It should not come as a surprise that the ability to analyze and understand emotion is crucial in all walks of life. Yet the concept of an “emotional intelligence quotient” or EQ, comparable to IQ, is controversial. For example, many psychologists dislike the concept because nobody has come up with a good test to measure emotional intelligence. Of course, it can be argued just as easily that our tests to measure IQ have been equally unsuccessful.
Despite its questionable utility in scholarly circles, the concept of emotional intelligence is much more useful in practical settings, like offices and classrooms.
Many people feel that it’s common in the Western world to overvalue the importance of rational intelligence. For example, children are considered successful if the school system finds them to be intelligent. A promising child is one who is “smart.” Sometimes we clarify that being “smart” only refers to a narrow set of skills, but other people use the word as if it referred to everything a person does with their mind. Some people talk as if a person who is good at chess or math should be able to succeed at any profession.
In this context, the idea of emotional intelligence is merely something to keep in mind when evaluating the talents of people you work with. Many successful people think very slowly and would likely do very poorly on IQ tests.
It is perhaps ironic to say that emotional intelligence is a useless idea because we can’t measure it well enough yet. However, despite its mixed reception among scholars, EQ is flourishing among business leadership manuals, and self-help guides, and becomes increasing popular as more people read these sorts of books.
Additionally, it could also be argued that our school system already encourages emotional intelligence to a very high degree. Students need to be able to communicate effectively with their teachers, particularly to understand the nuances of classroom expectations. They also need to be able to get along with their peers. Plenty of students do well on standardized tests but struggle to get good grades. Many “smart” students remain withdrawn or become combative in class, as they are unsure how to fit in with the school’s social norms.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How would you describe your own emotional and intellectual skill set? Do you tend to do well on standardized intelligence tests?
When you were in school, did you find that emotional intelligence or IQ were more important to getting good grades?
In your professional life, what kinds of problems do people run into who lack emotional intelligence? What about those who may perhaps lack IQ?
What can people do to improve their emotional intelligence? What can they do to improve their IQ?
The concept of emotional intelligence is just as hard to define as rational intelligence. It’s very important, both socially and professionally, to be aware of the different mental skill sets that people possess, and not to judge people based on a single measure of intelligence.