Emotional intelligence – what is it?

An ex-boss attended endless management skills courses full of high hopes, but always returned the same terrifying dominatrix who had toddler-style tantrums if you didn’t drop what you were doing and do her bidding on-the-double.

She was hyper-intelligent, socially adept and a nice person but had strangely clogged communication arteries when dealing with colleagues – who she routinely offended. Some would diagnose this curious phenomenon as lack of emotional intelligence (EI). There’s a huge slice of ‘it’s not what you say but the way that you say it’ involved in emotional intelligence.

Second guessing how people are likely to feel and react is a vital skill at work.

It may sound suspiciously like yet another touchy-feelly tree-hugging management fad, but this theory holds water. Alternatively, it may sound like stating the obvious, but there’s the rub.

For people who have emotional intelligence it’s second nature, but those who lack it don’t understand why or what they are doing wrong.

There is debate among HR gurus about whether you can learn to be emotionally intelligent. As management psychologist David Caruso said in People Management magazine in April: ‘To some people the term emotional intelligence is an oxymoron. After all, intelligence implies rational thinking, and rational thinking is, by definition, devoid of emotion.’ The original definition of emotional intelligence has become confused as it has been swept along by the engulfing commercial bandwagon.

Emotional intelligence is not the same as social intelligence, social skills or knowing how to behave in a given situation. You can be socially skilled and a kind person but that won’t make you emotionally intelligent.

The real definition of EI comes closer to what we normally mean by ‘intuition’, than what we mean by ‘self control’. US academic Robert Cooper who was involved in initial research on EI describes it as ‘owning your own feelings, impressions and viewpoints, including negative emotional states.’ The most famous emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goldman focuses on five domains – knowing one’s emotions, managing these emotions, motivating oneself, recognising emotions in others and handling relationships. Other aspects of EI include persistence in the face of frustrations, keeping distress from swamping the ability to think, controlling impulses and, crucially, empathy.

The main message is that ‘soft skills’ matter and trans-Atlantic research shows EI correlates with workplace success.

The good news for emotional neanderthals and strident self-absorbed firebrands is that the consensus in the EI community is that these skills can be learnt. So there is no excuse! ?:

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