Emotional Intelligence: What is it? Why is it Important?

Emotional Intelligence: What is it? Why is it Important?

06/16/17 Laura Gibbons

According to psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, emotional intelligence may be defined as, “the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.” Put another way, this concept means recognizing that emotions can impact behavior and affect people (positively and negatively), therefore it’s important to learn how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under stress.

When emotional intelligence came on the scene in the 1990s, it presented a most unusual finding: people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. This concept threw a monkey wrench into what many people had always assumed was the only source of success — intelligence quotient, or IQ. Today, research points to emotional intelligence as the crucial element that separates star performers from the rest of the pack.

Emotional intelligence is pretty intangible, but it’s something that dwells within each of us. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, “affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.”

What Emotional Intelligence Is
Salovey and Mayer introduced the concept of emotional intelligence and demonstrated how it might be measured. They believed that people with high EI (their term for emotional intelligence) could solve a variety of emotion-related problems, and do so both accurately and quickly.

High EI people, for example, can accurately perceive emotions in people’s faces. Such individuals also know how to use emotional incidents in their lives to promote specific types of thinking. For instance, they understand that sadness promotes analytical thought and so they may prefer to analyze things when they are in a sad mood. Mayer notes that high EI people also grasp the meanings that emotions convey: “They know that angry people can be dangerous, that happiness means that someone wants to join with others, and that some sad people may prefer to be alone.”

Does Emotional Intelligence Exist?

To test whether EI exists, Salovey, Mayer, and David Caruso developed a number of ability measures. They wanted to determine if they could measure emotional intelligence abilities, if these abilities improved with age (generally thought to be a characteristic of intelligence), and if, taken together, they formed a cohesive intelligence.

One sort of test question they devised asked test-takers to identify the emotions expressed in a photograph of a face: for instance, to understand that sadness might be indicated by a frown. Another type of question asked people how emotional reactions unfold. For example:

Mike was sad, but an hour later he felt guilty. What happened in between? (Choose one):
A. Mike took a neighbor to a medical appointment to help him out.
B. Mike lacked the energy to call his mother, and missed calling her on her birthday.

High EI test-takers recognize that alternative B, the missed birthday phone call, would better account for Mike’s change in mood from sadness to guilt.

The ability to answer such questions correctly appears to improve as children grow older. In addition, people who perform well in some areas also tend to do well on others as well. “For these reasons and others, EI is now believed to exist and is considered by many to be an established intelligence.”

What Emotional Intelligence is Not
The concept of emotional intelligence is not always readily understood. The researchers note that emotional intelligence is not agreeableness, optimism, happiness, nor is it calmness or motivation. “Such qualities, although important, have little to do with intelligence, little to do with emotions, and nearly nothing to do with actual emotional intelligence.”

Mayer and his colleagues suggested in an American Psychologist article, “… 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.”

Positivity Ratio
Determining an individual’s positivity ratio is an important part of growing an individual’s emotional intelligence. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson recommends promoting a 3:1 Positivity Ratio – in other words, a ratio of 3 positive experiences to every 1 that is negative. The idea is that since people often remember negative experiences much more than positive ones, using this 3:1 ratio when working with clients can help offset this negative tendency.
Positivity Ratio Test for an example of a positivity test.

Why Emotional Intelligence is Important
The concept of emotional intelligence has become a hot topic of psychological research in recent years, especially in regards to how it affects today’s workforce. Businesses are essentially people, so anything that impacts the effectiveness of people’s minds also impacts the businesses they run or work for. According to writer and consultant Royale Scuderi, the following are a few of the ways in which emotional intelligence is important:

Mental well-being – Emotional intelligence affects our attitude and outlook on life. It can also help alleviate anxiety and avoid depression and mood swings. A high level of emotional intelligence directly correlates to a positive attitude and happier outlook on life.

Relationships – By better understanding and managing our emotions, we are better able to communicate our feelings in a more constructive way. We are also better able to understand and relate to those with whom we are in relationships. Understanding the needs, feelings, and responses of those we care about leads to stronger and more fulfilling relationships.

Conflict resolution – When we can discern people’s emotions and empathize with their perspective, it’s much easier to resolve conflicts or possibly avoid them before they start. We are also better at negotiation due to the nature of our ability to understand the needs and desires of others. It’s easier to give people what they want if we can perceive what it is.

Numerous experts believe that an individual’s emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) may be more important than his or her IQ and is certainly a better predictor of success, quality of relationships, and overall happiness.

Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Discover the real power of positivity.
Mayer, J.D. (2009, Sept. 21). What emotional intelligence is and is not. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-personality-analyst/200909/what-emotional-intelligence-is-and-is-not.
Mayer, J.D.; Salovey, P.; Caruso, D. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63, 503-517.
Scuderi, R. (n.d.) Emotional intelligence: Why is it important? Lifehack. Retrieved from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/emotional-intelligence-why-important.html
TalentSmart (2017). About emotional intelligence: What everyone needs to know: Emotional intelligence is the other kind of smart.

Source: June 2017 EA Report Brown Bagger, part of June 2017 Employee Assistance Report Newsletter, Vol 20. No. 6, June 2017

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