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Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Key Topics

A Person Can Be Highly Successful Without Emotional Intelligence

Some Common Sense

People can be highly successful without emotional intelligence. Again, here we are talking about emotional intelligence measured as an ability. The idea that low EI is a mark of failure stems from the popularization of the concept; my colleagues and I have never said anything of the sort. (See here for more.)

Emotional intelligence is a discrete and important part of personality -- but it is far from everything in a person's personality. An individual's personality is made up of many abilities and many desirable qualities. Just because a person is high on one doesn't say much about the likelihood of the person's being high or low on others.

People with Low EI Are Often Successful As Well

There are a large number of people who are highly effective, but who lack emotional intelligence. It makes sense that many people lack emotional intelligence. After all, roughly half the population has to be below average in emotional intelligence. But no one would expect that half of the population to be uniformly unsuccessful -- and that half of the populartion certainly isn't all unsuccessful -- in fact, nowhere near it.

There are several reasons that people lower in emotional intelligence can still be highly successful:

  • Emotional intelligence, though a crucial ability for human beings as a whole, is just one human ability among many. A person can employ many other abilities aside from emotional intelligence.

  • Human beings exhibit a marvelous capacity to adapt to their own skills and preferences in the face of a complex environment. That is, a person will compensate for low emotional intelligence by building on other strengths.

The nature of EI as an ability can be clarified by understanding that many kinds of effective, successful people may score low on ability scales of emotional intelligence. It is also the case that other, less effective people may score high on the test.

Examples of Highly Effective Low Scorers

It isn't uncommon to hear people ask -- in response to hearing about a successful person's low score -- how someone who is so very successful could have scored in such a way. To explain such an outcome, it helps to begin with the idea that there are many important personality traits that potentially contribute to a person's success. Table 1 shows six such personality traits, including emotional intelligence (as an ability).

Hypothetical profiles are provided for a series of kinds of people who were highly successful but often score low on the test.

Table 1. Hypothetical Profiles for Different Kinds of People on Six Personality Traits Including Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence: reasons with and understands emotion Conscientious: Organized, On time, etc. Technical Skills: cognitively smart, well -trained Altruistic and Sympathetic: May not understand that much, but really cares about others' well-being Considerate and Polite Athletic and Attractive Overall Perception of the Individual...

Low

High High High High High very successful
Low Low Low High High High a people person
Low High High Low Medium Medium effective
Low High High Medium Medium High the best army officer I ever worked with
Low Medium Medium High High Medium the best boss I’ve had
Low High High High High Medium an experienced HR professional
Low High High Low Low High a superb trainer
Low High High Low Low High a great teacher
Low Medium Medium High High Medium   very empathetic
Low High High High High High has it ‘all together’

What Woud High EI Add?

Many of the types of successful people described in Table 1 have been blessed with a number of positive personality qualities. Many of them are high and conscientiousness, altruism, and politeness. But they are all low in emotional intelligence.

It is worth asking what emotional intelligence would add over and above the already successful profiles in indicated. To consider this question, take three examples from above and consider the hypothetical case that they were transformed into people with high emotional intelligence. The result is illustrated in Table 2. (Text continues below)...

Table 2. Hypothetical Profiles for Different Kinds of People on Six Personality Traits Including Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence: reasons with and understands emotion Conscientious: Organized, On time, etc. Technical Skills: cognitively smart, well -trained Altruistic and Sympathetic: May not understand that much, but really cares about others' well-being Considerate and Polite Athletic and Attractive Overall Perception of the Individual...
The Hypothetically "Very Successful Person" With and Without High EI

Low

High High High High High very successful

High

High High High High High very successful plus attentive to the feelings of others
The Hypothetically "Superb Trainer" With and Without High EI
Low High High Low Low High a superb trainer
High High High Low Low High a superb trainer, plus, is able to enlist people's emotions in the service of changing them.
The Hypothetical Person who "Has it All Together" With and Without High EI
Low High High High High High has it ‘all together’
High High High High High High has it ‘all together’ including in the emotional realm.

Considering one case in detail -- that of the very successful individual -- can help indicate what such a difference would bring about.

A Hypothetical Case of Adding in EI

Originally, a very successful person was observed who has low emotional intelligence. Let's say that the expression "very successful" here refers to the fact that the individual has achieved a high degree of success in the business world. More specifically, imagine the case of a middle-aged man who is a business owner with a high level of income and an apparently happy home life.

If this individual were to have had lowly emotional intelligence, many of the emotional aspects of his life might have been ignored. Although he may look successful on the outside, he may need to contend on a daily basis with the aggravations and frustrations of the fact that his success in life, real though it is, did not extend to dealing with the emotions of those around him, or, for that matter, with his own emotions. This might not matter much to him. and yet it may enter into his life in various ways. For example, because he was not attentive to his own and others' feelings, many of the people around him may be dissatisfied with him, feel that they were treated unfairly, or be angry with him. He, in turn, may not like many of those around him. In other words, he is successful, but his success did not extend into the emotional realm.

If if this individual were high in emotional intelligence, he would more likely have attended to the emotional realm both within himself and also as concerned the emotions of those around him. If he were skillful at handling such emotions, he might have surrounded himself with people who he liked much better, and who, in turn, felt better treated by him. To accomplish this may have required some compromises in other areas of his success. Perhaps his business isn't quite as large as it might be in the first case, or perhaps he has had to take on more partners than might ideally have been the case. On the other hand, he and the people around him are happier with one another than they might otherwise be.

Emotional intelligence, in this case, contributes to the emotional well-being of both the individual who possesses it, and those around him.

What Does This Mean?

Put like this, it may seem that functioning without emotional intelligence would be highly problematic. If we step back, however, it is apparent that if you remove any positive capacity or quality from personality, something will be sacrificed. For that reason, it is probably fair to say that emotional intelligence is very important. And, at the same time, so are many other qualities. Since only a very small and fortunate few might have all the positive qualities desirable in personality, the rest of us must make do with what we have, and work with it as effectively as possible.

Part of working effectively with what is, involves self-knowledge. And self-knowledge can be enhanced from good psychological assessment, including the use of psychological tests.