There’s more to success than manipulating peoples’ emotions.
The idea of emotional intelligence seems to have pervaded business thinking since the book on the topic by Daniel Goleman was published in 1995. The first use of the term is usually attributed to Wayne Payne’s doctoral thesis, “A study of emotion: Developing emotional intelligence” which he presented in 1985. Before this, though, the term had appeared in Leuner (1966). Greenspan (1989) and Salovey and Mayer (1990) also preceeded Goleman.
The idea that the management of our feelings (including emotions) was important to success in our society is not a new one. Even Darwin postulated that emotional expression was important to survival and adaptation. In the 1900s, even though traditional definitions of intelligence emphasized cognitive aspects such as memory and problem-solving, several influential researchers in the intelligence field of study had begun to recognize the importance of the non-cognitive aspects.
The science that encompasses EQ though dates to the 1920s, when EL Thorndike, used the term “social intelligence” to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people. Without wanting to seem pedantic, I think this is a far better place to start than Goleman’s popularised version.
Without doubt, marketing is crucial to business success and a catchy title to a book makes a big difference to its sales even if the content is a little less than revolutionary. In the case of Goleman’s EQ, the reductionist approach and it’s subsequent exploitation by a number of other authors has sadly created a body of knowledge that is exceptionally ‘leaky’ and relatively few ‘professionals’ in the field give it much credibility. Criticisms range from its lack of originality and substance, inability to predict, too broad definition, and worst of all that it contains assumptions about intelligence that are simply not correct (or even may be discriminatory).
Wherever we begin, the reason that these theories have become important is that the traditional approach to intelligence, measured as IQ, had long been known to be a poor predictor of personal success, performance, or any other outcome – it simply measured the ability to perform a set of relatively abstract tests.
Thorndike was the one of many to suggest that there was more than one determinant of how people perform. In 1940, David Wechsler described the influence of non-intellective factors on intelligent behavior, and argued that our models of intelligence would not be complete until we could adequately describe these factors. In 1983, Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences” introduced the idea of Multiple Intelligences which included both Interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and Intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations).
Definitions vary, but Salovey and Meyer focused on emotions – the ability of an individual to perceive, use, understand and manage, their own and other peoples’ emotions.
Goleman effectively took the definition back to the Social Intelligence construct of Thorndike, by saying that it was both emotions and feelings that were being perceived, used, understood and managed. In doing so, and in popularising this approach though, I believe that something has been lost and it’s helpful to go back to Thorndike’s original model of social intelligence if we are going to really be able to perform more effectively.
Edward Thorndike deserves a far wider popularity than he receives. Born in 1874, he devoted himself to understanding how learning happens and how to maximise its benefits. He was, without much doubt, the father of modern educational psychology. His initial research was on problem solving in cats trying to establish whether they really had exceptional insights. In the process he developed the concept of learning curves which we still use today. In WW1 he devised a method of screening applicants for military service which is still in use today. This method, a form of psychometric assessment, recognised (and broke free from) the limitation of English language ability to make this assessment. He recognised how seriously another ability (like the use of English) could influence other factors, and this led to him to develop the basis of Action Learning, which (amusingly) every generation since seems to reinvent as if it were their own.
Action Learning draws on the idea that traditional teaching (and preaching) are limited to the scope of the teacher rather than the student. They will progressively reduce knowledge and skills rather than expanding them. This is the theory which explains why coaching, counselling, facilitation, and peer supervision work more effectively. It’s also a powerful argument against hierarchy in organisations and many other structures.
In the next part of this blog, I’ll explain more about Social Intelligence and how it ‘works’.
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