Is There Such a Thing as Emotional Intelligence?

Last Updated Jan 28, 2009 6:20 PM EST

I recently attended a seminar entitled Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. The speaker was lively and enthusiastic and promoted the Emotional Blueprint model of Mayer-Salovey. To those unfamiliar with this model, the underlying principles are as follows:
  • Emotion is information and ignoring it does not work.
  • You may try to hide emotions but other people are able to pick them up.
  • Decisions must incorporate emotions to be effective.
On sale during this seminar were copies of The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: HOW TO DEVELOP AND USE THE FOUR KEY EMOTIONAL SKILLS OF LEADERSHIP by David R. Caruso and Peter Salovey. I had always been meaning to read this book so I bought a copy. After reading the book I must confess I was very disappointed. I thought the examples of the emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) in action were lightweight and I was not happy with the proposed Emotional Blueprint model.

I went to Amazon.com and discovered there were 37 reviews of the book. Nineteen were favourable and gave it five stars while 14 gave it one star with comments like "utter rubbish". Talk about manic-depressive! I don't think I have ever seen such a bi-polar distribution of opinion. Somewhat relieved to find myself in step with half the management population, I wondered: why does the book fail?

First, while I totally agree with the underlying principles, I do disagree with the concept that there is a separate intelligence called Emotional Intelligence (EI). The theory of multiple intelligences was first proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983. While widely adopted by educators, the theory has been widely criticised by experimental psychologists who argue that the model is based on Gardner's intuition rather than empirical data. Indeed, Gardner himself has stated there were no validating studies and he would be delighted for such evidence to accrue.

I agree with the Caruso-Salovey book title: Emotional Intelligence is a skill that can be developed through training and experience --- just like learning to play golf. I disagree with the idea that EI is an innate talent. Yes, there are some people who will be born with the talent to better read and control their emotions. Nevertheless, you can improve your EI. General intelligence (known as g) is what you are born with and effectively immutable; EI is a skill that all of us can dramatically improve.

I'd be interested to hear what literature you have come across regarding Emotional Intelligence. Please feel free to leave a comment.