The general concept of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability of an individual to recognize, distinguish, label, and manage their own and others’ emotions.
The concept of emotional intelligence is relatively recent; in fact, the first definition dates back to 1990 and was proposed by the American psychologist Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. Despite this, the concept of emotional intelligence began to take hold and become “famous” only between 1995 and 1996, following the publication of the book “Emotional Intelligence: What it is and why it can make us happy” by the ‘author and science journalist Daniel Goleman.
Following the publication of Goleman’s book, the concept of emotional intelligence took shape and became an object of study both in the psychological field and in the corporate organization. As will be seen in the course of the article, in fact, according to Goleman’s conception, emotional intelligence is a fundamental aspect of success in the field of business and leadership.
The transformations undergone by the concept of emotional intelligence over the years have led to the creation by psychologists and scholars of the sector of different theoretical models of EI, corresponding to equally different definitions and characteristics. In the course of the article, the models proposed first by Salovey and Mayer and then by Goleman will be considered, highlighting their characteristics and peculiarities.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence can be described as the ability of an individual to recognize, discriminate and identify, to label appropriately, and, consequently, to manage their emotions and those of others to achieve certain goals.
In truth, the definition of emotional intelligence has undergone several changes over the years and its meaning can take on different shades depending on the type of conception that one has of this ability to identify and manage one’s own and others’ emotions.
Emotional intelligence is also known as Emotional Quotient (EQ), Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ), and Emotional Leadership (LE).
Theoretical Models of Emotional Intelligence
As mentioned, the conception of emotional intelligence is not univocal, but there are several theoretical models proposed that describe its meaning and characteristics. Below are two of the main models of emotional intelligence currently in existence: that of Salovey and Mayer and that of Goleman.
Emotional Intelligence according to Salovey and Mayer
The conception of emotional intelligence initially developed by psychologists Salovey and Mayer defined it as the ability to perceive, integrate and regulate emotions to facilitate thought and promote personal growth.
However, after conducting several types of research, this definition was changed to include the ability to accurately perceive emotions, to generate and understand them to reflexively regulate them to promote one’s emotional and intellectual growth.
More specifically, according to the model of Salovey and Mayer, emotional intelligence includes four different abilities:
- Perception of emotions: Perception of emotions is a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. In this case, it is understood as the ability to detect and decipher not only one’s own emotions but also those of others, on people’s faces, in images (for example, in photographs), in the timbre of the voice, etc.
- Use of emotions: it is understood as the individual’s ability to exploit emotions and apply them to activities such as thinking and solving problems.
- Understanding of emotions: it is the ability to understand emotions and to understand their variations and evolution over time.
- Managing emotions: consists of the ability to regulate one’s own and others’ emotions, both positive and negative, managing them in such a way as to achieve the set goals.
According to Salovey and Mayer, the above abilities are closely related to each other.
How is emotional intelligence measured according to Salovey and Mayer?
The degree of emotional intelligence according to the Salovey and Mayer model is measured by the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso emotional intelligence test (also known by the acronym of MSEIT). Without going into details, we will limit ourselves to saying that this test tests the individual on the aforementioned abilities that characterize emotional intelligence. Unlike the classic IQ (intelligence quotient) tests, in the MSEIT there are no objectively correct answers; this feature, however, has largely contributed to questioning the reliability of the test itself.
Emotional Intelligence according to Goleman
According to the model introduced by Goleman, emotional intelligence includes a series of skills and competencies that guide the individual especially in the field of leadership.
In detail, according to Goleman, emotional intelligence is characterized by:
- Self-awareness: it is understood as the ability to recognize one’s emotions and strengths, as well as one’s limitations and weaknesses; it also includes the ability to understand how these personal characteristics can influence others.
- Self-regulation: describes the ability to manage one’s strengths, emotions, and weaknesses, adapting them to the different situations that may arise, to achieve goals and objectives.
- Social skill: consists of the ability to manage relationships with people to “direct” them towards the achievement of a specific goal.
Motivation is the ability to recognize negative thoughts and transform them into positive thoughts that can motivate oneself and others.
Empathy: it is the ability to fully understand and even perceive and feel the mood of other people.
According to Goleman, different emotional skills belong to each of the aforementioned characteristics, understood as the practical skills of the individual necessary for the establishment of positive relationships with others. These skills, however, are not innate but can be learned, developed, and improved to achieve important job and leadership performance. According to Goleman, each individual is endowed with a “general” emotional intelligence from birth and the degree of this intelligence determines the – more or less high – probability of later learning and exploiting the above emotional skills.
Goleman, therefore, makes emotional intelligence a fundamental tool in the context of job success.
How is emotional intelligence measured according to Goleman?
Emotional intelligence according to Goleman can be measured through the Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI) and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), these are tools developed by Goleman himself and by Richard Eleftherios Boyatzis, professor of organizational behavior, psychology, and cognitive sciences.
In addition, it is also possible to measure emotional intelligence through the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal. It is a type of self-assessment developed by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.
Effects and Benefits of Emotional Intelligence on Daily Life
Regardless of the type of model adopted to describe traits and characteristics, the presence of a high degree of emotional intelligence – understood as the ability to correctly perceive, recognize and manage one’s own and others’ emotions – should theoretically bring beneficial effects in all aspects of the individual’s daily life.
In detail, those with emotional intelligence should:
Have better social relationships
- Having better relative and romantic relationships
- Being perceived by others in a more positive way than individuals with low emotional intelligence
- Being able to establish better relationships in the workplace than those who do not have, or have a low level, of emotional intelligence
- Be more likely to understand yourself and make correct decisions based on both logic and emotions
- Have a better academic performance
Enjoy greater psychological well-being
Those with a good level of emotional intelligence seem to have a greater chance of getting satisfaction from their life, having a high level of self-esteem, and a lower level of insecurity. Furthermore, the presence of emotional intelligence seems to be useful in preventing wrong choices and behaviors, also related to one’s health (for example, psychoactive substance abuse and addictions to both drugs and alcohol).
Measurement of Emotional Intelligence
One of the main criticisms advanced against emotional intelligence concerns the inability to measure it objectively. Although tests are available for their measurement both according to the Salovey and Mayer model and according to the Goleman model, many doubt their reliability, as not exactly objective since there are no objectively correct or incorrect answers.
Between saying and doing
Remaining in the context of the methods used to measure emotional intelligence, and the doubts about the reliability of the tests used to determine its degree, a new criticism emerges, namely that what emerges from them is not always true.
The fact that from the execution of the aforementioned tests it emerges that a person knows how to manage emotions and how to behave accordingly in a certain situation, even a critical one, does not necessarily mean that that person reacts in that way (emerged from the test) when that person certain situation arises.
Utility of Emotional Intelligence
Another criticism – especially against Goleman’s interpretation – concerns the real usefulness of having a high emotional intelligence in the workplace. According to Goleman, a high emotional intelligence increases the probability of job success, especially at the executive level.
The criticisms leveled in this regard affirm that a greater ability to recognize and identify one’s own emotions and those of others does not always lead to success, but rather can put the leader in difficulty, who has to make important decisions. The studies conducted on the subject do not deny but do not even confirm this criticism.
In fact, from the studies published so far on the subject it has emerged that in some situations a high emotional intelligence helps achieve work success, in others it is neutral and in still others, it can be counterproductive. This is because, the ability to succeed does not only depend on the degree of emotional intelligence but also the IQ (IQ), on the personality of the individual, and on the working role that it covers.
Tool to Achieve Goals or Weapon of Manipulation?
Finally, we report a final criticism concerning the fact that emotional intelligence is considered by almost everyone as a desirable trait. In this sense, the idea has been advanced that not always the ability to manage the emotions of others to achieve certain goals can be considered as a positive aspect, since this ability could be used improperly as a “weapon” to manipulate thought and the action of others in your favor.
Regardless of the model considered the definition of emotional intelligence, the methods, and tests by which it is measured and even its very existence are still being questioned. According to some, there would be no emotional intelligence understood as a type of intelligence in its own right, but the ability to recognize, identify, label, and manage one’s own emotions and those of others would be nothing more than intelligence applied to a particular domain of life, namely that of emotions.
The concept of emotional intelligence, therefore, remains the subject of much debate.
What Emotional Intelligence is NOT
In the light of what has been said so far, it is clear that there is no single definition of emotional intelligence and how its meaning and its applications can change according to the theoretical models taken into consideration.
It is therefore not surprising that the concept of emotional intelligence is often distorted and/or misunderstood and that irrelevant meaning are attributed to it. In this regard, the same psychologist John D. Mayer wanted to spend a few words in an article published in an American trade magazine to specify that – contrary to what can be read in numerous articles, and magazines – emotional intelligence is NOT synonymous with happiness, optimism, calm and self-control since these are traits that may or may not belong to the personality of the individual and must not be “mixed” with the characteristics and abilities attributed to emotional intelligence.