Let’s Not Underestimate Emotional Intelligence

November 5, 2014

Daniel Goleman is a renowned psychologist and a New York Times bestselling author. The AMA sat down with him to discuss his thoughts on the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

AMA: Hi Daniel, thank you for agreeing to talk with us today. Recently, an acerbic take-down of emotional intelligence on LinkedIn was posted by Adam Grant. What are your thoughts about his claims that emotional intelligence is overrated?

DG: While many commentators agreed or sympathized with his post, I don’t take Grant’s arguments very seriously. Anyone whose daily job requires great performance from a team of workers will tell you emotional intelligence matters. Still, some academics think it does not matter at all.

AMA: Why do you think academics focus on other factors as keys to success and ignore emotional intelligence?

DG: There are two realities going on here: The Ivory Tower world of academia and the rubber-hits-the-road world of the workplace. Academia and the business world play by different sets of rules of proof: What gets published in peer-reviewed journals versus what actually works, respectively. Those rules facilitate the significant difference in these contrasting views of emotional intelligence. Academics are fastidious about their research methods and analyze their data to see, for example, which variables correlate at what strength.

AMA: How do you think that differs from the type of factors a manager must consider every day?

DG: A manager has a more urgent question: What should I do Monday morning? How do I spot the top performers? What skills and competencies should we help people develop? These are the questions that matter to managers, because they work in a more results-based environment.

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AMA: Is there a relationship between emotional intelligence and IQ? How would you differentiate the two?

DG: A century of IQ research shows intelligence predicts what job you can get. But once you’re in that position, you have to differentiate yourself from those who passed that same IQ requirement to sustain success. Other abilities actually determine outstanding performance – especially emotional intelligence. If a computer can model everything you do in your job, emotional intelligence probably will not make or break your daily effectiveness. But even if you are a solo bench engineer coming up with a better widget, no one will pay attention to you unless you can communicate, persuade, and excite people about that widget – and that takes emotional intelligence.

AMA: One of the criticisms of emotional intelligence is that it is not as easy to measure. How do you suggest managers assess emotional intelligence?

DG: There are many assessments of emotional intelligence. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and some are best for a particular purpose like hiring, promotion, or development. The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence has evaluated the best ones. The emotional intelligence assessment Grant chose to report on in his blog is based on the model most preferred in academia. It comes from the world of intelligence testing and was designed to show that there are human abilities in the emotional realm that differ from IQ. Though this might seem just like common sense, it has important theoretical meaning in the realm of psychological testing.

AMA: Are there other types of assessments you can recommend?

DG: Yes, in fact a different kind of assessment of emotional intelligence derives from personality tests. And a third starts with what matters in business: The competencies that make one person a star and another mediocre. While it is not possible to measure the effectiveness of EQ through the first model, this study shows that it is possible through the second and third methods.

AMA: Do you have any final thoughts or parting words of wisdom for those looking to determine whether emotional intelligence is important for their organization?

DG: I think if you work entirely alone and do not need to cooperate, influence, or empathize with anyone, a high IQ suffices for success. More likely, however, you will find that in today’s world working in isolation is impossible, making emotional intelligence a vital skill for business success.

For more resources and emotional intelligence training, check out AMA’s seminars Leading with Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence Workshop, and Developing Your Emotional Intelligence.

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About The Author

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures frequently to professional groups, business audiences, and on college campuses. As a science journalist, Goleman reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, a Times bestseller for a year and a half—with more than 5,000,000 copies in print worldwide in 40 languages—has also been a bestseller in many countries. He has written books on other topics as well, including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, ecoliteracy and the ecological crisis.

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    […] Does emotional intelligence matter in the workplace? The AMA sat down with Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence expert, to hear his endorsement for EI.  […]

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