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Emotional intelligence (EI) is the “subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”1 EI is essentially the capacity of an individual to recognize, control, and assess emotions.
Effective application of EI requires four factors namely, “perception of emotions, ability to reason using emotions, ability to understand emotions, and ability to manage emotions.”2
In the last decade, most fortune 500 organizations have focused on implementing policies that facilitate the development of EI among their employees. The rationale of this strategy is that EI promotes high productivity through its positive effects on organizational behavior.
In this regard, EI enables employees to manage stress, challenges, and conflicts, as well as, to communicate effectively and to empathize with their colleagues. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the arguments for and against the application of EI.
Arguments for Emotional Intelligence
The factors that underpin the application of EI in the modern business environment include the following. First, EI promotes intuition and empathy among employees.3 Concisely, it enables employees to recognize the feelings, needs, and concerns of other stakeholders of the organization. Understanding the feelings and perspectives of others is the first step in boosting employees’ motivation.
High motivation often develops in organizations in which the management understands the concerns of the employees and shows an active interest in addressing the concerns. Through intuition, managers can correctly anticipate, and recognize customers’ needs. This leads to the development of products that meet customers’ expectations.
The resulting improvement in customer satisfaction leads to high sales and profits. Intuition also helps managers to recognize the weaknesses and strengths of their juniors. Consequently, they are able to develop the right training and development programs for their workforce. Finally, ability to understand others promotes diversity at the workplace, thereby averting the tensions that might occur due to cultural conflicts.
Second, EI promotes effective leadership. Individuals with high EI are associated with excellent political acumen, as well as, social skills that enable them to lead others effectively. In this regard, EI enables leaders to develop and to use effective communication skills to influence others. Leaders who are able to influence the stakeholders of their organizations are likely to be change catalysts.
Concisely, they are able to use their communication skills to create a sense of urgency for change and to market the desired vision for the organization. High political acumen enables managers to win the support of their juniors and to build relationships with all stakeholders.
This promotes collaboration and cooperation between the employees and the management, thereby improving team capabilities. Empirical studies indicate that effective teams often boost the performance of the organization by sharing ideas, resources and complementing the weaknesses of their colleagues.
Third, EI promotes self-awareness among employees.4 Self-awareness is the ability of a person to understand his or her strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and capabilities. Emotional awareness enables employees to recognize their emotions, and the effects of such emotions on their colleagues. Consequently, employees will be able to manage their emotions well in order to boost their productivity.
Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses is a fundamental step in human resource development. Employees who are aware of their weaknesses often focus on improving their competence so that they can be more productive and competitive in their organizations. Similarly, employees who are aware of their self-worth tend to have high self-esteem and confidence.
Consequently, they develop high morale and commitment to their work. In the context of organizational behavior, self-awareness is the basis of change and action learning. Concisely, self-awareness enables employees to change their behaviors by imitating the actions of their role models.
Fourth, self-regulation can be achieved through EI.5 In this case, EI shapes organizational behavior by enabling individuals to manage their disruptive emotions and impulses. Self-control is a necessary condition for the development honesty and integrity at the workplace. Trust is likely to develop in a work environment in which the employees have high standards of integrity and honesty.
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One importance of trust at the workplace is that it enhances teamwork. Additionally, it promotes accountability by encouraging employees to take responsibility for their work. EI influences organizational behavior through its impact on innovation and adaptability among employees.
Individuals who are able to regulate their behaviors are likely to be flexible enough to handle change. Similarly, self-regulation enables individuals to tolerate novel ideas or innovative ways of doing things. In this context, EI is essential in organizations that intend to achieve change through innovation.
Fifth, EI has positive impacts on employees’ emotional and physical well-being.6 Effective application of emotional intelligence is essential for stress management. Effective control of work-related stress is one of the best ways of avoiding health conditions or illnesses such as stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure.
Individuals who are able to control their emotions tend to be less susceptible to anxiety and depression. Generally, physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the employees is a major determinant of productivity. In this context, EI determines the productivity of an organization due to its positive impact on employees’ well-being.
Finally, EI facilitates goal achievement and relationship management.7 Emotional intelligence is one of the major determinants of achievement drive. Individuals with high EI tend to set ambitious goals, which they strive to achieve. Furthermore, employees with high emotional intelligence are likely to be initiative. Such employees are often able to identify and to take advantage of available opportunities.
High emotional intelligence is essential for the development of optimism. It is apparent that optimism encourages risk-taking behavior and persistence in the pursuit of organizational goals. Similarly, relationship management helps employees to interact with each other in order to share ideas and to access technical and personal help.
People who are able to understand their emotions and to exercise self-control are likely to forge strong relationships with their colleagues. This premise is based on the fact that EI enables individuals to express themselves in a better manner and to understand the feelings of their colleagues.
Strong relationships are necessary at the workplace because they help in reducing conflicts, improving teamwork, and increasing productivity.
Arguments against Emotional Intelligence
The concept of emotional intelligence is often criticized due to the following reasons. First, measures of emotional intelligence are unreliable and unscientific. Measurements of EI are mainly based on the use of commercial tests rather than scientific data that facilitates the verification of the validity, as well as, the psychometric properties of constructs.
Most of the tests depend on selective anecdotal evidence, which cannot be analyzed scientifically. Most emotional intelligence models use measures that were developed from personality factors such as “emotional stability, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness to experience.”8
Consequently, using reliable personality test instruments should be the most appropriate approach for measuring emotional intelligence. One factor that reduces the reliability of emotional intelligence measures is the reliance on self-reported questionnaires.9 In most cases, self-reported questionnaires contain fake information.
Including false information in self-reported questionnaires is a common practice among jobseekers since it helps them to get jobs. This explains the unreliability of emotional intelligence tests that are done during staff recruitment process. It is against this backdrop that emotional intelligence measures are considered unscientific and ineffective in measuring or predicting performance.
Second, research findings on emotional intelligence are yet to add significant value in the process of measuring or predicting workplace outcomes. Concisely, there is no significant difference between the validity of the results obtained through EI measures and those obtained through traditional personality tests. This weakness is attributed to the use of weak research designs in emotional intelligence studies.
EI measures are not reliable because they merely collect information about individuals’ semantic knowledge about emotion.10 A reliable measure of emotional intelligence can only be achieved in a context in which the respondent is actually experiencing the emotion that is being measured. Emotional intelligence measurement scales are meaningless because they mask too much variation.
This is because the results are based on expert judgment or consensus rather than true or false answers. In most cases, a panel of experts or a focus group uses their judgment to decide whether the answers are right or wrong. The problem with this approach is that the panel of experts hardly agrees on a single set of answers.
In this regard, conformists who provide common answers tend to get high scores, whereas brilliant non-conformists often get low scores. Besides, the results are likely to be unreliable if the members of the panel are biased.
Third, the application of EI is complicated because it consists of numerous constructs, which measure an individual’s ability.11 Since constructs are not observable, their interpretations and definitions vary from person to person. In this regard, the application of EI is limited because it lacks a universal definition and measurement. Organizations tend to use observable behaviors to measure emotional intelligence.
However, lack of consensus on the specific behaviors that should be used to measure EI limits the application of the concept in the context of a business organization. One factor that complicates the assessment of EI is that measures that focus on ability are not correlated with those that focus on traits. Measures of trait-related emotional intelligence have close associations with personality tests.
Similarly, measures of ability-related EI have close associations with tests for coping strategies. Thus, using EI to predict business performance has little utility. Furthermore, there is no evidence to support the claim that EI can predict leadership success in business.
It is apparent that there is no particular skill set or a form of intelligence that is applicable across the board in most organizations. In this context, emotional intelligence can only be useful if it is used in conjunction with other concepts such as intelligence quotient (IQ).
Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, control, and assess emotions. In the context of organizational behavior, EI influences the actions of employees by enabling them to manage their emotions effectively. Proponents of EI believe that it promotes high productivity, and cohesion at the workplace. In addition, they believe that EI can predict leadership success.
However, the critics of EI believe that it has little or no value in predicting leadership or business success. This perspective is based on the fact that EI is a construct. Thus, its definition is ambiguous. In this regard, measuring EI has always been very difficult, thereby limiting its application.
Ashkanasy Neal and Daus Catherine. “Rumors of the Death of Emotional Intelligence in Organizational Behavior are Vastly Exaggerated.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 26, no. 4 (2005): 441-452.
Ashton-James. Is Emotional Intelligence a Viable Construct? Brisbane: UQ Business School, 2003.
Blell Denys. Emotional Intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
Dulewicz Victor and Higgs Malcolm. “Emotional Intelligence: Review and Evaluation Study.” Journal of Managerial Psychology 15, no. 4 (2000): 341-372.
Goleman Daniel. Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 2000.
Leary Myleen, Reilly, Michael and Brown William. “A Study of Personality Preferences and Emotional Intelligence.” Leadership and Organization Development Journal 30, no. 5 (2009): 421-434.
Moon Taewon. “Emotional Intelligence Correlates of the Four-factor Model of Cultural Intelligence.” Journal of Managerial psychology 25, no. 8 (2010): 876-898.
Prati Melita, Douglas Ceasar and Ferris Gerald. “Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Effectiveness, and Team Outcomes.” International Journal of Organizational Analysis 11, no. 1 (2003): 21-40.
1Denys Blell, Emotional Intelligence (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011), 12.
2Myleen, Leary, Michael, Reilly and William Brown, “A Study of Personality Preferences and Emotional Intelligence,” Leadership and Organization Development Journal 30, no. 5 (2009): 421-434.
3Victor Dulewicz and Malcolm Higgs, “Emotional Intelligence: Review and Evaluation Study,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 15, no. 4 (2000): 341-372.
4Taewon Moon, “Emotional Intelligence Correlates of the Four-factor Model of Cultural Intelligence,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 25, no. 8 (2010): 876-898.
5Melita Prati, Ceasar Douglas and Gerald Ferris, “Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Effectiveness, and Team Outcomes,” International Journal of Organizational Analysis 11, no. 1 (2003): 21-40.
6Blell, Emotional Intelligence, 142.
7Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books), 98.
8 Blell, Emotional Intelligence, 231.
9Neal Ashkanasy and Catherine Daus, “Rumors of the Death of Emotional Intelligence in Organizational Behavior are Vastly Exaggerated,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 26, no. 4 (2005): 441-452.
10Claire Ashton-James, Is Emotional Intelligence a Viable Construct?, (Brisbane: UQ Business School, 2003), 72.
11Blell, Emotional Intelligence, 245.