VOLUME 29 , NUMBER 7 -July 1998

Does ‘emotional intelligence’ matter in the workplace?

Well-known author seeks to answer that question as the keynote speaker for APA’s Annual Convention.

By Bridget Murray
Monitor staff

People who rise to the top of their field—whether it’s psychology, law, medicine, engineering or banking—aren’t just good at their jobs. They’re affable, resilient and optimistic, suggests a growing store of studies on professional leaders.

In other words, it takes more than traditional cognitive intelligence to be successful at work. It also takes 'emotional intelligence,' the ability to restrain negative feelings such as anger and self-doubt, and instead focus on positive ones such as confidence and congeniality, claims an emerging school of behavioral thought. The theory first captured the public imagination three years ago with the release of 'Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ,' (Bantam, 1995) by psychologist Daniel Goleman, PhD. In the book, Goleman stirred controversy with his claim that people endowed with emotional skill excel in life, perhaps more so than those with a high IQ. Goleman drew his propositions from behavioral, brain and personality research by such psychologists as Peter Salovey, PhD, and John Mayer, PhD, who first proposed the model of emotional intelligence.

In a new book to be released this fall, 'Working With Emotional Intelligence' (Bantam), Goleman focuses on the need for emotional intelligence at work, an area often considered more head than heart. Not only do bosses and corporate leaders need high doses of emotional intelligence, but every people-oriented job demands it too, Goleman argues. Also, whereas IQ is relatively fixed, emotional intelligence can be built and learned, he claims. Companies can test and teach emotional intelligence, and many employers are already beginning to do so, he says.

However, while some psychologists view Goleman’s proposition as an encouraging prescription for building career skills, others say its validity is as yet unproven. Some of the theory’s critics question the way emotional intelligence is defined and claim it cannot be taught. Others maintain that cognitive and technical skills ultimately qualify people for the best jobs and help them excel at those jobs.

Goleman is the keynote speaker for the APA Annual Convention Opening Session, Friday, Aug. 14, at 5 p.m. in the Marriott Hotel, Yerba Buena Salon 9.

The definition question

At issue for many of the theory’s critics is the way Goleman defines emotional intelligence. John Mayer, PhD, a University of New Hampshire psychologist, who was one of the first to coin the term defines it more narrowly than Goleman. For Mayer, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand how others’ emotions work and to control one’s own emotions. By comparison, Goleman defines emotional intelligence more broadly, also including such competencies as optimism, conscientiousness, motivation, empathy and social competence.

According to Mayer, these broader traits that Goleman relates to emotional intelligence are considered personality traits by other theorists. For example, psychologist Edward Gordon, PhD, says that emotional intelligence deals largely with personality and mood, aspects of the individual that cannot be changed. Gordon, president of a Chicago-based employee-training company, claims that improving employees’ literacy and analytical skills, not their emotional skills, is the best way to boost job performance. 'Work success is mostly cognitively driven,' says Gordon. 'Emotion by itself won’t get you very far.'

Responding to such charges, Goleman says cognitive skill 'gets you in the door' of a company, but emotional skill helps you thrive once you’re hired. To illustrate Goleman’s point, psychologist Steven Stein, PhD, a marketer of tests that assess employees’ emotional intelligence quotient (EQ), cites the example of a Harvard business graduate who received numerous job offers from companies clamoring to hire her. However, due to a lack of emotional intelligence, the woman continually sparred with her employers and couldn’t keep any of the jobs.

Studies of close to 500 organizations worldwide, reviewed by Goleman in his book, indicate that people who score highest on EQ measures rise to the top of corporations. 'Star' employees possess more interpersonal skills and confidence, for example, than 'regular' employees who receive less glowing performance reviews.

'Emotional intelligence matters twice as much as technical and analytic skill combined for star performances,' he says. 'And the higher people move up in the company, the more crucial emotional intelligence becomes.'

EQ at work

Bosses and leaders, in particular, need high EQ because they represent the organization to the public, they interact with the highest number of people within and outside the organization and they set the tone for employee morale, says Goleman. Leaders with empathy are able to understand their employees’ needs and provide them with constructive feedback, he says.

Different jobs also call for different types of emotional intelligence, Goleman says. For example, success in sales requires the empathic ability to gauge a customer’s mood and the interpersonal skill to decide when to pitch a product and when to keep quiet. By comparison, success in painting or professional tennis requires a more individual form of self-discipline and motivation.

And there are gender differences in emotional intelligence as well, says Stein. After administering EQ assessments to 4,500 men and 3,200 women, his organization found that women score higher than men on measures of empathy and social responsibility, but men outperform women on stress tolerance and self-confidence measures. In other words, says Stein, women and men are equally as intelligent emotionally, but they’re strong in different areas.

Teaching emotional strength

Patterns of emotional intelligence are not fixed, however. So men and women can boost their all-round EQ by building their emotional abilities where they lack them, claims Stein.

Working with psychologists and executive coaches, for example, women can hone their assertiveness skills and learn such stress-management techniques as meditation, yoga and jogging, says Stein. Men can learn the importance of listening to co-workers and customers, reading their moods and winning their trust—all increasingly important aspects of leadership, teamwork and customer and co-worker relations, says Stein.

Indeed, notes Goleman, the real value of the growing work on emotional intelligence is its implications for workplace training.

'IQ is relatively stable throughout life but much of emotional skill is learned,' says Goleman. 'There’s a huge market for psychologists as executive coaches, helping people in the workplace build their emotional competencies.'

Goleman predicts companies will increasingly opt for EQ training as they realize that it raises job productivity and customer satisfaction. His book explores models and guidelines for such training.

'Emotional intelligence affects just about everything you do at work,' says Goleman. 'Even when you work in a solitary setting, how well you work has a lot to do with how well you discipline and motivate yourself.'

• 'Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence,' by Peter Salovey, PhD, and John Mayer, PhD (Basic Books, 1997).

• 'Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organization,' by Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf (Perigree, 1998).

• 'Emotional Intelligence at Work,' by Hendrie Weisinger, PhD (Jossey-Bass, 1997).

• 'Enhancing Learning in Training and Adult Education,' by Ronald Morgan, PhD, Judith Ponticell, PhD, and Edward Gordon, PhD (Praeger, 1998).

Go to: Goleman on teaching Emotional Intelligence

Go to: Article on Misuse of EI by companies

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