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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
What We Know about Emotional Intelligence
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Development and Learning in Organizations, Volume 27, Issue 3
Moshe Zeidner, Gerald Matthews and Richard D. RobertsThe MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012, 441 pp., ISBN 978-0-262-51757-7
I bought this book as I wanted to update by own knowledge on emotional intelligence (EI) prior to running a session on it as part of a training programme. And boy, am I glad I did!
You may well be familiar with the concept of EI, and like me, you may have had your first introduction to the topic provided Daniel Goleman. Although not the first to research or to write about this field, Goleman can be credited with bringing the term emotional intelligence to prominence in his books Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998). He proposed that EI refers to a generic competence in perceiving emotions (both in oneself and in others). This competence also helps us to regulate emotions and cope effectively with emotive situations. One of the attractions of the theory, as proposed, was that it implied that one’s EI could be improved with practice. And who would not want to be able to better recognise emotions and to handle emotive situations in a better way? Many researchers over the last 15 years have picked up this topic for further research; many companies have issued their own measurement instruments and many trainers have gone to work to raise the EI of their organisation’s employees. But with all of this activity, where are we today? As per the title of the book – what do we know about emotional intelligence? That is what Messrs Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts set out to review – and their findings make fascinating reading.
To whet your appetite:
What IS EI? The term is one that has no agreed definition at this stage, with different researchers proposing (and often subsequently refining) their own definition. Whilst this is to some extent understandable with a very new topic, it does not help in advancing the scientific analysis and application of the knowledge gained. Are different researchers talking about the same thing, or are they looking at something slightly different?
How do you measure EI? First, with no fixed definition it is hard to know if different researchers are actually measuring the same thing. Second, there is the issue of the methodology of measurement. Some researchers choose to measure EI by questionnaires completed by their target group. A fundamental problem here is that someone with “low EI” (whatever that is) may be unaware of their shortcomings and thus mis-report their capabilities. Added to this, if the test is being used as part of a recruitment or promotion process, for example, there may be a temptation to answer in a way to show oneself in the best light, rather than the most truthful one. Other ways of measuring EI rely on observation of competencies. Although these have advantages, there are also problems with these tests.
Does the concept of EI add to what is already known about cognitive ability? There is a good body of evidence to support the validity of tests to measure IQ, and a well-recognised theory of personality in the five factor model. These have predictive qualities in terms of performance/future performance. When test results are adjusted to take these into account, much of the “extra success” of those with “high EI” (whatever that is) reduces to the extent that it is not scientifically significant. So, what is to be gained by studying EI?
The authors of the book all have sound credentials in the field and have written a thorough but readable book. The book is extremely well researched and referenced, enabling those who wish to know even more to delve further into the topic. They open with a chapter to set the scene. They propose that to advance the relevance of EI as a topic, researchers need to come up with a compelling theory, with accurate measurement and with practical application. Broadly, this forms the structure of the book. In chapter 2 we are asked to consider the existing measures for EI, and they include a very useful “primer” into the art and science of psychological assessments. Here we are introduced to the requirement for tests to have reliability, content validity, predictive validity, consequential validity and construct validity. Chapter 3 is titled “The intelligence in emotional intelligence” and the authors review various theories of intelligence. Then they move on to look at some of the tests that have been devised to measure EI. Not all of the test fare well when related back to the validity requirements covered in chapter 2. In chapter 4 the authors consider the inter-relationship between the field of EI and the field of personality. They make the point that there is a large overlap! Again, commercially available EI tests are put under the microscope and some are found to be wanting.
The next three chapters look at different aspects of EI, ranging from theories of how it develops (and the importance of early-life experiences), to aspects of using emotions to cope with stressful situations.
Sandwiched between chapters on EI within schooling and EI in a clinical setting are two chapters on EI within the workplace. These may be of particular interest to those involved in learning and development activities within organisations. As with the rest of the book, the evidence is forensically examined and many of the claims made over the last 10-15 years relating to the impact that an individual’s EI plays in their performance is brought into question. The authors are not saying that EI has nothing to offer, but they conclude that the case has yet to be made. And, from a training perspective, they repeat and endorse a rather damning statement made in 2006 by one of the most prominent early researchers in the field, Caruso, that “our concern regarding the explosion of training programs has to do with their lack of rigor and theoretical underpinnings. We have seen many programs labelled as EI programs whose content bears no resemblance at all to either emotions or to intelligence. Unfortunately, the term has become a convenient marketing tool rather than a body of professional practice”.
The book concludes with a chapter in which the key aspects are summarised and the authors proposed what has to be done to move forward the study of EI.
In many ways this book negative on EI. The authors have critically examined the evidence from the research and have set out their findings. They have shown that many of the early claims relating to EI have proved to be ill-founded and that many issues around definition, measurement and application remain to be resolved. However, they are not saying that this is a worthless topic. They set out proposals as to what needs to be done to get EI on a firm footing and in this respect I believe that have done great service to the cause of advancing our knowledge of how we understand and deal with our emotions.
Personal, they have completely changed the way I will approach EI from a training perspective. Read the book and you may come to the same conclusion yourself.
Reviewed by Tony Barradell. E-mail: Tony.Barradell@insightpeople.com
This review was originally published in Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 45 No. 1