In the past few decades educators and psychologists have been making an effort to understand intelligence and achievement on a more nuanced level than in the past. When Alfred Binet developed his “intelligence” tests in the early years of the 20th century, he revolutionized the educational field by providing tools to measure and predict students’ success. Unfortunately, standard tests came to rely almost exclusively on the sort of intelligence revealed by these instruments: the kind that correlates highly with success in typical Western school systems but not necessarily with real world achievement.
While no one would argue that “school smarts” and the ability to excel at the kinds of skills measured by these tests are an advantage, they are not the only one. And they may not even be the most important advantage when it comes to success in life. While Cognitive intelligence refers to such abilities as understanding information, solving problems, and making decisions, Emotional intelligence is more subtle and does not always go hand in hand with these skills. These abilities include understanding the needs and feelings of oneself and other people and responding to others in appropriate ways. It was named in 1990 by two scientists, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, who described it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”
Another pioneering psychologist, Howard Gardner, has studied the idea of “multiple intelligences” as a way to understand the different way students learn. The idea of emotional intelligence was most widely popularized by Harvard’s Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In her book published this year, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth has identified grit as a strength that often correlates with success.
While we all know stories about the “odd” scientist or entrepreneur who succeeds because of his brilliance alone, they may be the exception rather than the rule. Men like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, who are known for having volatile personalities, may have succeeded in spite of the fact that they lacked “people smarts.” People like this often need partners or even agents with the skills they lack if they are going to get ahead. The history of inventing is full of stories of brilliant minds that were outmaneuvered by more ambitious types who stole their ideas and worked the system better. Tesla and Edison are an example. Tesla is thought to be an even more brilliant innovator than Edison, his former boss. But he had personality problems and neurotic tendencies, while Edison was better at understanding how their inventions would fit in the modern world and managed to get many more patents.
Artists are also at a disadvantage if they lack skills in this area. It is not enough to be talented alone: you need to understand how to get people to pay attention to your work if you are going to make it. To maintain success, you need to nurture and develop relationships with those who can help you along the way. And you need to understand how not to make enemies, too. Unfortunately, emotional intelligence does not necessarily correlate highly with cognitive intelligence or even artistic talent. As we understand more about this, psychologists and teachers are discovering that they may be quite separate abilities.
What exactly is emotional intelligence? Can it be learned or developed, or is it innate? Cognitive intelligence has been found in twin studies to be among our most inheritable traits, highly influenced by genes. Nevertheless, the “nurture” side of the picture can make all the difference when it comes to developing and shaping your skills. Is the same true for other kinds of abilities?
We all know, for example, that artistic skill seems to be something that you are “born with, yet without learning and practice it can languish. While Malcolm Gladwell’s maxim, put forth in his book Outliers, that “10,000 hours” of deliberate practice is required to become a grand master in sports, games, or the arts has been widely disputed, it is obvious that a certain amount of learning and practice are always required. For every Grandma Moses, who took up painting and achieved overnight fame at the age of 78 after her arthritis made needlepoint too difficult, there are millions of “starving artists” struggling to gain recognition, plugging away at their craft.
But emotional intelligence is a new and somewhat slippery concept. It helps to break it down into four main categories when trying to understand it. The four main sets of skills are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
1. Self Awareness
- Emotional Self-Awareness, the ability to know yourself and understand your feelings.
- Accurate Self-Assessment, understanding your strengths and weaknesses and their effects.
- Self-Confidence, having faith in yourself and being willing to put yourself forward.
- Emotional Self-Control, an important part of emotional maturity, controlling your feelings and/or expressing them in the appropriate settings is a key skill.
- Achievement, i.e. being goal-oriented and being able to work toward your goals.
- Initiative, being self-motivated, and having the ability to keep working despite setbacks.
- Transparency, being honest and open, interacting with integrity and being trustworthy.
- Adaptability, showing resilience and the ability to change course when necessary.
- Optimism, having a positive outlook, hoping for the best and preparing for success.
3. Social Awareness
- Empathy, one of the pillars of the ability to form connections with others, understanding and acknowledging others’ emotions.
- Service Orientation, being helpful, contributing to the group effort, and displaying good listening skills.
- Organizational Awareness, the ability to explain yourself well and be aware of how you are being understood, as well as sensing the level of comprehension of your audience.
4. Relationship Management
- Inspirational Leadership, like being a good mentor, role model, and authority figure.
- Influence, articulating points in persuasive, clear ways that effectively motivate others.
- Conflict Management, having the skills to improve relationships, negotiate, and lead. The ability to settle disputes, differences of opinion, and misunderstandings.
- Change Catalyst, recognizing and supporting the need for change, and making it happen.
- Developing others, helping others build their skills and knowledge.
- Teamwork and Collaboration, working with others in an effective manner.
Social skills, awareness, warmth, and emotional resilience are all aspects that contribute to our ability to maintain friendships as well. Over and over again, studies show that the degree of our connection with others contributes to overall happiness. How does this differ from general “likeability”? Not that much, as it turns out. Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that people prefer to work with someone they like and trust. Even if a less agreeable sort is offering a better product at a lower price, most of us will opt to do business with someone they like. It has even been found that the rates at which doctors are sued for malpractice are heavily influenced by how positive the patient feels about his relationship to the physician in question, rather than the severity of the injury in question.
Whether medicine, education, or business, there’s no question that insight into the importance of these skills is growing. Writing for Fast Company, Harvey Deutchendorf reports: “According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, ‘The awareness that emotional intelligence is an important job skill, in some cases even surpassing technical ability, has been growing in recent years. In a 2011 Career Builder Survey of more than 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals, 71 percent stated they valued emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ; 75 percent said they were more likely to promote a highly emotionally intelligent worker; and 59 percent claimed they’d pass up a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.’”
Those that are born extroverts, with innate warmth, a good sense of humor, and a tendency toward optimism are obviously at an advantage. But several of the most important skills are ones that you can practice and improve on regardless of your “native” degree of emotional intelligence. Listening, for example, is something that anyone can work on improving, as is the paramount skill of conscientiousness. The latter, which relates to traits like trustworthiness, reliability, and the persistence, may be the most important thing we teach our children, according to Duckworth. Schools and businesses alike need to keep this in mind when deciding how to teach students and train employees. It turns out that who you are as a person, rather than what you know, is what matters most in the end.