December 31, 2016

Emotional Intelligence

Todd graduated with a degree in economics at the top of his class. He applied directly to, and was accepted by, several highly ranked doctoral program. He rarely struggled with even the most difficult courses. He could answer quickly, and often smugly, any question that was asked of him.

I met Todd in graduate school. We attended a weekly seminar where the best and the brightest from around the country would visit and present on their research. We were expected to arrive early, sit at the back, and take copious notes so that we could be drilled later by professors. Although Todd excelled in general intelligence, he lacked self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy. I remember one seminar where he entered the room after the speaker had begun speaking, walked to the front row, and proceeded to ask a barrage of questions while chugging a 2-liter Mountain Dew. Yes, a 2-liter bottle.

Todd had no trouble passing his written exams; however, an oral exam was required to move into doctoral candidacy. The oral exam was designed to test not only the intellectual capacity of the student, but also the ability to think fast and communicate. I wasn’t allowed in the room the day Todd took his oral exam, but I asked a close friend who was there about the experience. He said that Todd was easily able to answer each of the questions asked. However, he didn’t pass the exam.

At the end of the exam, the student is asked to leave the room while professors deliberate. At the end of the deliberation a question is asked, “Who is willing to take the student as a research assistant?” In most cases, several hands go up. In Todd’s case, no hands were raised. Todd had succeeded to show his intellectual intelligence, but failed to show what psychologists call emotional intelligence.

The term emotional intelligence, or EI, was first coined in the 60s, but gained popularity in the 1995 book by that title, written by Daniel Goleman. In his research, he found that emotional intelligence is twice as important as technical skills and general intelligence at all job levels. Among business leaders, EI accounted for 90% of their effectiveness as a leader. Subsequent research finds that EI is correlated with personality traits of the individual; however, these traits can be modified and improved with effort.

Goleman defined EI as having five components: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social skill.

Self-awareness Knowing ones strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others

Self-regulation Controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods

Motivation – Relishing achievement for its own sake

Empathy Understanding other peoples emotional makeup

Social skill Building rapport with others to move them in desired directions

Most secondary and higher education is focused on general intelligence. Goleman defines IQ as “threshold capability.” This threshold capability is critical in a few select fields, mostly where individuals are acting in isolation. When relationships are required, which defines most careers, the EI of the individual predicts the ability to communicate, form relationships, and persuade others. Typically, those that have developed a high EI as opposed to general intelligence are given promotional opportunities.

Studies have shown that groups with a combined critical mass of EI perform better and are more productive than those with lower EI. As an employer, EI can be assessed in an interview process. Unlike general intelligence, which is governed by the neocortex in the brain, EI comes from the limbic system that governs feelings, impulses, and drives. Limbic systems can be changed through practice, and feedback. Emotional intelligence generally increases with maturity; however, it can also be improved through training and reflection exercises.

Recognizing and assessing EI can be a valuable tool in business and personal relationships. Training systems, assessment tools, and additional research can be easily accessed by an internet search. I have found that journaling is a great way to improve EI, and is the most cost effective as well.


Check out our Southern Utah Health & Wellness Directory at

Share this:

About Dr. Kyle Wells'

  • Email
Skip to toolbar