Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

by Daniel Goleman

Everyone knows that high IQ is no guarantee of success, happiness, or virtue, but until Emotional Intelligence, we could only guess why. Daniel Goleman's brilliant report from the frontiers of psychology and neuroscience offers startling new insight into our "two minds"—the rational and the emotional—and how they together shape our destiny.

The good news is that "emotional literacy" is not fixed early in life. Every parent, every teacher, every business leader, and everyone interested in more civil society has a stake in this compelling vision of human possibility.

Summary Notes

What are emotions for?

“It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Our emotions trigger impulses to act. Evolution has instilled this instant mechanism in us so we can reflexively handle all that life throws at us. You can see the emotions-to-action pathway most clearly when watching animals or children. It is only in “civilized” adults that we see a deviation.

Anger generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action.

Fear puts the body on general alert, making it edgy and ready for action, and attention fixates on the threat at hand, the better to evaluate what response to make.

Happiness offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving toward a great variety of goals.

Love generates a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation.

Surprise offers more information about the unexpected event, making it easier to figure out exactly what is going on and concoct the best plan for action.

The main function of sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment.

In the first few milliseconds of our perceiving something, we not only unconsciously comprehend what it is, but decide whether we like it or not. Meaning, we don't just recognize it's identity, we instantly form an opinion about it. Our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold views quite independently of our rational mind.

When we feel an emotion, our brain instantly processes a risk/benefit ratio of various possible reactions, and bets that one of them is best. For example, animals decide when to attack, when to run. Humans decide the same, but also, when to calm, persuade, seek sympathy, stonewall, provoke guilt, complain, put on a facade of bravado, be contemptuous—and so on, through the whole repertoire of emotional wiles.

It is at these moments that the rational mind is swamped by the emotional.

Knowing one’s emotions

“You don’t need to know exactly what something is to know that it may be dangerous.”

Having well-developed emotional skills allows you to feel content. By mastering the habits of your mind, you'll foster your own productivity and manage your life effectively. However, when you cannot marshal control over your emotional life, you'll fight inner battles that sabotage your ability for focused work and clear thought.

Self-awareness—recognizing a feeling as it happens—is the keystone of emotional intelligence. The ability to monitor feelings from moment to moment is crucial to self-reflection and understanding. An inability to notice our true feelings leaves us at their mercy. People with greater certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives, having a surer sense of how they really feel about personal decisions from whom to marry to what job to take.

Self-awareness has a more powerful effect on strong, aversive emotions. The realization, “This is anger I’m feeling” offers a greater degree of freedom—not just the option not to act on it, but the added option to try to let go of it.

Actions to take

Managing emotions

“We very often have little or no control over when we are swept by emotion, nor over what emotion it will be. But we can have some say in how long an emotion will last.”

Handling feelings appropriately helps you build your self-awareness. When you soothe yourself, shake off rampant anxiety, gloom, or irritability, you're able to bounce back from life's setbacks and upsets relatively quickly. Otherwise, you might find yourself constantly battling feelings of distress.

Managing our emotions is something of a full-time job. Much of what we do—especially in our free time—is an attempt to manage our mood. Everything from reading a novel or watching television to the activities and companions we choose can be a way to make ourselves feel better.

Actions to take

Motivating oneself

“A strong cultural work ethic translates into higher motivation, zeal, and persistence—an emotional edge.”

Directing your emotions towards your goals is essential for your focus, motivation, and creativity. Emotional self-control, meaning delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness, is the underlying reason for every success. Being able to get into the “flow” state enables outstanding performance of all kinds. People who have this skill tend to be more highly productive and effective in whatever they undertake.

Emotions get in the way of our ability to think, plan, and problem-solve. They define the limits of our capacity to use our innate mental abilities, and so, they determine how we do in life. We can use this to our advantage - we are motivated by feelings of enthusiasm and pleasure, for example. It is in this sense that emotional intelligence is a master aptitude, a capacity that profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them.

Actions to take

Handling relationships

“Being able to manage emotions in someone else is the core of the art of handling relationships.”

The art of relationships is, in large part, a skill in managing emotions in others. It’s about social competence and incompetence. These are the abilities that underlie popularity, leadership, and interpersonal effectiveness. People who excel in these skills do well at anything that relies on interacting smoothly with others; they are social stars.

Handling emotions in someone else requires two other emotional skills: self-management and empathy. With this base, the “people skills” ripen, enabling you to be more effective in your dealings with others. It is precisely the lack of these skills that can cause even the intellectually brightest to founder in their relationships, coming off as arrogant, obnoxious, or insensitive. These social abilities allow one to shape an encounter, mobilize and inspire others, thrive in intimate relationships, persuade and influence, to put others at ease.

Actions to take

Intimate enemies

“This mapping of the fault lines that may lead a couple to divorce makes a convincing case for the crucial role of emotional intelligence in the survival of a marriage.”

Men and women, in general, need different emotional fine-tuning. For men, the advice is not to sidestep conflict, but to realize that when their wife brings up some grievance or disagreement, she may be doing it as an act of love, trying to keep the relationship healthy and on course (although there may well be other motives for a wife’s hostility). 

When grievances simmer, they build and build in intensity until there’s an explosion; when they are aired and worked out, it takes the pressure off. But husbands need to realize that anger or discontent is not synonymous with the personal attack—their wives’ emotions are often simply underliners, emphasizing the strength of her feelings about the matter.

Actions to take

Managing with heart

“Stress makes people stupid.”

Imagine the benefits for work of being skilled in the basic emotional competencies—being attuned to the feelings of those we deal with, being able to handle disagreements so they do not escalate, having the ability to get into flow states while doing our work. Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal. There may be nothing more essential than recognizing our deepest feelings about what we do—and what changes might make us more truly satisfied with our work.

Actions to take

The family crucible

“The ways a couple handles the feelings between them—in addition to their direct dealings with a child—impart powerful lessons to their children, who are astute learners, attuned to the subtlest emotional exchanges in the family.”

Family life is our first school for emotional learning. In this intimate cauldron, we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings, how to think about these feelings, what choices we have in reacting, and how to read and express hopes and fears. We learn this not just through what our parents did or said, but also by observing how they handled their own feelings and relationships.

Actions to take

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