Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ (1995) by Daniel Goleman

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The writers of successful self-help books are generally messengers rather than creators. Their skill lies in their ability to produce a synthesis from other people’s theses. This certainly applies to Daniel Goleman, who came to fame through his forceful advocacy of the role of the emotions in the promotion of human health and happiness. Charles Darwin had made the same observation more than a century before, when he stressed the importance of our emotional faculties in preserving our lives and maintaining our ability to react to changes in our social and physical environment. Goleman merely followed this lead, building a powerful and convincing presentation based on a wealth of data culled from the findings of numerous psychological research projects. His timing was good, since the public was beginning to realise that IQ tests were not an accurate predictor of how well youngsters would perform when they left school. This argument had been powerfully made in a well-reported paper written by Professor David McClelland, head of the psychological department at Harvard University. He had demonstrated the unreliability of IQ tests, and advanced evidence to show that a far better prognostication of success in every realm of human activity was the possession of a wide range of emotional and social skills. It was under the supervision of Dr McClelland that Goleman worked to gain his PhD.

After graduating from Harvard he became a leading science journalist, writing for The New York Times and serving as senior editor of the magazine Psychology Today. During this time he wrote four books,

and edited a series of interviews with the Dalai Lama on ‘Healing Emotions’. This was an apt preparation for his magnum opus, which begins with a description of the brain of primeval man, which was hard wired for immediate action. With the aid of an emotional centre, located in the early part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, our forbears could react to their immediate environment, showing the primitive responses of fear, happiness, anxiety and disgust. This simple system enabled them to provide an immediate response to the unexpected attack of a sabre-toothed tiger, or the sudden assault of a band of spear-wielding enemy warriors. Psychic conflicts arose thousands of years later with the development of the cerebral cortex, which enabled man to think rather than provide an immediate and automatic response to outside stimuli. Now we had the embarrassment of choice. Should I, shouldn’t I? How should I? Where should I? When should I? Have I the guts to carry it out? What effect will it have on my partner? Goleman takes his readers through the daily battle between the ego and the id, and shows them how they can harness the powers of their emotional intelligence to maximum effect.

The book was an immediate success, spending eighteen months on the New York Times best seller list and being translated into thirty-three languages. Its sales were boosted when Time magazine made it their lead story. The book was given the thumbs-up by Nancy Gibb, one of the their leading reporters who said it explained ‘why the smartest kid in the class will probably not end up the richest; why we like some people virtually on sight and distrust others; why some people remain buoyant in the face of troubles that would sink a less resilient soul.’  Nobody could question the book’s core message – that our lives are determined as much by our feelings as by our conscious thoughts – yet it soon ran into a barrage of criticism. This came mainly from fellow psychologists, who may well have been disgruntled when its journalist author was twice short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize. We must control our emotions, otherwise our emotions will take control of us, Goleman asserted. This is easily done in the case of state emotion, as in the case of the anger which immediate feel when we’re riled. That can be controlled by walking away, taking a few deep breaths or counting to ten. But the same can’t be said of trait emotion – temperaments like pessimism and introversion – which tend to stay with us throughout our lives. Goleman makes it sound simple when he says that emotions are habits which are learned and therefore can be unlearned, but it’s not so easy to alter our basic personality traits. Goleman also makes a grave mistake in suggesting that Emotional Intelligence is a uniform asset that you either have or lack. In fact each emotion has to be handled as a separate entity, for some people can handle anger well, but can’t cope with fear or joy.  For this reason it’s a major error to try and quantify Emotional Intelligence, and make attempts to measure EQ, a term that’s never used in the book. That error crept in after the book was published, when the magazine USA Today, reviewed it at length and gave its readers the added attraction of a personality questionnaire which enabled them to determine their Emotional Quotient or EQ.

The book is now somewhat dated, but for all its defects remains an inspirational read. For example it provides a reminder of the study of business managers which showed that it wasn’t the brightest who got ahead, but those who were good collaborators, and popular with their colleagues. These emotional talents enabled them to achieve far better team work than socially awkward, lone-wolf geniuses. IQ gets you hired but EQ gets you promoted. Likewise in schools it’s been found that emotionally inept children, who have trouble being accepted by their chums, are two to eight times as likely to quit their studies. And schools that have introduced emotional literacy classes claim that fights in the playground have decreased from a level of two or three a day to almost none. There’s no doubt that book is still of practical value, and there might well be demand for a new edition, providing its early errors are corrected and amendments made to bring it in line with contemporary knowledge.

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