What is Emotional Intelligence and
Why do We Need It?
In its simplest and most concise form emotional intelligence
o as EI
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
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
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
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
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 others.
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 utilize 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
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
- 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
- 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
✓ Observe how you react in stressful situations.
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.
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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