Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.Horatio Walpole (1729)

I remember doing a course at the Irish Management Institute on communication. As I am a problem solving type I was sure and confident of my skills and when I took a test on Empathy I was confident of doing well. I did not do well.

I was of the opinion that people who had personal or emotional problems need to have it fixed and be motivated to either “get on with it” or work to fix the problem – with as much help from me as was required. This however was not empathic – which is defined as one’s ability to recognize, perceive and directly experientially feel the emotion of another. This of course involves listening to and “being there” for someone rather that immediately focusing on the problem. This introduced me to a world of emotion that I had assumed needed to be avoided to make clear logical decisions and make things happen. Clearly I lacked a natural appreciation of Emotion in others and probably myself.

Emotional Intelligence was simply defined by Savoley and Mayer as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them … to guide ones own feelings and actions”. They further explain the benefits of Emotional Intelligence thus:

“When people approach life’s tasks with Emotional Intelligence, they should be at an advantage for solving problems adaptively …The sorts of problems people identify and the way they frame them will probably be more related to internal emotional experience than will be the problems addressed by others.”

The take up in popular culture and now business and academic culture of Emotional Intelligence has been driven somewhat by linking Emotional Intelligence to “success” in life and business and to the very popular 1995 Goleman book on Emotional Intelligence in which he questioned the factors that cause people of high IQ to flounder and those of modest IQ to do surprisingly well. Goleman suggested that the difference lies in the abilities called Emotional Intelligence, which include self control, persistence and the ability to motivate oneself.

Higgs and Dulewicz of Henley Management College who I came across during my MBA studies found also that corporate interest appeared to be strongly related to the search for a way of securing a competitive advantage through attention to developing human capital. They also suggest Emotional Intelligence contributes to success noting:  “The roots of the development of the concept of emotional intelligence appear to lie in the apparent inability of traditional measures of “rational thinking” … to predict who will succeed in life.

The idea of relating Emotional Intelligence to success in life also needs qualification re: the nature of “success” (as it obviously means different things to different people) and some for example refer to it at different stages as “life success” “success in their chosen field of endeavour” “success in the organisational context” etc. Goleman’s illustrated this by pointing out that given IQ and technical competences are equal with two individuals one becomes and English professor and the other the Head of the English Department – the difference between the two being the higher Emotional Quotient of the latter.

Emotional Intelligence also plays a key role in leadership and management and Goleman found that Emotional Intelligence plays an increasingly important role at the highest levels of the company, where differences in technical skills are of negligible importance. This correlation is very interesting in the Organisational context and even more interestingly he also found that the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more Emotional Intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for this effectiveness.

The importance of Emotional Intelligence has lead to extensive media coverage and great interest from all walks of life. There is no doubt in my mind that Emotional Intelligence is an important topic for Occupational Psychology, for Human Resource Management and that it has huge potential value for Manager, Leaders and HR professionals and also teachers, educationalists and counselors.

Aidan Higgins