So why is it important that we understand emotional intelligence? Are there different kinds of emotional intelligence? Is there a difference between men and women or between people of different ages, or people doing different kinds of jobs? The key information summarised below is the result of many studies, documented in books, research papers and case studies during the last twenty years.
Emotional intelligence can be learned and developed
There are now a variety of different ways to teach and learn about emotional intelligence. Whatever your current level, with the right support, activities and commitment, you can improve it. Unlike your cognitive intelligence (of IQ), which peaks around the age of seventeen and stays constant throughout most of your life until it declines in old age, your emotional intelligence can be improved at any age in life.
Increases with life experience
Research by Dr Reuven Bar-On, using the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), confirms that emotional intelligence increases with age, peaks in the age group forty to forty-nine and then levels out. This could imply that after the age of forty-nine few new experiences add to or enhance our emotional intelligence. However, I prefer to think that learning about ourselves is a life long task. Research using the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS) also suggests that it improves with age, increasing between young adolescence and early adulthood.
Everyone’s needs are different
We all live among other people – in our family, community or place or work – and being able to understand, interpret and use the emotional content of life is useful for all of us. However, different jobs may require different levels and aspects of emotional intelligence – for instance, if you work in a job which involves a high degree of contact with other people, you may needed more of an ability to manage emotions (to deal with the storms), whereas if you are a counsellor, you may need a higher ability to understand your own emotions.
There are some differences between men and women
When Reuven Bar-On’s Emotional Quotient Inventory was used in as study of 7,700 men and women it was found that, whilst there was no difference between men and women on total EQ (or Emotional Quotient), women scored higher on all three interpersonal abilities (empathy, interpersonal relationship and social responsibility). Men scored higher on interpersonal dimensions (e.g. self-actualisation, assertiveness), stress management (stress tolerance, impulse control) and adaptability (e.g. reality-testing, problem-solving). According to Dr Bar-On, “Women are more aware of emotions, demonstrate more empathy, relate better interpersonally, and act with more social responsibility than men. On the other hand, men appear to have better self-regard, are more independent, cope better with stress, are more flexible, solve problems better, and are more optimistic than women.”
Being emotionally intelligent adds to your general intelligence
Whether you’re being systematic about buying your groceries in a super-market, or being organised about setting and achieving a business plan, or even your life goals, you need a good IQ. (intelligence quotient). When solving a problem, being realistic about what is achievable involves some practical knowledge. Focusing on emotional intelligence doesn’t mean throwing out the guidelines and structures that you learned a long time ago to help organise your day-to-day life. An awareness of the emotional aspects of what is happening will add to the abilities measured by IQ. As the psychologist David Wechsler put it in 1940, individuals with identical IQs may differ very markedly in regard to their effective ability to cope with the environment.
‘Emotional intelligence’ is not an oxymoron
An oxymoron is a word or phrase that brings together two contradictory ideas (such as ‘bittersweet’, ‘living death’). Within what might appear a contradiction, ’emotional intelligence’, lies the depth of the concept of EI – it involves both the process of turning into your emotions (some-times regarded as the ‘soft’ stuff) and the need to be analytical about emotions and learn new skills in a ‘hard’ analytical way. Since 1990, when John Mayer and Peter Salovey coined the term ’emotional intelligence’, their work, and that of David Caruso has highlighted this important combination of thinking and feeling. Both are necessary if you are to make good decisions.
The hard science underpinning it
The fields of neurology, medicine and psychology have all contributed and added to our understanding of emotions and the role of emotions in staying healthy;
Affects our ability to make decisions
We make most of our decisions through our emotions, whether we think so or not. Therefore, it is useful for making good decisions.
Reflected in relationships
This is the area where you generally observe, at close hand, people with emotional intelligence – they tend to enjoy close relationships, and are comfortable with themselves and with others.
Numerous studies have been conducted which prove that a focus on emotional intelligence has benefits to health, business success, and relationships. Particularly useful are the case studies documented by HeartMath Europe. The benefits they found include reduced blood pressure’, higher levels of personal productivity and team effectiveness – and these benefits are sustained six months after people are taught the techniques.