What is Emotional Intelligence and
Why do We Need It?
In its simplest and most concise form emotional intelligence
can be defined as the ability to
perceive, assess, and manage one's own, as well as the emotions of
others. There is, however, disagreement amongst psychologists as to
the scope and depth that emotional intelligence encompasses.
For example, according to psychologist Dr. John D. Mayer, who has
published extensively on emotional intelligence and co-developed a
four branch model of it with Dr. Peter Salovey, the concept of
emotional intelligence is frequently claimed to be many things it is
not. Current popular EI literature often inaccurately equates it to
other personality traits.
According to Dr. Mayer, Daniel Goleman's book (Emotional
Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ)
, while it is an
entertaining journalistic account that covers many interesting
studies, it incorrectly lumps together different psychological
qualities that are separate and independent of each other.
Some of these attributes include social skills, all forms of
self-regulation, motives, and warmth, among many others.
Rather than emotional intelligence, such models are called 'mixed
models' since they mix attributes unrelated directly, or
specifically, to either emotion, or intelligence.
So what is Emotional Intelligence?
Here is what emotional intelligence is NOT, according to Mayer:
While these qualities are important, they have little to do with
intelligence or emotions, and nothing to do with emotional
intelligence. In an article for American Psychologist, Dr. Mayer and
his colleagues point out:
"...groups of widely studied personality traits, including motives
such as the need for achievement, self-related concepts such as
self-control, emotional traits such as happiness, and social styles
such as assertiveness should be called what they are, rather than
being mixed together in haphazard-seeming assortments and named
emotional intelligence. (p.514)"
According to Dr. Mayer, emotional intelligence is the capacity to
reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to
enhance thought. Compared to Goleman's more inclusive
characterization, a precise definition would be:
intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions; to
access and generate emotions so as to assist
thought; to understand emotions and emotional
knowledge; and to reflectively regulate emotions so as
to promote emotional and intellectual growth."
People who are considered to have high EI can solve a variety of
emotion-related problems accurately and quickly. They can
correctly perceive emotions in faces in others and what the
emotions convey. For instance, they know that angry people can be
dangerous, that happy people want to relate with others, and that
sad people often prefer to be alone.
High EI people are also adept at managing their own as well as
others' emotions. They know how to use emotional episodes in their
own lives to promote specific types of thinking. Solving
problems requires less cognitive effort for those high in EI.
These individuals also tend to be higher in verbal, social and
other intelligences. They are generally more open
and agreeable and are drawn to occupations involving social
interactions such as teaching, counseling and interacting with
Mayer & Salovey's Four Branch Model
of Emotional Intelligence
In the late 1980's, after various psychologists, psychiatrists, and
evolutionary biologists had identified a number of human capacities
involved in identifying and understand emotions, in 1990, Drs. Mayer
and Salovey proposed that these abilities make up the collective
concept of emotional intelligence . Ultimately they suggested that
emotional intelligence be divided into a four-branch model which was
subsequently published in 1997.
The four branch model of emotional intelligence describes four
areas of capabilities, or skills, that define emotional
These abilities include:
✓accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others
✓use emotions to facilitate thinking
✓understand emotional meanings, and
The Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence
Perceiving Emotion - The capacity to accurately
perceive emotions in the faces or voices of others. It
provides the starting point for more advanced understanding of
Using Emotion to Facilitate Thought - The capacity to
emotion in guiding cognitive processes. A good system of emotional
input helps in the contemplation of important matters. Emotions
are also essential for creativity.
Understanding Emotions - Emotions convey information,
therefore understanding emotional messages and the actions
associated with them are central to this skill.
Managing Emotions - Emotions can be managed. Once the
information behind the emotion is gathered and understood, it
can be regulated and managed.
Why is emotional intelligence important?
While the definitions of emotional intelligence
vary in scope and
depth, many believe that it is at least as important as traditional
IQ which is why many companies now use EI testing to hire new staff.
Here are some ways in which a high EI quotient is beneficial:
- Helps you relate well and cooperate with others in the
workplace (understanding other people's emotions and motives)
- Helps you achieve your goals (cooperation with others,
emotion management, maturity)
- Maintain satisfying personal relationships (by managing and
balancing your emotions)
- Live a more balanced lifestyle (personal and emotion
- Respond to others with empathy and compassion
- Allows you to be more playful and creative (in touch with
- Resolve conflict more easily
How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Unfortunately emotional intelligence can be taught and developed.
There is much literature and many tests available to help you
determine your current EI and identify where you may need to do some
work. Here are some tips to help you along:
✓ Become self-aware.
Learn to recognize your emotions and
their effects, how you react to your environment and how your
emotions affect your behavior. Use them to find ways to make better
decisions and problem solve
in areas where you have
✓ Observe how you react in stressful situations.
Do you get
upset quickly? Do you blame others and get angry? How do you behave
when things go wrong? Being able to stay calm and keep
your emotions in control in difficult situations is important
at home and in the workplace.
✓ Manage your emotions.
Practice controlling impulsive
feelings and behaviors. Deal with your emotions in healthy
ways; take initiative; be reliable and responsible; learn to adapt
to changing circumstances.
✓ Become socially aware.
Take time to observe how you
interact with people. Examine how your actions affect others. Do you
listen and think about what they are saying? Are you open-minded
Learn to pick up emotional cues.
Appreciate what people are saying and why they are saying it.
Develop cross culture sensitivity.
Emotional intelligence is an intelligence that has to do with
discerning and understanding emotional information. To be sure, an
intellectual understanding of emotional intelligence is very
important, but ultimately, the development of it depends on sensory,
non-verbal learning and much practice.
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