What Is Emotional Intelligence


We all know a story about someone who was exceptionally intelligent, but who could not make big career strides because he or she lacked good “people skills.” We probably also know of someone who is not particularly intellectually gifted but who progressively rose to top-level positions. How do you explain one person’s failure and another’s success? IQ? Past experiences? Expertise? Perseverance? Political skills? Research from the last two decades suggests that the most successful performers in organizations are alike in one critical way-they all have emotional intelligence (EI).
It is a commonly held belief that employees should leave their emotions outside the workplace. “Don’t be so emotional” and “Don’t take it personally” are phrases often used by bosses or colleagues with a co-worker who is visibly upset over a situation at work. However, in the last 20 years there has been much research to suggest that emotions are a natural part of the brain’s decision-making process and should not be disregarded.
In the early 1990s, psychologists Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer were the first to propose that individuals differ in their abilities to perceive, understand, and use their emotions. They labeled this ability EI.
The concept of applying EI in the workplace was later popularized by the work of Daniel Goleman in his books Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998). Goleman was interested in understanding the EI competencies that support superior work performance.
There continues to be some disagreement between academic researchers (such as John Mayer and Peter Salovey) and practitioners (such as Daniel Goleman and Reuven Bar-On) about what competencies should be included in a definition of emotional intelligence. This article does not focus on any one person’s definition of emotional intelligence; rather it uses an amalgam of thoughts and ideas.
While there are varying emotional intelligence definitions and models that have been developed over the years, we are defining it as: Our capacity to recognize our own feelings and those of others and to manage emotions in ourselves and others.
Emotional intelligence competencies include
social awareness
social skills.
This article is designed for anyone looking to understand the basics of emotional intelligence with an eye toward improving their abilities. It is also useful for a trainer or coach who wants to develop the EI of others. You will learn how emotional intelligence is related to work performance our brains govern emotional intelligence
to assess your own and others’ emotional intelligence to develop emotional intelligence competencies to assess and develop a team’s emotional intelligence.
The Value of Emotional Intelligence
Many people believe EI simply means “being nice” or employing “touchy-feely” management. This is a narrow view. Emotional intelligence is really about understanding yourself and relating to others.Anyone who wants to ascend the ranks in their organisation will have to deal with more and more people. When moving into a leadership position, managing relationships with others is easily as important as planning a budget. Emotional intelligence contributes to other managerial talents such as managing conflict and negotiating.Even if you do not want to take on a managerial position, research from the last two decades suggests possessing and applying emotional intelligence competencies has a positive impact on job performance. Who doesn’t want to work better with their colleagues?
Important EI Findings
Daniel Goleman and countless other researchers have analyzed data from hundreds of organizations across a range of job positions. Here are some of the important findings:
Emotional competencies are much more important in contributing to work excellence than pure intellect and expertise.
EI competencies provide a competitive edge for those who want to climb the organizational ladder because they contribute 80 to 90 percent of the competencies that distinguish outstanding leaders from average ones.
The most successful global companies are run by leaders who display attitudes that include self- confidence, self-control, achievement-orientation, empathy, and teamwork-all components of emotional intelligence.
Higher degrees of emotional intelligence con- tribute to the “bottom-line,” whether you are a partner in a multinational consulting firm or a cosmetics sales agent.
Executives who “derail” are often seen as lacking emotional strength. They were unwilling to hear and see the reality of a situation and then move to constructively deal with it.
When it comes to EI, both genders appear to have it in relatively equal measurements, although women seem to have significantly stronger interpersonal skills and men appear to have a stronger sense of self.
The bad news is that our own current state of ei has been hard-wired as a result of our brain’s development and socialization. The good news is that emotional competencies can be developed.
Why We Get Emotional
Our EI is a function of the interconnections between the neural systems that are responsible for the intellect and those that are responsible for the emotions. Our emotional brain circuitry runs from the prefrontal area to the amygdala, located on either side of the mid- brain. This limbic area of the brain, in moments of high emotion such as anxiety, frustration, or fear is actually stronger than the rest of the brain and can, in fact, “hijack” our ability to reason and problem-solve. While the amygdala is watching out for signs of danger, the prefrontal lobes have the ability to keep the amygdala’s urges restrained so that our response in potentially threatening situations is more measured and skillful. The challenge is to “catch” the amygdala before it overrides the pre- frontal lobes
Assess EI
If possessing highly developed emotional intelligence has been shown to determine outstanding job performance in many occupations, including management and professional jobs, wouldn’t individuals and organisations want to ensure the development and continuous improvement of EI competencies? Of course! But this obvious answer is counterbalanced with the following skepticism as to
whether EI competencies can be measured objectively (as compared with a standardized IQ test)
whether one can be trained or coached to become more empathetic, more self-confident, more self-aware, and so on.
Rest assured that over the years there has been much progress in the measurement of emotional intelligence. Academics and practitioners may differ on what truly constitutes the components of emotional intelligence, but there is consensus that it can be measured. Emotional intelligence assessments directly mea- sure your emotional understanding of yourself (in- sight) and your ability to manage emotional issues effectively. They also measure your facility with interpersonal relationships, such as “reading” people and working with them to achieve a desirable outcome. Knowing where your EI strengths and weak- nesses lie shows you where you need improvement and builds your self-awareness.
EI Assessment Methods
If you are planning on having a coach or professional assess you’re your team’s EI competencies, you should be aware of the possible methods that they could utilize. You may also use the list below if you are planning on becoming someone else’s EI coach.
Observation: Noting an individual’s behavior and its impact on others in a work or social setting.
Behavioral event interviews: A specially designed interview that asks an individual to describe in their own words what they said, thought, felt, and did in specific situations.
Simulation feedback: Individuals participating in case-like situations are given feedback on their roles and behavior.
Surveys: Paper or online questionnaires that evaluate a person’s competency and describe the action he or she would take in specific situations. Many of the more sophisticated assessments require accreditation for their use by internal or external trainers and coaches.
A more formal assessment feedback tool, the Hay/ McBer Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI), is accompanied by a booklet entitled The Development Advisor that provides development materials (books, articles, and films) and suggests on-the-job development activities that may be used to improve each of the EI competencies that are measured.
Another useful tool is the Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. This book offers a link to an online assessment that is quick, informal, and cost-effective. This can be a good starting point before turning to one of the more sophisticated assessment instruments.
Use Multi-Rater Assessments
Assessments, based on a specific EI competency model, provide precise and focused feedback on your emotional intelligence strengths and limitations. Most of the assessments provide for both a self-assessment and multi-rater assessments (360-degree from bosses, direct reports, peers, and others).
It’s always a good idea to use a multi-rater assessment when measuring EI competencies for the fol- lowing reasons:
You may not be very aware of your strengths and limitations or have difficulty objectively and accurately evaluating your EI competencies.
Even if you are skilled at realistically assessing yourself, others may have a different view of your behavior.
The 360-degree view offers a composite profile of your EI competencies, assuming that evaluations are done by people who interact with you on a regular basis. Whatever methodology you select, it is vital that you be clear on what you are intending to measure.
Robert Kabacoff of the Management Research Group, an assessment company, comments on the measurement of emotional intelligence and leadership practices:
“measures can help us to gauge an individual’s ability to understand and manage their internal emotional life and to understand the emotions of others and thus produce desirable interpersonal outcomes. However, emotional intelligence does not directly assess the leadership practices that are important for organisational effectiveness, such as strategic visioning, effective delegation, and managerial follow-through.”
About the Author
For more information on emotional intelligence training, coaching and assessment tools, Call Juls on: 011 455 7204. Julius@eltraining.co.za. http://www.eltraining.co.za
Bradberry, Travis, and Jean Greaves. The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Cherniss, Cary, and Daniel Goleman, eds.

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