Why Emotional Intelligence Is More Important Than IQ

Spiral Dynamics, Yellow, Systems Thinking

Is emotional intelligence an intelligence, or is it just a personality trait? And is emotional intelligence a better metric for success than IQ?

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Our emotions exist to guide our actions and behavior.

They make us feel a certain way and make us want to act and do things a certain way.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to:

  1. Have emotions
  2. Identify emotions
  3. Regulate emotions
  4. Express emotions

What it means to have high emotional intelligence

Having emotions makes us sensitive to physical ailments, stress, anxiety, and the emotions of others. They make us sympathetic to others pains and struggles.

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Being able to name and identify emotions is key to being able to understand how to act or deal with emotions. People who cannot name or identify emotions risk acting without self-awareness.

Being able to regulate emotions means being able to control how you respond to and manage emotions, for example learning to channel anger or frustration in a healthy direction, instead of throwing a self-destructive temper tantrum.

Being able to communicate your feelings to other people in a clear and transparent manner, so that other people can understand your intentions and feelings and help you manage and regulate your emotions effectively.

According to some, EI is just a personality trait, how we are, or how we act, not a skill or ability. In most recruitment processes, careers, and in school, emotional intelligence is never used as a basis to grade, or hire a person. Instead, the focus is on hard, measurable skills.

What’s the difference between a personality trait and a skill or ability?

Skill is a level above personality. To be an outgoing person, a person must have the ability to communicate and present themselves to a group of people. To be an open-minded person, one must have the capacity to handle contradictory or new information. Without these skills, a person cannot demonstrate a certain personality trait.

Skill or level of ability is relative to level of challenge. The greater the challenge the greater the skill required. When training a reserved or shy person to be outgoing, they will often experience emotional anxiety and worry, fear, or concern. What if I say something stupid? What if I make a mistake? What if everyone laughs at me? When these feelings of anxiety wash over us, everyone has a certain range or level of tolerance. The average person can handle a bit of anxiety, but if the situation is too overwhelming, it can hijack your system and amygdala, creating a state of panic.

A high level of emotional sensitivity can drive hypervigilance to threats in the external environment or overreactions. An inability to identify emotions can cause your body to go into panic or can cause you to fail to recognize emotions before they overwhelm your system. An inability to regulate emotions can lead to a failure to manage or take actions on an emotion before it becomes too overwhelming to do so. And an inability to effectively communicate emotions can lead to a failure to get help or support from your environment in regulating your emotions.

Confidence, courage, honor, loyalty, stability, these are all qualities we may use to describe a person with. He is such a calm person. She is such a positive energy. These personality traits are direct results of our skills and ability in managing our regulating specific emotions and feelings, as well as a result of our sensitivity, communication skills and skill in identifying emotions. A person cannot demonstrate courage if they cannot regulate or manage fear. A person who can communicate that they are feeling fear and can identify these feelings, will typically appear more bold and courageous than a person who pretends to be cool, until suddenly they become overwhelmed and they panic and run away.

How does Emotional Intelligence correlate to intelligence?

My initial searches suggest that emotional intelligence does not appear to correlate with the G-factor or what is known as intelligence or mental strength. The G Factor correlates with things like:

Processing speed, memory, working memory, visual-spatial ability, logic, mathematical ability, being able to hold and flip images in your head, reading speed, listening comprehension, and more.

I find the idea that the G factor does not correlate with intelligence thought provoking.

A person who can manage their emotions can show greater discipline, higher learning, and focus, and can work harder at a task, leading to higher grades and achievement.

The problem with measuring emotional intelligence comes down to how it is measured.

I would measure emotional intelligence like this:

  1. Skill in identifying emotions in yourself and others
  2. Emotional vocabulary, being able to effectively verbalize different kinds of emotions
  3. Impulse control, resisting tempting impulses, how long you can maintain focus on a task, how well you are able to motivate or control your own behavior.
  4. Emotional flexibility, e.g, being able to quickly change emotions or recover your mood, for example by showing them images or stories with different emotional intent, and measuring changes in mood in the person.

Now, a critic might argue that these are not skills, and that a person without these abilities would do just fine in society, perhaps, they might even do better, a psychopath, who shows little emotional awareness, lacks the ability to interpret their own feelings, and lacks impulse control, and emotional flexibility, might for example even become successful and capable as a result of this. Such a person might score highly on the G-Factor, demonstrating high working memory, speed of processing, and logical ability, and can make insanely calculated decisions to get them ahead in society, without the limiting influence of emotions. But what if that’s all wrong?

Why We Need Emotions & Emotional Intelligence

A person needs emotions to actively feel inspired to act and move to achieve personal goals and values.

A person needs to identify emotions in able to act in a way that would lead to an increase of their personal happiness and well being.

A person needs to regulate emotions in order to consistently be successful in work, career, and relationships.

A person needs to be able to communicate their feelings accurately in order to build healthy relationships to groups.

Without the above skills, a person would be unable to demonstrate mental strength or capacity in a long-term situation.

Such a person would lack ambition, passion, or purpose in what they did, and more likely to show lethargic or apathetic behavior.

Such a person would often have shaky or stormy relationships to others, and would need to often move from place to place or group to group in order to maintain their lifestyle. Otherwise, they’d risk becoming ostracized and cut off from society.

Such a person would become poisoned by negative emotions, holding grudges, unwilling to forgive, they’d find themselves acting out of long term spite and unable to adapt to changes in others and in themselves.

Why We Need To Have A More Nuanced Understanding Of Emotional Intelligence

I believe the only reason why EI at this point does not correlate with G factor is that the tests used to measure emotional intelligence are vague, unempirical, and sometimes confuse personality with ability. Sometimes, we scoff off emotional intelligence as just being nice, people pleasing, or just having a positive or optimistic demeanor.

For example, just because a person acts cold towards others, does not necessarily mean that they’re not emotionally sensitive individuals who can understand and adapt to the emotions of others around them. It may even be a deliberate strategy. Hostage negotiators often have to use a low-affective strategy in order to de-escalate a situation. Customer service agents often learn to primarily use cognitive empathy and to avoid affective empathy when assisting a client.

Similarly, an aggressive or angry person, may have chosen to do this as a strategy to help them achieve goals and solve problems. They may have calculated this to be the right emotional strategy to help them regulate their mood. In certain settings, this might even be the appropriate thing to do. A moderator or leader, during a group discussion, might occassionaly need to speak over an unruly member if they lose the thread of the discussion.

Contrastingly, a person who is highly agreeable and appears sympathetic to others, might actually be fake or insincere, and may just be mimicking taught cultural cues in an ineffective manner, becoming easily manipulated or used by others. A people pleaser may actually in fact not be emotionally intelligent: they may be unable to recognize negative emotions or feelings of distrust or betrayal or anger, and may not recognize that they are being used by others, and may not know how to regulate these feelings until later on they explode at the other person or take on health issues as a result of their behavior.

This is how personality separates from ability.

How we present to others can vary. Some are more introverted, some more extroverted, some more intuitive, some more sensory.

Whether these personality traits are good or bad depend on the situation and the intent and the feelings of the individual.

A person with high emotional intelligence may:

  • Vary their personality and behavior, and have more varied strategies and scripts that they can engage in depending on the situation. They may exclaim that they can be completely logical or cool in one setting, and can also demonstrate high emotional sympathy and empathy in another setting.
  • Often change how they feel depending on what is appropriate in the situation, switching quickly between sadness, anger, fear, or anxiety, depending on what the situation calls for, and adapts their behavior and strategy depending on these emotions. Conversely, they can forgive others easily, let go of grudges,
  • Such a person is able to recognize their own emotions and feelings and can label and vocalize these feelings and know why they are happening and what to do about them. Such a person has a rich experience of their emotions, but not to the point where they feel limited or debilitated by their emotions: they will often exclaim awe, beauty, love, happiness, and they can even experience negative emotions in a positive light, recognizing exhaustion and prioritizing recharge and rest, recognizing sadness and using it as a reason to prioritize self-care, self-reflection, and activities that make them feel happy.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether you feel you own and are in possession of your own emotions. Do your emotions control your life, causing you to have reckless outbursts, or do you own and take responsibility for your own feelings?

And what do you think would happen if companies and schools spent more time evaluating people based on their emotional intelligence, and not just hard skills, like IQ?

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