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Emotional Intelligence: What We Have Learned Over the Last 30 Years

Almost 30 years ago, Peter Salovey and John Mayer’s concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) entered the public lexicon with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Since then, the topic has captured the attention of academics and business leaders to emerge as one of the most important areas of growth in the behavioral sciences. With the publication of the updated EI model (Mayer, 2016), it is worthwhile to highlight some of the recent academic research as well as some of AEI’s practical experience as leadership development experts..

“The ability of leaders to adapt to ongoing change is largely an emotional challenge as opposed to an intellectual one.”
- Dr. Paul Wieand, founder and chairman of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Understood Today
EI, separate but equal to IQ, is the ability to understand and manage one’s own and other’s emotions to produce desired outcomes. To be fully understood and developed, EI cannot be separated from personality or the social environment. It is part of a group of “hot” intelligences: emotional, personal and social intelligence.
“It is easier to understand personality if one has a reasonable feel for a person’s emotions; easier to understand people if one understands the social systems they operate within,” (Mayer, et al., 2016).
Neuroscience Reveals Deeper EI Insights
Neuroscientific research provides a biochemical explanation of why EI can be more important than IQ. Emotions are primarily processed in the brain’s limbic system, whereas logic functions are carried out in the neocortex. However, emotional responses are milliseconds faster than cognitive responses. The brain's neocortex has been found, through brain imaging studies, to process logical and rational reactions to stimuli milliseconds slower than the limbic system, where emotions are processed. In the face of significant threat, rational thought is suppressed by a flood of emotions. Depending on one’s personality, a fight or flight response is triggered and a neural pathway is created that can be reactivated the next time a similar threat is perceived. In the absence of emotional intelligence, the neural pathway becomes faster, stronger, and more intractable each time a threat is perceived, even minor threats.

Learning to identify and manage emotions is critical. Suppressing emotions creates molecular blockages that cause cells to change, resulting in “widespread physical and emotional damage over time” (Sterrett, 2014). But, when we acknowledge emotions the chemical information in our brains flows freely and is able to help inform our cognitive processes.
The Role of Training
Leadership and talent development grounded in EI is able to translate research from the lab to help transform behavior.
The greater an individual’s emotional acuity, the greater success he or she finds in collaborating with and influencing people. EI training facilitates development of self-knowledge that leads to social knowledge and increasing interpersonal success (Kunnanatt, 2004).
EI theory broadly defines personal and social competencies required to help identify and manage emotions and discern the appropriate balance between the intellectual and the emotional to produce the results leaders want for their businesses, their families and themselves.
AEI has identified six conditions for authentic leadership that help develop these broad competencies:
Personal Competence: dealing with one’s own self
1. Act without defensiveness or arrogance
2. Leverage the paradoxes in your personality to better adapt
3. Welcome dissent as a means of getting at the truth
Social Competence: dealing with the self and others
4. Lead and collaborate with accurate empathy
5. Be driven by social values rather than by fears
6. Tolerate ambiguity and model appropriate transparency
Research and our own 30 years of experience confirms that leadership and talent development grounded in EI leads to positive sustainable change.
Kunnanatt J. (2004). Emotional Intelligence: The New Science of Interpersonal Effectiveness. Human Resource Development Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 4, Winter 2004, 489-495
Mayer, et al. (2016). The Ability Model of Emotional Intelligence: Principles and Updates. Emotion Review, vol. 8, no. 4, 290-300. doi: 10.1177/1754073916639667
Sterrett, E. (2014). The Science Behind Emotional Intelligence. Human Resource Development, ISBN 978-1-61014-323-3
ext here.