Why emotional intelligence matters


Imagine a world-class researcher who’s too anxious to give a lecture. Or a busy, self-made millionaire who’s desperately lonely. These people are smart, but they may lack emotional intelligence. As Daniel Goleman said, “out of control emotions can make smart people stupid”.

So, we should treat emotional intelligence (EI) with the seriousness it deserves. Studies show that people with higher EI make better leaders. They also form more satisfying relationships with friends and partners. Most importantly, emotionally intelligent people live happier lives!

The good news is, emotional intelligence is something we can develop. Think of emotional intelligence as a set of tools we can use to build (and maintain) success. Indeed, if you’re feeling frustrated or unfulfilled, you may benefit from EI training.

What is emotional intelligence?

By now, most people have heard of this phrase, but many still don’t understand what it means to be emotionally intelligent.  Contrary to popular belief, emotional intelligence is not just being nice to others. It runs much deeper than this. To be emotionally intelligent is: 

1) To be aware of your emotions and other people’s.

2) To manage your behaviour and facilitate positive behaviour in others.

To be emotionally intelligent is a complete way of life. If you’ve got it, it will subtly shape every action that you take. In this way, it can bring success to multiple areas of your life.

The many benefits of emotional intelligence  

Emotional intelligence is important for academic, professional, social and interpersonal success. Daniel Goleman argued this in his bestselling book, published in 1995. Since then, several studies have supported his ideas. According to NCBI, emotionally intelligent people: 

  • Have more fulfilling social and intimate relationships
  • Are less aggressive
  • Are perceived more positively by other people
  • Are better at negotiating during a work situation
  • Are more satisfied with their lives and report higher levels of self-esteem
  • Report lower levels of depression and anxiety
  • Are more likely to reach their full potential (self-actualisation)

These are undoubtedly important things we all strive towards, so it seems strange that it’s taken so long to recognise the importance of EI.

Emotional intelligence: A brief background

In 1904, Alfred Binet developed the first standardised intelligence test (IQ test). Throughout the twentieth century, schools and employers have used IQ scores to select candidates. And, for a long time, IQ-score was considered to be an important predictor for how successful you’d be in your career, as well as your life in general.

But the link between IQ-score and life satisfaction is not guaranteed. For example, there are people with low IQ’s who are highly successful in life (think Forrest Gump). There are also some academically brilliant people who live deeply unsatisfying lives.

In the 1980s, there was a sea change. Howard Gardener began to talk of ‘multiple intelligences.’  He believed that the standard IQ test could not measure all types of intelligence. He also believed that someone’s IQ score wouldn’t necessarily predict how successful they’d be in life.

Gardener’s work paved the way for one of the most famous books of our time. ‘Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ’, written by Daniel Goleman. Since the publication of this book, schools and recruiters have begun to recognise the importance of EI.

Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence

As mentioned, emotional intelligence is a way of living. It is not just one particular skill or ability. It is a set of distinct, yet interrelated competencies. Goleman’s four-quadrant Emotional Intelligence Competency Model comprises the following competencies:

  • Self-awareness – This is an ability to label your emotions as and when they arise so that you can respond to them constructively. It is the type of ‘awareness’ that can be achieved through mindfulness practice.  Mood swings – for no apparent reason – can be a sign of low self-awareness.
  • Self-management – Someone with good self-management skills behaves responsibly even when emotions are running high. If you engage in self-destructive behaviour, this suggests your self-management skills could be improved. Mindfulness meditation, journaling, and other techniques may be used to achieve this.
  • Social awareness –Empathy is a key part of the social awareness competency. Can you truly put yourself in someone else’s shoes? When you talk to a colleague, do you see the conversation from their point of view? Or are you only interested in getting your point across? People with social awareness use diplomacy and tact. This facilitates positive and supportive interactions with other people. For a long time, there has been some disagreement over whether empathy can be learned, or whether it’s all in our genes. Well, recent research from the University of Cambridge suggests genetics only account for 10% of the variance we see in empathy scores. So, this suggests you can learn to become more empathetic.  Indeed, if you’ve gone through a period of intense suffering, empathy may come more naturally to you.
  • Relationship management – This is the ability to build mutually beneficial relationships.  People competent in this area are also interested in developing others. In the workplace, this would mean anticipating your colleagues’ training needs and supporting them where possible. Or, in an intimate relationship, it would mean encouraging your partner to grow and develop. You’d also be more willing to compromise and meet your partner halfway.

Although our propensity for emotional intelligence is somewhat in-built, Goleman believes that we can develop EI over our lifetime.  He says that learning to become more emotionally intelligent is a great use of our time because it can improve multiple aspects of our lives.  

Signs of low emotional intelligence

Given all this information, you might be wondering where you sit on the scale of emotional intelligence. Well, most of us could benefit from improving our emotional intelligence, even if only a little. Below are some signs of low emotional intelligence:

  • Feeling down or upset but not knowing why.
  • Feeling that other people are too sensitive to your words. Or, being surprised that you’ve hurt someone’s feelings.
  • Being accused of not listening to others.
  • Spending hours worrying about the same things with no resolution.
  • Being accused of not keeping your promises.
  • Regularly regretting your behaviour.
  • Feeling out of control with a particular emotion (anger, jealousy, shame etc.)

Many of these experiences are part of the normal human experience, but if they happen regularly, this can be a sign of low emotional intelligence.

Testing your emotional intelligence

The Global Leadership Foundation have created a test that is based on Goleman’s emotional intelligence model. So, if you want to get an idea of how emotionally intelligent you are, this is a great place to start.

It should be said that this test was not designed by Goleman.  It has not been scientifically validated, so the results can only give you an indication of your emotional intelligence score.

The good thing about this test is that it gives you a separate score (out of 10) for each of the four quadrants. This means you can see which aspects of emotional intelligence to focus on. Emotional intelligence can be developed with the help of a therapist or through online EI training.

To summarise, Daniel Goleman has opened our eyes to the importance of emotional intelligence. Sure, we should strive to be as clever as we can be. We can even become a member of MENSA if our IQ is high enough. But, at the same time, we should not stifle the emotional powerhouse that is within us. After all, if we don’t learn to manage our emotions, our accomplishments may go to waste.

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