We can all agree that extremely intelligent people can disagree and sometimes succumb to irrational feelings, misunderstandings and conflict. It is not enough to be smart. It is also important to get along with people, to understand them, and to express ourselves in pleasant ways that help us all get along.
We all at one time or another let our emotions carry us to places we thought we could never reach and some places and situations we never intended to be in. Emotions are an important part of our successes and failures and that includes the emotions that drive the actions of others who impact our journey. It is hard to imagine that learning to manage our emotions and to better understand the emotions of others is not an extremely desirable thing that we can pursue in a straightforward manner. But for many it is not. The concepts that cover this important topic, “emotional literacy” and “emotional competence” can be summarized in the operational definition of emotional intelligence.
Definition of Emotional Intelligence (EQ): “… the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. We posit that life tasks such as those described by Cantor and her colleagues and constructive thinking defined by Epstein are laden with affective information, that this affective information must be processed (perhaps differently than the cognitive information), and that individuals may differ in the skill with which they do so. Emotional intelligence is also a part of Gardner’s view of social intelligence, which he refers to as the personal intelligences. Like social intelligence, the personal intelligences (divided into inter- and intra personal intelligence) include knowledge about the self and about others. One aspect of the personal intelligence relates to feelings and is quite close to what we call “emotional intelligence.” John Mayer and Peter Salovey, 1990
Emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) is an idea that grew up in academia, was popularized on pop psychology shelves and, more recently, has been made useful in leadership development and organizational management circles. From its conception, it was juxtaposed to the idea of Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Its lofty intellectual beginnings notwithstanding, EQ has been embraced by so many for so many reasons that its early paradigmatic intentions may now be lost to the many.
If the intelligence scale we call “IQ” has been controversial, EQ has been equally misunderstood. Even if we can all agree on a definition and on appropriate applications of EQ theory, it’s behavioral health benefits cannot be implemented through quick short-term programs nor can it’s salutary outcomes be made sustainable without a significant transformation in our health education and K through 12 school educational systems. Many of the individuals, that could benefit from the competencies that learning and having good EQ promises, are neither fortunate enough to access the education nor in social circumstances conducive to self improvement pursuits. In a more mindful and egalitarian world, more complex ideas may achieve greater buoyancy and utility. EQ is no exception.
Popular ideas live in the minds of the many and, perhaps because of their simplicity and utility, become sustainable and prolific for both producers and consumers. The dilemma is, however, that society often needs ideas that are more complex in order to solve and address vexing modern problems. To Goleman’s credit, in part due to his efforts, EQ is being applied through his numerous consulting activities and, for example, in his supportive role helping to organize a set of conferences that led to the publication of a 1997 book by John Mayer and Peter Salovey (Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Educational Implications) addressing possible emotional intelligence and social skills applications to address child development and conflict resolution in school systems (the academic team that initially developed the “theory” that led to EQ as a useful framework for researching and teaching the role that emotions play in achieving personal, social, and organizational success). Aside from this collaboration, though, much of what is popularly understood about EQ has been disseminated through Goleman’s consulting and pop psychology success NYTs best seller style.
Academic ideas and constructs more often tend to be quite different from popular ideas. They differ in that their currency tends to require intellectual specialization, academic environments akin to monasteries, and individuals with a broad understanding of the numerous currents and variables that give academic products their place in the refereed conversation of the nation’s professorial ranks. Emotional intelligence is an important flashpoint for forces with differing origins yet, ideally, common destinations–thinking individuals wanting to promote social good and noble ends. Daniel Goleman and Adam Grant are two such forces; they are social communicative pundits in the ongoing tug of war that will define the proper and productive utility, and place, of emotional intelligence, as a leadership and workforce development concept. According to Grant, Goleman goes too far in trying to apply EQ to business intelligence, heretofore an area reserved for things more mathematical and tangible. Goleman has been given a professional home on the pages of the prestigious Harvard Business Review, an instrument of both Grant and Goleman’s alma matter. A key question would be: Is EQ being misapplied or is the environment where it needs to be applied unready for its heuristic promises? Given the challenges, faced or ignored, by today’s business and organizational leaders, can we afford to dismiss this popular tool?
Adam Grant published a provocative article on LinkedIn formulating a critique of Goleman’s more global approach to EQ. Unfortunately, Grant’s article includes academic claims and posturing that is clouded by his overall trivial tone. We need a greater focus on academic rigor and the pursuit of more robust theoretical constructs that can yield progress towards EQ program development and implementation, in the area of behavioral health, for example. This seriousness seems to be lacking at the present time–certainly in Grant’s article (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140930125543-69244073-emotional-intelligence-is-overrated?trk=prof-post).
We may be exceedingly amazed to see academics, intellectuals, pundits, and intellectual entrepreneurs spar, in the marketplace of ideas, in order to promote their worth and place in the market. The debate seems omnipresent as it crosses many borders through the Harvard Business Review, on blogs, and here on LinkedIn. Certainly, Adam Grant steps into the breach and tries to hold Goleman to task for what he sees as academic obfuscation. Interestingly, he borders on ad hominem intentions and plain teasing. Perhaps Adam Grant is pandering to this electronic social media medium and finds such rhetorical tools necessary. Perhaps the conversation that is sought here with leaders understands that today’s leaders are not Plato’s philosopher kings. Indeed, Grant does not seem to see the business of management outside of specific emotional terrain so touchy feely as Goleman would. It is plain to see that Daniel Goleman’s place is secure, as the high priest of pop psychology, because his Ph.D. in Psychology and his perch on the NYTs allowed him to popularly run with the “EQ” concept and build an entrepreneurial empire which may outlive him and the rest of us. To be sure, the spoils from the ensuing popular media endeavors have favored Goleman’s lot, EQ’s intellectual forefathers have not similarly gained (John Mayer and Peter Salovey). This does not bode well for future intellectuals lacking entrepreneurial prowess. You will find Mr. Grant on LinkedIn though, promoting his intellectual wares; he’ll do just fine.
Interestingly, we can look at Salovey’s dissertation from way back in 1986 for the early intellectual ground from which the concept of EQ grew (P. Salovey, The Effects of Mood and Focus of Attention on Self-Relevant Thoughts and Helping Intention, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University, 1986). We can also look at the role of popular psychology in our culture to find similar ground for Goleman’s efforts and success. Mayer and Salovey are the original promoters of the ideas and of the intellectual history which gave intellectual buoyancy to the concept. Daniel Goleman refers to his encounter with the work of these two men in a passing way and diminishes their importance by alluding to the lack of stature of the journal in which they published the original 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman has turned the work of these men into a cottage industry and his published retort to Grant shows his ability to popularly promote the term “EQ” in contrast to feebly defending it. Perhaps Goleman is safe behind the popularity curtain always protecting his wizard like reputation. Up and coming scholar, Adam Grant, rightly exposes Goleman’s use of the concept as less relevant outside the parameters of academic rigor and of the realms of possible scientific discipline and emotive applications. The academic trial only seems to be beginning, though, and the popular court is woefully incapable of sequestering an appropriate jury to reach a useful verdict that would bridge the cerebral gap between academic thinkers, intellectual entrepreneurs and the laboring rank and file. Given EQ’s arguably heuristic potential and the millions that are being made from its application or misapplication, we can’t have some thinking of it as business and the rest of us as “nobody’s business.”
The concept has grown to mean so many things to so many people that it now means specifically very little within the confines of academic, intellectual or theoretical query. Salovey and Mayer’s contributions to modern management and leadership are now popularly distant from their original rigorous work. The popular development of that work may possibly have obstructed the original potential of Salovey and Mayer’s ideas and constructs, further obfuscating the road to needed progressive managerial and leadership applications. Goleman has made it common coin and personal gain–neither being efforts which have contributed significantly in taking the concept further along its original intellectual journey; nor has it helped in the building of necessary theoretical constructs that can give us an applied framework that allows for clarity regarding how and when it is useful as a heuristic model for organizational, group, or individual purposes. To be sure, Goleman now makes these claims; but his arguments are devoid of the rigor evident in the original works of the real pioneers from which the potentially useful constructs originate.
Centuries have passed since the monastic catacombs of the original academy, with its religious literati and the ensuing work of the eventually enlightened philosophers and scientists. That is work that was preserved and discriminatingly shared through coveted books and into modernity. But all that has now changed and continues to change. Academia is only one voice in a cacophony of social and intellectual media now fueled by e-commerce and consumed on billions of instantaneous screens. Ideas are now increasingly, and literally, in the clouds, ubiquitous cannon fodder for daily consumption; their value and retention seems now to be more tethered to the common cause than to the lofty undertaking. Can you imagine that?