The concept of emotional intelligence is reshaping business school research programmes. Tony Tysome asks does it exist and can it be measured?
Last month, 18-year-olds Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot dead 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. The horrific killing spree left everyone wondering how intelligent people could carry out such a crime.
The fact that stood out from evidence gathered after the massacre was that Harris and Klebold were both clever. After attending a juvenile crime-education programme after an attempted car theft, Harris was described as "a bright young man who is likely to succeed" and Klebold as having "a great deal of potential". One answer to the mystery, according to American psychologist Alan Lipman, is that, while their IQ was obviously high, the pair suffered from low EQ.
EQ, or "emotional intelligence", is the latest buzz phrase to emerge from the business world and its advent is slowly reshaping the research programmes of university psychology and management courses. If you are emotionally intelligent, according to the latest thinking, you have skills that are likely to take you to the top. EQ, rather than IQ, is what you need to be success-ful in almost every walk of life.
Lipman, professor of psychology at Georgetown University in Washington D. C., says that the problem with the Colorado killers was that they failed to develop emotional intelligence. "The key area where people learn to keep their emotions under control is in the family. It would appear they may not have had the kind of support needed to develop the emotions to prevent them from harming others."
The theories that form the basis of emotional intelligence have been around for years, but they have become more popular since the recent publication of Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
Goleman reviewed psychological research on personality and concluded that emotional intelligence was the missing link between traditional notions of intelligence and evidence of success in private and public life. He defined the main components of EQ as: self-awareness, emotional management, self-motivation, empathy, managing relationships, communication skills and personal style. An understanding of the lack of these attributes in people's psychological make-up helps explain the "emotional ineptitude, desperation and recklessness in our families, our communities, and our collective lives", he says.
Goleman, a psychologist and journalist, cites as evidence of low levels of emotional intelligence "a surging tide of aggression - teens with guns, freeway mishaps ending in shootings, disgruntled ex-employees massacring fellow workers".
Professional associations with an interest in human resources and management, such as the Institute of Personnel and Development, are doing their best to promote the idea that "people skills" are the key to personal and managerial success. Research conducted for the IPD by Sheffield University's Institute of Work Psychology and the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, published last year, suggests that the way people are managed accounts for 19 per cent of the variation in profitability among companies.
This month, two more pieces of research spawned by the business world have appeared to add credence to Goleman's theory.
The Institute of Public Policy Research has published an academic paper, The Workplace and Productivity, that states that sophisticated people-management practices "are the most important predictors of the future productivity of companies"; and research from Henley Management College shows that emotional intelligence can be measured with tests designed to be as rigorous as those for IQ testing.
Henley College's Victor Dulewicz, co-developer of the test, says the main indicators of emotional intelligence fit in well with the "big five" personality factors recently defined by psychologists: introvert and extrovert tendencies, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience and emotional stability.
"To begin with, we were a bit sceptical - we thought EQ was just repackaging old ideas. But what we found was that those with higher emotional intelligence competencies did advance significantly higher up the organisational ladder. That suggested to us that there was something in it," Dulewicz says.
David Grove, manager of executive development at Bath University's School of Management, decided to introduce emotional intelligence into a one-year, full-time MSc in management, on the grounds that "if you are developing the whole person in an organisation then the bottom line usually benefits as well". He agrees with Goleman that emotional intelligence can be learnt.
According to Simon Hamm, head of careers and work placements at the European Business School, defining emotional intelligence is a way of recognising something that is common sense to most people - it takes more than a high IQ to make it in the world. "Emotional intelligence is likely to show up in school reports with comments from teachers such as 'not too good at exams, but a well-rounded person'."
Teachers and parents are nevertheless generally focused on ensuring a child's success in exams, rather than the "well-rounded" qualities. Goleman and his supporters suggest the consequences of this can be at best, underachievement, at worst, personal tragedy.