A work in progress edited by
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
We all know someone like Tom who was the smartest kid in the class but awkward in social situations. The other students envied his brains. Parents told their children that he would “go places.” When he got an excellent scholarship to university, it seemed this prediction was coming true.
How odd then that Tom did not “go places!” In fact, he did not nearly live up to his intellectual potential. In the workplace and socially, people did not feel comfortable with Tom. He rarely talked to co-workers. Sometimes he lost jobs and had no idea why. His social life was no better. He never married, and his relationships with women were shallow and short-lived.
Tom was unable to understand his lack of success in his work life and in his love life. In fact, he seemed unable to “read” other people and had little empathy for others. Today psychologists would say that his low Emotional Intelligence (or low EQ, that is, Emotional Quotient) kept him from the success everyone expected of him.
Mary, on the other hand, had been well-liked by her peers since grade school. She was not particularly beautiful but people thought she was because of her warmth and charm. However, behind her exuberance was a person who dreaded any kind of conflict or confrontation. She could not stand up to anyone—not her boss, her husband, nor her children. She gave her time and energy to anyone who asked partly because she could not say no. She was overworked, felt unappreciated and became more and more unhappy and “stressed out.” Despite surface appearances, her EQ was low because she could not manage her own or others’ emotions wisely.
The idea that people have an EQ as well as an IQ is a recent theory, which has caught on with the public and particularly in the Board Rooms of North America. Before, society’s predictor of success was IQ (Intelligent Quotient). You either had a lot or a little. Those with a lot of intelligence would be successful; those with a little would not. In fact, this belief became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Corporations would hire only people who had done exceptionally well academically because they wanted only the smartest people on their team.
During the eighties, a couple of psychologists studying the components of success suggested that Emotional Intelligence was as important to success, in one’s career and in life in general, as intellectual ability. By that term they meant the ability to understand the emotions of others and at the same time to understand and manage one’s own emotions. Daniel Goleman, an internationally renowned author, psychologist, science journalist, and corporate consultant, took these ideas and ran with them. When he published Emotional Intelligence in 1995, the corporate world, at whom much of the book was directed, was particularly ready for the concept of Emotional Intelligence or EQ. The book was on the New York Times’ best-seller list for more than a year and a half.
Exactly what is Emotional Intelligence? People with a high EQ have the following characteristics according to the EQ Institute: They know and manage their emotions; they motivate themselves; they recognize and understand other people’s emotions; and they manage their relationships well.
1. Knowing your emotions means that you have developed enough self-awareness to recognize both your negative and positive emotions and their effects on you.
2. Managing your emotions means you can channel your emotions—destructive as well as constructive—in positive ways.
3. Motivating yourself means you use your emotions to achieve your goals and the goals of any group you become involved with.
4. Recognizing and understanding other people's emotions means that you can put yourself in someone else’s position. You have empathy for others regardless of culture or ethnicity.
5. Managing relationships means that you are aware of your effect on other people’s emotions. Because of this ability, you are an expert communicator: you listen attentively, you speak well and you write clearly. You work co-operatively with others to achieve common goals. You can confront others and accept criticism.
People who manage their emotions and their relationships are likely to be successful and happy—in school, in the workplace and in their intimate friendships and relationships. They are successful, first of all, because they are not distracted, let alone controlled, by negative emotions—their own or others. Secondly, they are successful because they are able to keep themselves and others motivated. This success makes for happiness. Managing emotions—one’s own and others’—becomes a virtuous circle: Managing emotions leads to success leads to happiness leads to more success leads to more happiness leads to more success etc.
For some, Emotional Intelligence covers everything about personality that is not IQ. But many experts warn against such extravagant claims. They acknowledge that Emotional Intelligence certainly exists but it is not the only key to success and is only one facet of personality. Many successful people are not particularly intelligent emotionally and conversely many emotionally intelligent people are not successful. However, the concept of Emotional Intelligence is a positive quality that can contribute to one’s success. There is debate as to whether it can be developed or if it is an inherent gift like IQ.
There is a general belief that EQ can be learned, but it is not like intelligence (IQ), which is much more measurable, likely to be inherited, and stable throughout one’s life.
According to Richard E. Boyatzis in Developing Emotional Intelligence, published in 2000, acquiring emotional intelligence is not a simple process. It takes time and, above all, it takes “intentionality,” that is, a strong desire on your part to change an aspect of yourself and the willingness to set out upon a challenging journey of self-discovery.
Why would you set out on this journey? People set out on this journey, says Boyatzis, for three possible reasons: for career advancement, that is, in order to be more employable (e.g. pass the EQ tests with flying colours); for personal growth, that is, in order to be a better person; or for altruistic reasons, that is, in order to help others improve their emotional intelligence.
This process requires careful self-examination, which you do through various exacting activities like writing your life history, visualizing your ideal self, asking friends and family how they see you and so on.
At the same time, you have to find a balance between what you want to change about yourself and what you want to preserve. In order to do this you need to have a high degree of self-awareness—what your values are, what you like about yourself, not just what you want to change. This balancing of the old you and the new you is essential for stability. If you try to change completely, you will soon give up completely. Besides wanting to change everything suggests you haven’t done your homework of self-examination. Self-awareness means that you have looked at both your strengths and weaknesses.
When you know what you want to change and have the stability to do so, the question is how to change. One of the most effective tools for change is setting goals, which are specific and time-limited, long term and short term with clear outcomes and rewards. Along the way you need to enlist the conscious support of family, friends, community etc.
Corporations certainly believe that EQ can be learned. They spend a lot of training dollars on improving their employees’ EQ. However, EQ is about basic personality traits. Whatever happens in the corporate training rooms, it is not likely the process described above. According to Boyatzis’ description to develop EQ is not a task to be undertaken during a few days of corporate training. At least he recognizes what we all know: It is really hard to change!
Boyatzis, Richard E. (2000). Developing emotional intelligence. Available on line at: http://ei.haygroup.com/resources/Library_articles/Developing%20Emotional%20Intelligence.pdf
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books
The EQ Institute: http://www.eqi.org
Website of Daniel Goleman: http://www.danielgoleman.info
Anne McDonagh, Workers' Educational Association of Canada (2007).
Originally published in Learning Curves, October/November 2007, p. 7. Reprinted with permission.
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