EI versus IQ: Why emotional intelligence matters

Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence took the business world by storm. It formalised what most people already knew – that IQ was no guarantee of effectiveness in the workplace, particularly in regard to leadership. Goleman suggested that a person’s ability to understand the emotional reality of both themselves and others may be more important to success than pure brainpower ever was.

The EI revolution

It was to the idea of intelligence what rollerblades were to roller skates. Most people took one look and said, “Of course! Why didn’t someone think of this before now?” Well, actually, they did. The first appearance of this term was as early as 1964, but it wasn’t until Goleman’s book that it became well known.

Since then EI has been integrated into virtually every business course, book, training, blog and workplace. What appeared to be a radical new concept is now considered a core component of business thinking and has spawned a huge body of research into exactly what it is, how to measure it and how to develop it.

But it is true? Is emotional intelligence really the bee’s knees of business wisdom? Most studies say yes. EI is positively correlated with more effective leadership, teamwork, sales skills, customer service and productivity. Those who have it generally do better than those who don’t, except in some specialist fields that require a high degree of abstract thinking like science.

EI can’t make you successful on its own

However, Goleman himself issues a warning to us about how much credit we give EI in determining success. In an article for TIME he debunks the popular myth that says EI can be responsible for up to 80 per cent of your success.

“It typically takes an IQ of about 115 or above to be able to handle the cognitive complexity facing an accountant, a physician or a top executive,” Goleman says. “But here’s the paradox: once you’re in a high-IQ position, intellect loses its power to determine who will emerge as a productive employee or an effective leader”.

Goleman refers to EI as a set of skills, suggesting that it can be learned by most people. He suggests that there are five core skills: self-awareness; self-regulation; empathy; social skill; and motivation. In other words, we have to have the ability to perceive, understand and control our emotions as well as knowing how to take effective actions in response.

There is considerable debate about whether EI is truly a separate form of intelligence, or merely the application of intelligence to the understanding of emotional information. It’s a question that is unlikely to be settled soon, but meanwhile it appears that EI matters, to both the individual who is seeking advancement and the businesses that employ them.

Emotional intelligence is a way of talking about our ability to relate successfully with others, to gain their cooperation and engagement. Despite the difficulties we may have in defining exactly what it is, there can be no doubt that it is important to success of business.

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