A grand romantic gesture or an embarrassing cliché? Spending quality time together or an unimpressive, cheap night in? We make interpretations like this every single day. It just so happens that Valentine’s Day brings with it, a sense of romance. Love or loathe this hallmark holiday, it provides a great example of one of the core aspects of emotional intelligence; interpersonal awareness. Or in other words, being able to understand the emotions of others and taking actions to successfully manage them. A frequent problem with the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) is its definition. What does this ‘thing’ consist of? Are we born with it or do we learn to be better as we grow older? How is it any different to personality, if at all? All of these questions and many more have been aimed at EI, but are we getting anywhere with it? Alas, another question. Without making grand statements to the exact origin of EI, it was indeed Daniel Goleman who mainstreamed this construct as we know it today, but since then it has seen many variations. To the first question posed above – what does ‘it’ consist of?
There are a number of frequently used tools which measure emotional intelligence. These have been briefly outlined in the table below. From Goleman’s own measure, the ESCI, to the BarOn EQ-I 2.0 to the JCA EI tool – there seems to be a common thread running throughout them all. And this seems to me, to be the ability to be aware of and manage one’s own emotions as well as awareness of other’s emotions and understanding how to effectively manage them too. Perhaps this is too crude and reductionist, as I’m sure the authors of these great tools would attest but these are generally what the higher level ‘clusters’ seem to consist of.
To put it another way, EI has also been defined as the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions effectively in ourselves and others. An emotional competence is a learned capacity based on emotional intelligence that contributes to effective performance at work. Hence, speaking to the second question above, it is emotional competence which is a learned ability whereas trait emotional intelligence, as measured by the TEIQue, is innate. Trait emotional intelligence is concerned with emotion related dispositions and self-perceptions measured via self-report. However, one issue with this measure like most self-report items is that it’s susceptible to faking good responses. This makes its use in an occupational setting somewhat limited. In comparison, emotional competence is supposedly measured by a set of observable abilities, which is much more practical in terms of its use in a business setting. However, there are a few methodological issues with this, the major one being, how is one meant to measure another’s ‘self-awareness’ effectively? One way around this issue has been the creation of behavioural competency measures using both self-report and 360 degree versions, which measure observable qualities of someone who is ‘emotionally competent’. As such, informative comparisons can be made between the individual and observer ratings. However, it does seem that the explicit term, emotional intelligence has not been strictly clarified as being innate or learned – an unanswered question perhaps?
Lastly, Emotional Intelligence as a trait has been shown to be distinct to personality but falling in with the lower dimensions of personality trait theory. This may sound confusing, but it actually means that when factor analysed with the Big Five factors and Great Three factors of personality, the EI aspects held their own and created a separate factor (Petrides, Pita & Kokkinaki, 2007). But, this EI factor wasn’t completely distinct or orthogonal to the personality factors, as the academics would call it. It did however predict, over and above the EPQ and Big Five factors; life satisfaction, lower rumination, use of adaptive coping strategies and reduced use of maladaptive coping strategies. The significance of this finding is that it provides evidence that trait EI is in fact something which is separate to personality – it is a ‘thing’ in its own right. And crucially, awareness of our emotional abilities has consequences for the reactions we have towards our life events, for example what we received for Valentine’s Day.
So have we figured it all out? I would suggest not. But we have taken great strides in carving out valid and reliable measures of EI, as well as understanding how we can use this concept in a practical way. Whether we can conclusively say that EI is completely distinct to personality is perhaps not the pressing matter in this area. We are trying to make it very simple, but at the core of human beings, is a beautiful complexity that cannot easily be untangled. As a colleague of mine and an EI expert has said ‘separating EI from personality is like trying to remove a lung, without losing any blood’. A rather graphic, yet fitting illustration of the intertwined nature of these constructs. The take home message would be that while we may all have a set of relatively enduring preferences (personality), it is how we chose to manage these preferences effectively that matters, and this marks out the more emotionally competent individuals. It is therefore a matter of how we can learn from personality and EI, in a complementary fashion and use them to understand ourselves and others’ behaviours more effectively.
Written by Raj Chopra – follow me on Twitter: @Raj_Glowatwork
Petrides, K. V., Pita, R. & Kokkinaki, F. (2007). The location of trait emotional intelligence in personality factor space. British Journal of Psychology, 98, 273–289. Table Comparing Various EI Tools:
|Emotional Intelligence Tool||Clusters||Competencies|
|Emotional & Social Competence Inventory (ESCI)||Self- Awareness||Emotional Self-Awareness|
|Relationship Management||Conflict Management
Coach and Mentor Teamwork
|BarOn EQ-I 2.0||Intrapersonal||Self-Regard
|Stress Management||Stress Tolerance
|JCA EI Tool – Individual Effectiveness||Core attitudes||Self-regard
Regard for others
Awareness of others
Invitation of Trust
|Relationship Management||Personal connectedness
|TEiQue – Measuring Trait EI ‘self-report’ measures of EI as opposed to behavioural competence.||N/A
Emotion perception (self and others)
Emotion management (others)
Emotion regulation Impulsiveness (low)