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What Is EI?
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by changing the attitude of the mind.”
—William James, Psychologist and Philosopher
The idea that our emotions influence how well we do in life is not new. It has been around as long as humans have been on earth. The ancient Greek philosophers spoke of the impact that emotions had on themselves and on those around them. In the last few decades, we have made major breakthroughs in the study of our emotions and their effect on our lives.
History of a Concept
During the early part of the twentieth century, researchers and psychologists seriously began to study various forms of general intelligence. By
the time the IQ test was established and being used in schools, David
Wechsler, who developed the latest version of the IQ test in 1940, already felt that there were other areas of intelligence that needed to be measured.
He inferred that one of the areas we needed to look at was what is now called emotional intelligence. In 1955, Albert Ellis, the founder of rational-emotive therapy, speculated that people could learn to deal with their emotions by using their rationale. In 1980, Dr. Reuven BarOn, an
Israeli psychologist and Rhodes Scholar, began to study how emotions affect people’s functioning.
Using his own work and that of earlier researchers, BarOn began to develop the emotional quotient, or EQ test, for emotional intelligence a the first scientifically valid assessment for emotional intelligence. The
American Psychological Association approved the test, known as the
BarOn EQ-i®, or Emotional Quotient Inventory.
The term emotional intelligence is credited to John Mayer of the
University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey of Yale University.
In 1990, the two psychology professors, along with colleague David
Caruso, developed an alternate test for emotional intelligence. Their test a the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), is an ability-based test of emotional intelligence. The discussion around who actually discovered emotional intelligence or who first coined the term is a moot point. Our knowledge base had progressed to the point that researchers and social scientists were making new breakthroughs in the area of human functioning. With our new understanding, it was becoming possible to measure and test for the effects of emotions in our lives in an accurate and meaningful way.
Think of it as being similar to technical breakthroughs such as the automobile or airplane. Although the Wright brothers have gone down in history as the first to achieve sustained airborne flight, there were others who were working on this and close to achieving flight.
Technology had advanced to the point that airborne flight was possible and there were inventors at that time in all the industrial nations such as England, France, and Germany who were getting close to achieving a breakthrough. If the Wright brothers had not made their historic flight in
Kitty Hawk, it is likely that someone would have flown shortly after that time. It was an idea whose time had come. The same principle applies to emotional intelligence.
In 1995 Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence, which summed up the work that had been done up to that point in the field.
It became a bestseller, and Goleman appeared as a guest on the Oprah
Winfrey Show. If there was a defining moment for emotional intelligence a this was it. Public awareness of the concept, which up until this point had been minuscule, jumped dramatically. People began to talk about emotional intelligence as articles began to appear in major magazines such as Time and Newsweek.
In 1998, Goleman followed up his highly successful first book with
Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, in which he researched how businesses were benefiting from implementing emotional intelligence concepts in the workplace. Like his first book, this one also became successful and the author again appeared on Oprah. In the last few years a articles have appeared in prestigious business publications such as the
Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, quickly clearing up any misconceptions that emotional intelligence is some “fuzzy, feel good”
idea that has no place in the real world.
Since the term emotional intelligence has been around, there have been some misconceptions regarding what it means. Without digging further and investigating as to what the term actually means, people have jumped to conclusions based solely on their connotations of the word emotional. In the book Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel
Goleman attempts to set the record straight and clear up some misconceptions surrounding the term emotional intelligence.
Rather than simply being nice, emotional intelligence means being real a open, and honest regarding our feelings. This can take courage as it is often easier to skirt around issues than to confront them directly. Rather a we need to be real in our interactions with others. While we should be sensitive to other people’s feelings, ignoring or overlooking their negative or destructive behavior does them no favors. If we truly care about someone, we must be forthright and honest even though it may be uncomfortable for us at the time and not appreciated. True friends will end up appreciating that we had the courage, and cared enough, to be honest with them.
Letting It All Hang Out
As Goleman points out, “Emotional intelligence does not mean giving free rein to feelings—‘letting it all hang out.’ Rather, it means managing feelings so that they are expressed appropriately and effectively, enabling people to work together smoothly toward common goals.”1
There is a time and place for expressing strong emotional feelings to others. For example, during a staff meeting is not the right time or place to vent anger at a coworker. Later, once we are calmed down and have carefully thought out what we are going to say and are in a private setting with the coworker would be a much better time and place.
Women Have More Emotional Intelligence
Another aspect of EI that is frequently misunderstood is the differences between the genders’ natural ability to express it. Women in our society have always had a great deal more freedom and permission to express and show their emotions than men. This is slowly starting to change as
Western culture has been waking up to the negative consequences of not allowing men to openly express their emotions. Because women have been much more open and expressive in general with their emotions, it is assumed by some that they will be better in all areas of EI than men.
Daniel Goleman tried to clear up misconceptions regarding gender differences when he wrote that “women are not ‘smarter’ than men when it comes to emotional intelligence, nor are men superior to women. Each of us has a personal profile of strengths and weaknesses in these capacities.
Some of us may be highly empathic but lack some abilities to handle our own distress; others may be quite aware of the subtlest shift in our own moods, yet be inept socially.”2
When we add up male/female profiles, we find that women on the whole are more aware of their emotions and are better at forming relationships with others while men adapt more easily and handle stress better. However, it is important to remember that this finding does not account for individual variations where these differences could be reversed. There are men who are very aware of their emotions and are able to form strong relationships, just as there are women who adapt easily and are good at handling stress.
Emotional Intelligence Is Not Fixed at Birth
The most exciting and promising aspect of emotional intelligence is that we are able to change it. In other words, unlike our IQ, we are not stuck with what we are born with. The great news about EQ is that it is not fixed or only developed at a certain stage in life. It has been shown that life experiences can be used to increase EQ and that we can continue to develop our capacity to learn and adapt as we grow older. The EQ realm is one area that does reward us for successfully having gone through stages of our lives.