Reading Room

ReadingRoomGolemanEmotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ – Daniel Goleman

“Emotional life is a domain that, as surely as math or reading, can be handled with greater or lesser skill, and requires its unique set of competencies. How adept a person is at those is crucial to understanding why one person thrives in life while another, of equal intellect, dead-ends: emotional aptitude is a meta-ability, determining how well we can use whatever other skills we have, including raw intellect.”

“I have had to wait till now before the scientific harvest was full enough to write this book. Now science is finally able to speak with authority to these urgent and perplexing questions of the psyche at its most irrational, to map with some precision the human heart.”

In a nutshell

The truly successful person will always have achieved emotional self-mastery.

The book is almost 300 closely set pages long, with endless case studies and footnoting, but the thrust of Emotional Intelligence can be summed up in three points:

* Through the application of intelligence to emotion, we can improve our lives immeasurably.

* Emotions are habits, and like any habit can undermine our best intentions.

* By unlearning some emotions and developing others, we gain control of our lives.

If this were all there was, it would not be a very interesting book, but Emotional Intelligence is one of most successful self-help tomes of the last decade and has reached well beyond what would normally be considered a traditional self-help audience. Researchers had been expanding our idea of what intelligence is for some time, but it took Goleman’s book to catapult the idea of emotional intelligence (EQ) into the mainstream.

How much the average person hates the IQ test must have something to do with the success of the work. Whether or not that test is a good measure of anything, its effect has been to restrict choices and damage self-esteem for millions. Saying that IQ is not a particularly good predictor of achievement, that it is only one of many “intelligences,” and that emotional skills are statistically more important in life success, Emotional Intelligence was bound to be well received.

The following is a breakdown of the book and some of its key points. Civilizing the brain In looking at the way the brain is wired, the first part of the book removes some of the mystery from our feelings, particularly the compulsive ones. The physiology of our brains is a hangover from ancient times when physical survival was everything. This brain structure was designed for” acting before thinking,” useful when in the path of a flying spear or in an encounter with an angry mammoth. We are still walking around in the twenty-first century with the brains of cave dwellers, and Goleman tells us about “emotional hijackings” – flooding of the brain with intense, seemingly uncontrollable emotion – that can trigger spur-of-the-moment murder, even of a longstanding spouse.

Using emotional intelligence

Parts Two and Three go into the elements of emotional intelligence and its application in real life. Goleman notes that the problem is not the emotions per se, but their appropriate use in given situations. He quotes Aristotle: “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.”

Aristotle’s challenge becomes all the more important in a technologically advanced world, because the meaning of “civilization” ceases to be technological, defaulting to the nature of man and the quest for self-control.

Part Three applies the lessons of emotional intelligence to intimate relationships, work, and health. The relationships chapter alone is worth more than many entire books on the subject, intricately describing the neuroscience behind the Martian and Venusian worlds of the sexes.

Emotion and morality

In making the link between emotional life and ethics, Goleman notes that if a person cannot control their impulsiveness, damage will be done to their deepest sense of self. Control of impulse “is the base of will and character,” he says. Compassion, that other benchmark of character, is enabled by the ability to appreciate what others are feeling and thinking. These two elements are fundamental to emotional intelligence, and therefore are basic attributes of the moral person.

Emotional intelligence makes a winner

Other major qualities of emotional intelligence are persistence and the ability to motivate oneself. These are not emotions per se but require self-control and the ability to put negative emotions and experiences into context.

Goleman validates the “power of positive thinking” as a scientifically proven approach to achieving success, and says that an optimistic outlook is a key clinical predictor of actual performance, borrowing from research done by Martin Seligman – see Learned Optimism.

The obsession with IQ was a product of the twentieth century’s model of mechanistic achievement. EQ, with its focus on empathic people skills and relationships, is a basic success element in a more fluid and creative twenty-first-century economy.

The world of work

Goleman’s book has had a significant impact on the workplace and business world. Though he only devotes one chapter to management, it is clear that the concept of emotional intelligence has struck a nerve with workers, angry or hurt by the low emotional capacities of their bosses. Similarly, it has shone a light for many bosses and team leaders who wonder what they can do to improve maddeningly poor performance. As you suddenly see that half your organization is emotionally stupid, your standards will inevitably rise.

One fascinating chapter, “When smart is dumb,” puts IQ in its place among several other types of intelligence. As anyone who has worked in an office environment will know, you may be producing the most exciting product around but it will still be a miserable place to work if it is also an arena for clashing egos. Business success is the result of passion for a vision or a product. Though big egos are often associated with such success, better companies are notable for their ability to create harmony and excitement by focusing on the product or the vision, not the organization. These ideas are further spelled out in the spin-off – Working with Emotional Intelligence.

Teaching EQ

Emotional Intelligence has its roots in the concept of “emotional literacy” and in the final part of the book Goleman expounds on the need for EQ skills to become part of the school curriculum. With facts and figures he has no trouble convincing us of the high costs-monetary and societal wellbeing-of not teaching children how to deal with their emotions constructively and resolve conflict.

Final comments

Part of Goleman’s motivation in writing Emotional Intelligence was the thought of millions of readers relying on self-help books that “lacked scientific basis,” and indeed the book comes from an impeccable academic and research milieu. Goleman appears to know all the key people in the field, notably Harvard intelligence researcher Howard Gardner, New York University’s Joseph LeDoux, and Yale’s Peter Salovey, who first provided the concept of emotional intelligence.

Yet this is still a self-help book in the classic mould. Pointing to the extraordinarily malleable circuitry of the brain and our ability to shape the experience of our emotions, one of Goleman’s great points is that “temperament is not destiny.” We are not beholden to our habits of mind and emotion, even if they seem an unchangeable part of us. The most alluring implication of Emotional Intelligence is that greater awareness and control of our emotions on a large scale would mean an evolution of the species. We believe that hate, rage, jealousy, and so on are “only human,” but when we look at the finest human beings of the twentieth century – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa – we find that such negative emotions were remarkably absent.

These people were able to express anger according to Aristotle’s dictum: They could use their emotions instead of letting their emotions use them. What could be a better definition of civility or humanity?

This copy was taken from 50 Self-help Classics, written and compiled by Tom Butler-Bowdon.

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About Tom Cottrell

Tom is a struggling author, pilgrim and citizen of Planet Earth.
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One Response to Reading Room

  1. Pingback: How to go about thinking | A short stroll to the horizon

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