By Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. • August 26, 2010

Emotional Intelligence in a Nutshell: Part I

The term “Emotional Intelligence” (EI) has pervaded management rhetoric since 1995, when it became popularized by Daniel Goleman’s bestseller “Emotional Intelligence”. For the MBA student or high potential executive,  EI typically comes under the spotlight through a leadership development course or an HR workshop. In addition, about every three months late-breaking research will surface with the same message: EI is directly correlated with workplace performance.

Despite such popularity, EI may be one of the most difficult terms to define. As a result, people either admit their uncertainty, try to define it in contrast with cognitive intelligence, or relegate it to the blanket concept of "soft skills."Nonetheless, most people do recognize its importance in business activities such as networking, making sure a team remains cohesive, or in order to maintain diplomacy with a boss or subordinate you'd otherwise want to throw under a bus. Therefore, people largely associate EI as a set of skills that promotes survivalin the business world.In actuality, though, this attitude under-utilizes the vast potential inherent in EI. If developed and mastered effectively, EI is much more a mechanism for thriving in a business environment than just surviving. Effective utilization of EI accelerates performance and enhances one's leadership functions. According to Dr. Reuven Bar-On, a leading theorist and developer of the pre-eminent EI assessment tool (EQI), emotional intelligence is the "aspect of human intelligence that governs our ability to recognize, understand, control and use emotions in solving problems of a personal and interpersonal nature."
We can drill deeper into EI by delving into the subscales of the EQ-i Assessment itself. Based on his extensive psychometric research, Bar-On derived five meta-factors and 15 sub-factors that comprise his model of EI. These are:
  1. Intrapersonal (self regard, emotional self-awareness, assertiveness, independence, self-actualization)
  2. Interpersonal (empathy, social responsibility, interpersonal relationships)
  3. Stress Management (stress tolerance, impulse control)
  4. Adaptability (reality testing, flexibility, problem solving)
  5. General Mood (optimism, happiness)

From this more nuanced perspective, It is clear that EI is not simply an amorphous blob of 'soft-skills,' but rather, a complex construct made up of multiple competencies that interrelate and work in tandem with each other. In our next posting, we’ll look at a hypothetical case study that will demonstrate how this more sophisticated understanding of EI is critical for workplace performance and leadership roles. Stay tuned...

Dr. Jonathan Kirschner
CEO, AIIR Consulting