Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:May 18th, 2009 16:39 EST
What is Emotional Intelligence?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

By Gilmore Crosby, MSW (Mentor/Columnist)

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Revisited " An Interview with Crosby & Associates President Gilmore Crosby, Human Factors, Spring-Summer 2009, Issue 9.3 

Simply stated, "What is Emotional Intelligence?" Emotional Intelligence is a disciplined awareness of and respect for emotion in self and in others, which in turn allows for more rational management of emotional moments. EQ is in essence about relationship. Individuals with low EQ, even if they have high IQ, will almost certainly be troubled at work and in their personal lives due to difficulty relating to others. Emotional Intelligence is also a body of theory, which has been consolidated, furthered, and popularized by Daniel Goleman. 

What are the characteristics of well-developed emotional intelligence, versus poorly developed emotional intelligence? Above all else, the fundamental challenge is to know oneself and to work to overcome one`s blind spots and habitual patterns of behavior. In an ideal sense a person with high EQ has consistent awareness of even low intensity emotion, combined with a balanced experience of the full range of emotions. A healthy balance includes a high proportion of emotions that increase energy such as joy and love, but also appropriate doses of anger, fear, sadness, shame, and anxiety.  

If the idea that those last five emotions are part of the ideal surprises you, consider this - judging some emotions as good " and others as bad " is irrational. Humans are wired with all emotions for a reason. If you have no shame you`d be shameless, if you have no fear, you`d be reckless. Trouble doesn`t come from having emotions such as anger, but from acting on them without realizing it. Trouble also comes from imbalance, where a person is operating off of a limited range of emotion.  They will be driven by emotion in ways they are unaware of, and reactive to emotion in others. The may fool themselves by not appearing emotional, " but the need for such a façade is in itself an emotional and limiting reaction. 

A person with high EQ also has a strong dose of optimism tempered with some healthy pessimism. They have a balanced ability to focus on self and on others especially during tension, with clarity about what each wants, thinks, and feels. That of course requires the capacity to empathize accurately and with compassion. Imbalance, deficiencies, and blind spots in any of these areas decrease one`s self-knowledge and one`s capacity to know and understand others.  

What does that look like in the workplace? A person with high EQ will take responsibility for their own well-being, clearly conveying what they want, think and feel when they so choose, while tuning in and helping others to clarify the same. They will be able to have rational conversations about anything. 

Why should an individual or organization invest in building emotional intelligence? To decrease drama, and increase satisfaction and productivity. That is especially important between supervisors and their subordinates. Research shows time and again that the reporting relationship is the most important in the workplace and the one that needs to be developed to assure performance. Bosses and subordinates with low EQ are more likely to act on emotion without realizing it, blame others for their emotional states, repeat self-defeating patterns of interaction, and create needless havoc in organizations. The negative effect becomes amplified the higher the person rises.  

How does emotional intelligence develop?  Can we develop our emotional intelligence as adults?  How?  Human beings, like the vast majority of mammals, are social animals. As Lewis, Amini, and Lannon demonstrate in their groundbreaking work, A General Theory of Love, we need relatively calm and stable attachments to our initial caregivers in order to develop into emotionally stable adults. Indeed, without attachments, infants simply wither and die, even if all their other needs are met. The limbic, or mammalian portion of our brain, literally needs attachment and interaction in order to survive and thrive. 

The ability to manage attachments, the first learning process in life (before we have any ability to think), is at the core of emotional health and intelligence. Can you connect without being too needy, or losing your sense of self? Can you maintain distance without being either too anxious or too distant? These dances of togetherness and separateness, noted long ago by family systems guru Murray Bowen, are at the core of social success and strife, both at home and at work. Emotional Intelligence is about how to manage that dance. 

In addition, being intentional is vital to development. For example, I`m expressive in the Social Styles profile, so choosing to think before acting/speaking is something I have been experimenting with for years. Such behavioral self-development, if truly running against the grain of patterns adapted early in life, will always feel unnatural " at first and require conscious thought. So patience, persistence, and intention are vital to adult development. The EQ Profile is a great tool for increasing awareness and helping a person decide what to work on.  Individual coaching, group learning such as through our Tough Stuff and Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP), are also excellent paths for developing one`s EQ. As Kurt Lewin, the founder of OD discovered and demonstrated, learning in a system where others are also learning is the most powerful and reliable path to individual change. 

EQ accounted for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance

EQ mattered TWICE as much as technical expertise or IQ 

    Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence  

Accompanying Quotes from the Human Factors Food for Thought " Column: 

The positive intent of authority is to get things done. The negative intent and frequent consequence is to run roughshod over people. The positive intent of consensus is to significantly involve people in decision-making. The negative intent and frequent consequence is to stifle action and give power to the most stubborn. 

The intertwining of the positives is what (Emotionally Intelligent Leadership) is about. "

- Robert P. Crosby, The Authentic Leader,

The workplace could be a "classroom` for profound development. All the "stuff` that happens each day is the perfect "curriculum` for us, and our perfect "faculty` (the people we work with) gathers every day, ready to "teach` us what we need to learn. It is all available as "grist for the mill` of our development into the human beings we are capable of being. "

- John Scherer 

Hiding the self creates the major problem. "

- Ron Short, A Special Kind of Leadership 

You can reach Gil Crosby at, or via his website,