergent, and Criterion-Related Validity of Self-Ratings on the Emotional Competence Inventory. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 15(3), 341–353. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2389.2007.00393.x

Petrides, K. V., Pita, R., & Kokkinaki, F. (2007). The location of trait emotional intelligence in personality factor space. British Journal of Psychology, 98(2), 273–289. doi:10.1348/000712606x120618

Federica Andrei, A. B. Siegling, Ariel M. Aloe, Bruno Baldaro & K. V. Petrides (2016) The Incremental Validity of the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue): A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Journal of Personality Assessment, 98:3, 261-276, DOI: 10.1080/00223891.2015.1084630

R. B. Cattell, J. M. Schuberger, F. M. Ahern & V. Kameoka (1981) The heritability of fluid and crystallized intelligences: By the mava design and oses analysis, Australian Journal of Psychology, 33:3, 355-374, DOI: 10.1080/00049538108254704

Cattell, R. B. (1980). The heritability of fluid, gf, and crystallised, gc, intelligence, estimated by a least squares use of the MAVA method. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 50(3), 253-265.

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