Is Emotional Intelligence the same as being “nice” or “polite”?
Does Emotional Intelligence just mean you have a lot of empathy?
Is Emotional Intelligence only for women or men who want to “get in touch with their sensitive side”?
After 20+ years of writing and speaking about the science behind Emotional Intelligence and its importance in work settings, I still come across people who believe one or more of these myths about EI. The author of a recent article in Scientific American fell into the “EI is just about empathy” trap. And an article in Harvard Business Review equated being nice with Emotional Intelligence. The assumption that Emotional Intelligence is related to a man’s “inner female” was raised in a comment to one of my posts about the Emotional Self-Awareness competency.
Each of these exemplify misleading stereotypes about Emotional Intelligence. And they equate one narrow slice of these abilities with the whole. But Emotional Intelligence is much more than just being empathic or nice.
If someone asked you for a short definition of Emotional Intelligence, what would you include in your definition?
Here’s what I mean when I say Emotional Intelligence: It is the capacity to recognize our own feelings and those of others, to manage our emotions, and to interact effectively with others.
Clearly, these are human qualities beyond gender or any superficial differences among us, and refer to a healthy balance of a wide range of abilities.
The model of Emotional Intelligence my colleagues and I use includes the four domains below. Within those domains are twelve competencies, learned and learnable capacities that contribute to performance at work and in life.
Yes, you’ll find self-awareness and empathy on the list of competencies. You’ll also find positive outlook, conflict management, adaptability, and more. Each of the competencies focuses on a specific way that individuals can be aware of and manage their emotions and their interactions with others.
When I say “contribute to performance,” I don’t say that lightly. My colleague Dr. Richard Boyatzis from Case Western Reserve University and I developed this list after reviewing the competencies that companies themselves indicated distinguished their top-performing leaders from more average performers. Decades of research by Dr. Boyatzis, Korn Ferry Hay Group, and others show that higher levels of skill with EI competencies translates into better performance. Here’s just some of the data related to the different competencies:
- Emotional Self-Awareness: Korn Ferry Hay Group research found that among leaders with multiple strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness, 92% had teams with high energy and high performance.
- Emotional Self-Control: Australian researchers found that leaders who manage emotions well had better business outcomes.
- Adaptability: In a study of financial services sales executives done by Dr. Boyatzis and others, the more adaptable, the greater their effectiveness is shown by revenue and sales growth. Other researchers found that a leader’s adaptability predicts better overall team performance.
- Empathy: Research at the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathy predicts better job performance for managers and leaders.
- Positive Outlook: A researcher at the University of North Carolina sums it up this way: People who experience and express positive emotions more frequently are more resilient, more resourceful, more socially connected, and more likely to function at optimal levels.
More Complex—and Powerful—Than “Nice”
Emotional Intelligence is key for leaders at all levels of organizations, regardless of industry. Before you discount the value of Emotional Intelligence in the world of work, make sure you’re considering its range. And, read the research. Decades of empirical research demonstrates that Emotional Intelligence is more complex—and powerful—than simply being “nice.”