It is easy to get caught up in the hype of catch phrases that travel around the conference room. As business people, we tend to want to use a flashy term that is fresh to gain attention and perhaps put a fresh spin on an old idea. Sometimes, we simply want to use a term that we have continuously heard used in corporate settings. In particular, one phrase I hear too often misused is Emotional Intelligence. It is one of the most frequently inadequately defined terms I hear, especially when used to describe either sales or management techniques. Most commonly I hear people using and defining EI as nothing more than simple self-awareness. The term Emotional Intelligence, sometimes called EQ or Emotional Quotient, has been in use for well over 20 years now. However, it continues to gain in popularity in corporate settings. The time seems ripe to provide a bit of a background and overview.
The truth is that it is not necessarily the fault of laypeople when they incorrectly define and apply EI. Authorities in the peer-reviewed literature actually fail to agree on one standard definition of EI. Divergent viewpoints are quite common in the literature and unfortunately there is currently no measurement of EI that passes the rigorous psychometric standards of many personality assessments. There is currently no measure of EI that is acceptable for use in employee selection. Many measures should probably not be applied in developmental efforts either. However, there are 2 approaches that serve as the basis for the most widely studied measures currently in use that will help to elucidate what EI is beyond simple self-awareness.
1. The most popular and widely applied in organizational settings approach is what is known as the “mixed-model” approach. It is called “mixed” because it is a mixture of some classic personality traits and Emotional Intelligence abilities. Many of these approaches break down EI into 4 main components as follows:
- Self-Awareness - this is ability to read one’s own emotions and to recognize their impact while using those “gut” feelings to guide decisions
- Self-Management – which involves controlling one’s own emotions and impulses and adapting them to changing circumstances
- Social Awareness – which is the ability to sense, understand, and react to others’ emotions while also maintaining an understanding of social networks
- Relationship Management – this is the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict
2. The other is the Ability Based Model which is much more academic in practice and theoretical basis. Also, measurement of Ability-Based EI tends to be more difficult and does not lend itself to self-report type instruments which are of course, the easiest to administer. The distinguishing factor for pure Ability-Based EI is that EI is defined as a type of intelligence and is innate. In short, it can not be developed. There is a much more cut-and-dry background to this theoretical basis which also tends to limit its utility and application in a business setting. The Ability-Based definition is as follows:
- “The capacity to reason about emotions, and of emotions to enhance thinking. It includes the abilities to accurately perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions, so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to effectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” (Mayer & Salovey, 1997)
As you can see, although the approaches to measurement of EI may be very different academically, the 2 approaches describe a similar entity. Further, this entity is considerably more than being self-aware. Rather, it is about managing one’s own emotions and effectively managing relationships. The draw of being able to measure an individual’s capacity for such a thing is certainly understandable. However, it is a “buyer beware” marketplace for certain when it comes to choosing an instrument to measure EI. Some of the best selling and most popular EI instruments have been excessively disparaged in the literature. If you are in the market for an EI measure, you would be wise to consult an expert such as someone with a background in psychometrics. Good test makers will always provide a technical manual of how their instrument was validated. Having an expert review these manuals will help to lessen the chance of improperly measuring the EI of individuals in your organization. EI tends to be a construct that carries much more emotional repercussions than personality, therefore, it is all the more important to do your diligent research when selecting a tool.