We hear a great deal about the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in organizational settings. Although it is an incredibly popular concept, there are three common questions about EQ which, if addressed, could help move the organizational behavior field forward. First, can you accurately assess EQ? Second, what are the dimensions of EQ? And finally, can EQ be improved?
KEY POINTS 1. Ability-based emotional intelligence can be assessed using objective tests. 2. The four dimensions of ability-based EQ are similar to, but different from, the four emotional intelligence skills. 3. Emotional intelligence skills can be improved, but whether we can improve ability-based emotional intelligence is to be determined.
Assessing emotional intelligence
EQ entails the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought. This is a tricky construct, as it intertwines both emotional and cognitive systems.
Those higher in EQ are not only self-aware of their emotions but also capable of self-regulating such that they use that emotional-laden information to make behavioral adjustments. This multi-step cognitive process is an ability and, in turn, is labeled as a form of intelligence.
Ability can only be accurately assessed using some form of objective comparison. Asking a participant to self-rate the extent to which they are emotionally intelligent will not suffice. By definition, those lower in EQ aren’t capable of accurately rating this ability (i.e., underestimation or overestimation), making it challenging to properly evaluate its reliability and validity.
Relatedly, asking individuals to rate the extent to which someone else (e.g., a colleague, subordinate, supervisor) is emotionally intelligent is also flawed. We can only accurately rate the observed behaviors of others—the outcomes of emotional intelligence—which could be caused by a variety of alternative factors.
EQ as an ability is objectively evaluated such that performance on specific tasks can be compared against an overall population. One well-validated example is the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), which gives participants an assortment of visual tasks that map onto specific dimensions (see the next section below). The tasks are then scored as being correct or incorrect based upon comparisons to the normative sample (i.e., the general consensus method).
Takeaway #1: To date, the best approach to accurately assessing EQ is using an objective, test-based format.
The dimensions of emotional intelligence
There are two primary EQ frameworks circulating the infosphere. The first, created by Mayer and Salovey, identifies four dimensions (also referred to as facets or branches) of EQ as an ability. These four dimensions include perceiving emotions, facilitating thought, understanding emotions, and managing emotions.
The second framework identifies the four “skills” of emotional intelligence. The four skill-based dimensions of EQ include self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management.
The differentiation between abilities and skills is important. Abilities entail the qualities of being able to do something. Skills are more applied and behavioral in nature and can be developed over time. The benefit of the ability-based EQ framework is that it is conceptually sound and can be objectively assessed. The challenge, however, is that it is unclear whether it can be improved through interventions.
The benefit of the skill-based EQ framework is that it is more behavioral in nature, making it easier to pinpoint certain activities that might influence future cognitions and/or behaviors. The challenge here is that its conceptualization is less clear (i.e., cognitive and behavioral manifestations of an emotional and cognitive concept) and, in turn, might be confounded with alternative constructs.
The four dimensions of ability-based emotional intelligence
1. Perceiving emotions
The ability to identify emotions in self and others. This dimension is fundamental to the remaining dimensions, as it entails self-awareness and other awareness of emotions that can then inform self-regulatory capacities.
2. Facilitating thought
The ability to understand how emotions can be used to communicate information and, in turn, use that understanding in ways that are context-appropriate. This dimension addresses the idea that it is not enough to be aware of emotions; we must also understand what they mean and how they manifest in unique situations.
3. Understanding emotions
The ability to comprehend how emotions combine and transition and to understand the meaning of such combinations and transitions. This dimension acknowledges that emotions are multi-faceted and fleeting and that some individuals are more adept at understanding these complexities.