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  • Alan MacNab

What is Emotional Intelligence? The Key Elements Explained

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

What is Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that impact us in every aspect of our daily lives.

Collectively these skills establish how well we can:

  • Perceive and understand our own thoughts, emotions and motivations

  • Confidently communicate and express ourselves verbally and non-verbally

  • Cope successfully with the everyday challenges and pressures of life

  • Process emotional information in an effective and meaningful way

  • Determine how well we actively understand, socially engage and interact with others.

As the above definition demonstrates, emotional intelligence or EQ as it is often known, is about using our emotions and our social skills in a healthy, positive and effective way.

In this article we will explore the question "What is Emotional Intelligence" by looking back at the more recent history of the concept and how it came to modern prominence.

We will describe the Daniel Goleman framework as an example of the skills and competencies that underpin the concept, look at how it differs from your IQ and your personality also outline how good emotioanl intelligence is a strong predictor of leadership performance and career success.

This Article Contains:

What is Emotional Intelligence? - Recent History

Despite the fact that emotion and intelligence have been studied as individual aspects of human behaviour by all the great religions, philosophers, and intellectuals for centuries, it wasn’t until 1991 and a research paper written by Peter Salovey and his colleague John Mayer, that the phrase first came to some level of real prominence.

Building on earlier 1980’s work by Howard Gardner who looked at human intelligence as coming in eight multiple dimensions, and Reuven Bar-On who was was developing early tools to measure emotional and social intelligence, the two American professors built on the idea that basic IQ, was too narrow a measure of intellect, and that IQ had no real link with how well people performed in their jobs or in life in general.

Describing their new theory of intelligence as

"A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions....

they published their paper entitled “Emotional Intelligence” to the academic community in the scholarly journal “Imagination Cognition and Personality” – Emotional Intelligence as a term, and a new modern concept was born.

Although Salovey and Mayer’s scholarly work was ground-breaking within the academic world, it took a New York Times science reporter called Daniel Goleman to really take the concept to a completely new level.

Recognising the significance of the all the earlier research work, Goleman was able to expertly package it into a much more readable framework for the general public, publishing his book – “Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ” in 1995.

Looking at the new concept of emotional intelligence through the lens of leadership performance, psychology and neuroscience, Goleman’s book quickly became highly popular, going on to be a New York Times bestseller, selling millions of copies world-wide and being printed in 40 different languages.

And so through the more digestible story telling of Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence had at last reached the mainstream.

In 1997, the first real break-through occurred with regard to the practical use of the new ground breaking theory, and after 25 years of scientific research and validation work, Reuven Baron delivered the first commercially available EQ assessment tool, a psychometric tool which allowed people to compare and measure themselves to the general population regarding their emotional intelligence.

The Goleman Emotional Intelligence Framework

Given that Goleman was the first person to truly bring the idea of emotional intelligence to the wider general public, lets take a closer look at how he defined the concept and the broad framework that underpinned his definition.

In his book, which detailed how emotional inteligence (EQ) could even be more important than IQ when it comes to success in the workplace, Goleman defined the concept as:

"the capacity to recognize our own feelings and those of others, to manage our emotions, and to interact effectively with others.....

There are 5 elements or domains that define Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence. These can be summarised as :

  1. Self-Awareness: Understanding yourself, your strengths and weaknesses and how you appear to others.

  2. Self-Regulation: the ability to control yourself and think before you act.

  3. Social Awareness or Empathy: How well you understand people’s viewpoints

  4. Relationship Management: Communicating and relating to others

  5. Motivation: The drive to work and succeed.

As well as identifying the 5 key elements, Goleman also constructed a framework to better understand how the different aspects inter-relate and build on each other.

1. Emotional Intelligence and Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the first domain of his emotional intelligence model and relates to the conscious recognition of your own emotional state at any given time and how it may impact you, and others around you.

Self-awareness relates to your inner world and what goes on in your own mind. And provides you with an internal recognition and understanding about your own levels of self-confidence, your strengths and limitations and how they may impact your levels of performance.

Seen as the foundation building block of all other emotional intelligence domains, Self-awareness is also the basis for good intuition, problem solving and decision making.

2. Emotional Intelligence and Self Regulation

The second domain of self-regulation (also referenced as self-management) also relates to what goes on in your own mind , the inner world, and is concerned with how we as individuals can manage our own emotions. This is the ability to control your own thoughts and behaviours when your own challenging emotions and impulses come into play.

In addition, it is also about how you organize positive emotions to get enthused, passionate or in the right frame of mind about your next actions.

You can develop self-regulation by having a strong moral compass, living your values, having positive health-related habits and by holding yourself accountable when you make mistakes.

3. Emotional Intelligence and Social Awareness

The third element of Goleman’s model is social awareness which relates to recognising and understanding other people’s emotions and hearing what they are truly saying.

It’s about picking the mood up from the room, understanding opinions from other people’s perspectives and how they view particular situations, feelings, wants and desires.

Again we should note that self-awareness is a building block of social awareness and that we have to recognise and understand emotions in ourselves before we can truly observe and understand them in others.

4. Emotional Intelligence and Social Skills

The fourth domain and critically important element of the Goleman framework is about having good social skills or relationship management skills.

This domain is concerned with how we perform in the outer world and relates to working positively and effectively with the people around you and being able to express your ideas and opinions without causing offence to others.

We need strong social awareness skills from domain three as well as good self-regulation skills form domain two to make this effective.

If we can demonstrate strong EI skills in both of these domains then we are more likely to be able to influence and persuade others, well, resolve conflicts more easily and ultimately more easily engage and collaborate positively with others.

5. Emotional Intelligence and Motivation

The final domain of Goleman’s emotional intelligence framework is Motivation. Motivation is what pushes and drives us to achieve our goals, feel more fulfilled and improve our overall quality of life.

Goleman broke motivation down into several aspects such as our personal drive to improve and achieve, commitment to our goals, initiative, or readiness to act on opportunities, as well as optimism and resilience.

People who are emotionally intelligent are not solely driven by external outerworld factors like money, recognition, or profile. Instead, they have a strong level of awareness of their own inner needs, goals and values, and are driven by in internal and intrinsic desire to fulfil their inner needs and attain their full potential in life.

Individuals who are high in intrinsic motivation tend to be more action-oriented, setting their own goals, being naturally driven to achieve, and proactively seek ways to do better. They also tend to be very committed and are good at taking initiative.

Goleman Framework Summary

In summary then, when look at this this final visual representation of Goleman’s model, we can see that emotional intelligence has inner world and outworld aspects as well as a recognition and regulation aspect. And at its very core it is fundamentally about:

  • developing a high level of awareness of self and others, through self-understanding and empathy ,

  • using self recognition and self-regulation, to understand and control yourself and how you behave, particularly in social situations, with the final piece of the framework

  • having the right attitude, mindset and motivation to use these skills to further your success in the workplace.

A further point to make about this definition as with all other definitions of Emotional Intelligence that you will come across, is that we can clearly see that emotional intelligence is not one single thing or skill, but rather a construct, made up of a mix of inter-related attitudes, feelings, habits and abilities.

Furthermore any improvement of our emotional intelligence is very much dependent on a multi-faceted learning of new skills and knowledge and a holistic whole person approach centred around self-development and self-improvement.

Emotional Intelligence and IQ. Whats the Difference?

Now that you have a broad understanding of what emotional intelligence is, as well as the broad knowledge, attitudes and habits that are required to underpin it, we can start to put to bed any notion that it relates to other more commonly known measures of intelligence such as our IQ.

As you read, watch and learn more about emotional intelligence, you will often see the term referred to as EQ, which stands for Emotional Quotient.

Because of this, it’s not uncommon for the term to be compared to IQ, which is an abbreviation for Intelligence Quotient, and which has historically been seen as a major predictor of an individual’s performance levels and future success in life.

What Does IQ Actually Measure?

If we think about what IQ is for a minute though…, it is simply a measure of a person’s ability to answer questions relating to abstract thinking, word comprehension, spatial interpretation, and mathematical logic.

If you want to pass intelligence exams it is of course really helpful to have a high IQ, however and when it comes to mastering some technical tasks it can undoubtedly prove to be really useful.

Compare this to emotional intelligence or your EQ, which relate to concepts such as Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Empathy, Relationship skills and your motivational abilities and its plain to see the two are simply poles apart in terms of the types of intelligence being used.

A further point to understand when it comes to intelligence and performance in its wider sense, is that IQ really is quite a limited measure or yardstick as to how well you will actually do in your personal or working life over the longer-term.

We’ve all known people in our lives at school, college or university for example, who undoubtedly have a high IQ score.

What’s often pretty apparent also though with people like this, is that despite their great talent for maths or recounting the great texts, their ability to perhaps rub people up the wrong way or be quite poor at social interactions is just as likely as it is with the rest of us.

IQ therefore does not set the person with a high or even a low IQ apart from the rest of us – it just flags that it just flag’s again that it’s our emotional intelligence skills and abilities that will be the real difference maker in their lives.

Improving Your IQ and Emotional Intelligence

An additionally important fact about IQ that you may not be aware of is that research has shown that our IQ levels are pretty much fixed from a very early age and will generally tend change very little over the course of our lifetimes, only diminishing once we hit old age.

Regardless of how well we do at school, college or university, any amount of learning facts and figures will not change it. So whether you are 5 or 50, researchers have shown that there is very little you can do to directly influence and substantially develop your IQ over time.

When it comes to Emotional Intelligence however, research has shown that the opposite is true for EI with newly developed Emotional Intelligence knowledge, attitudes and habits all within our grasp by anyone at any age.

For example, in extensive research carried out whilst developing the now widely used measure of emotional intelligence – the EQi 2.0, it was found that there was an easily identifiable trend of rising EI against age.

Emotional Intelligence and Age
Source : Multi-Health Systems (2010)

As you can see from the above graph its maybe no real surprise that as we get older, we get a lot wiser and that the EI abilities that we talked about earlier in the lesson come into play.

The takeaway point here though is that fact that although it may take some time and practice, you don’t actually have to wait to get older to improve your EQ, unlike your IQ – you can actually make real improvements in a lot shorter period than you may think.

Emotional Intelligence and IQ have No Correlation

As we highlighted previously , your IQ score bears no relevance to how you will perform in life or in the workplace and that its your level of emotional intelligence that will be the better predictor and its also the case that the two types of intelligence are completely unrelated.

The two forms of intelligence, emotional (EQ) and IQ, are completely unrelated with repeated studies showing that there is no correlation what so ever between the two concepts.

Emotional Intelligence and IQ

You can be measured as being high in both, you can be low in both, high in one, low in one and high in the other – there is no correlation. Regardless of your IQ level, it’s your levels of emotional intelligence that will be the best predictor of your job performance.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Performance

In a famous study carried out by Goleman for the Harvard Business Review, he looked at the top executives of 200 large global companies.

The research concluded that when he looked at all types of jobs in those organisations, IQ and cognitive technical competencies count only for about 33% or one third of the skills required to carry out a job whilst EQ type competencies and abilities counted for around 66% or two-thirds.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
Ref: The Ingredients of Star Performers: Distinguishing Competencies - Goleman

What was even more remarkable though was when Goleman looked at more leadership orientated roles, IQ and technical skills only made up 15 % of the role and that a massive 85 % of the role required emotional intelligence skills.

So whilst a level of IQ might be required to pass an assessment test to get your foot in the door somewhere, once you are in that new organisation, it’s Emotional Intelligence that will be the major contributing factor as to how you perform and advance in the job.

Since this initial research over 25 years ago, many, many more similar research studies have gone on to show exactly the same thing. People do well in jobs mainly because of their emotional intelligence skills as opposed to their technical skills or IQ levels.

And when it comes to management and leadership performance, emotional intelligence abilities are a much more reliable predictor for long-term career performance and success.

Emotional Intelligence and Personality

A final point to make about your emotional intelligence and help you further appreciate what it is, and what it is not, is to highlight that its not another name for your personality and that both are very different concepts.

Your Personality is effectively what makes you, you and encompasses all the traits, characteristics, and quirks that defines you and sets you apart from every other human being in the world.

Personality and the OCEAN Model

One way to understand your Personality is through the "OCEAN" model which describes your personality in terms of what is called the BIG 5 personality traits.

In this prominent and widely used personality framework, the OCEAN acronym relates to:

  • Openness: sometimes called "Intellect" or "Imagination," this trait measures your general level of creativity , and your desire for knowledge and new experiences.

  • Conscientiousness: this trait describes the level of care that you take in your life and work and how organized and thorough you are.

  • Extraversion (&Introversion): measures your preferred approach to social situations and whether you are generally outgoing or quiet when it comes to interactions with others.

  • Agreeableness: measures how well you tend to get on with other people.

  • Neuroticism: which relates to your general tendencies toward moods, anxiety and depression.

Personality OCEAN model

Our personalities then, are the sum total of our inclinations towards and away from these traits and the shades and tones that make up our characters are primarily based on how much the dials are turned up or down on each of them. Similar to IQ, personality has been shown by research to be fairly stable over our lifetime appearing fairly early in our lives, and thereafter becoming relatively fixed and our stable style by the time we reach adulthood.

Although it might seem on the face of it that certain traits such as extroversion for example might be more associated with a higher level of emotional intelligence, the fact of the matter is however that individuals who prefer to be with other people are no more emotionally intelligent than individuals who would much rather prefer to be on their own.

You can certainly use your personality to support and compliment the development of your emotional intelligence, but its certainly not dependent upon it.

Summary of Emotional Intelligence, IQ and Personality

When we view emotional inteligence, IQ, and personality together then, we can start to build a much better picture of who we are as individuals and the distinct personal qualities that make us who we are.

And as we have shown in this diagram, research has shown that they really are all quite distinct aspects of who we are and although all 3 interact to determine who we are as individuals.

It is impossible to predict our performance levels of any of these aspects based upon how well we do in another.

And so an individuals may be IQ intelligent but not emotionally intelligent, and each of us with all types of personality trait can be high in EQ and/or IQ. Of the three aspects however, EI is the only quality that is flexible and which can be developed.

If you would like to know more about emotional intelligence and how C21Leaderhip can help you develop your leadership skills for long-term personal and career success please get in touch with us via our contact page.

But for now let’s recap on what we have learned in this article.

Emotional Intelligence - The Key Takeaways

Emotional Intelligence is about using our emotions and our social skills in a healthy and effective way so that we can be successful in work and life.

Emotional Intelligence is a relatively new intelligence concept in historical terms only coming to the mainstream in the 1990’s with Daniel Goleman doing much to bring the concept to wider public attention.

Emotional intelligence can be defined as “the capacity to recognize our own feelings and those of others, to manage our emotions, and to interact effectively with others.”

The Goleman Emotional Intelligence model is underpinned by a framework of 5 key elements which consist of self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, relationship management and motivation. It is multi-faceted set of skills.

There is no known connection between emotional intelligence and the more cognitive IQ measure. You can be measured as being high in both, you can be low in both, high in one, low in one and high in the other – there is no correlation.

There is no connection between our big 5 personality trait and our levels of emotional intelligence. Our personalities are relatively fixed through-out our lives and will not influence your levels of EI.

Our IQ levels and Personalities are relatively fixed and remain stable throughout our lives. EI has been shown to be flexible can be improved at just about any age in our adult lives.

Skills and knowledge can be applied at any point in our lives in order to improve emotional and social related competencies, attitudes and habits.

Your IQ score bears no relevance to how you will perform in in the workplace and that it’s your level of emotional intelligence that will be the better predictor of long-term career success.

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