Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Peter Salovey and John Mayer have been the most recent leading researchers on emotional intelligence. In their influential article “Emotional Intelligence,” they identified four different factors of EQ:
- Perceiving Emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.
- Reasoning With Emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
- Understanding Emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean.
- Managing Emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.
Many HR practitioners have studied EQ and use it concepts in training managers in the hopes of improving performance and recognizing and effectively dealing with employee performance or conduct issues. But is this effort paying off?
Unfortunately, most training begins or ends (sometimes both) with self-reported surveys (example) with practical limits; asking someone if they can lay a brick wall is very different than having the person do it and evaluating the work product.
The results so far are mixed. Superior EQ definitely makes a positive difference in emotionally charged lines of work (e.g. public safety and medical services) and in certain types of roles (e.g. real-estate agent, sales, and customer service). Its advantages fade (and can even become counter-productive) in environments and roles with low emotional demand (underwriters, scientists, accountants). Research has shown that paying attention to emotional cues in these environments create distractions that cut into work quality and volume.
Training is not education, and some managers will always feel comfortable extrapolating their knowledge into practiced certainty. Steven Berglas, formerly faculty member of Harvard University Medical School and now a consultant points out the dangers of this in his excellent article in Harvard Business Review.
Finally, EQ can be used for good or ill. Superior EQ leaders can be quite manipulative, as anyone who has read William Shakespeare works can attest. Some of the best EQ pros in the business create fundraising and political campaign commercials. It is important to understand that high EQ does not inherently possess a moral compass.