A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
March 1st, 2013 by William

The Emotional Intelligence Quandary

In case you haven’t heard there’s now a new skill set that employees will have to worry about come review time. It’s called “Emotional Intelligence.” While I haven’t personally seen this attribute included in a performance review form, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before this is included in the list of skills that the untrained boss will be asked to evaluate his or her employees against.

A national survey was conducted by Harris Interactive© on behalf of CareerBuilder, questioning 2,662 hiring managers asking them about Emotional Intelligence (EI).  According to the survey:

  • 34 percent of hiring managers said they’re placing greater emphasis on Emotional Intelligence when hiring and promoting employees.
  • 71 percent said they value Emotional Intelligence in an employee more than IQ.
  • 59 percent of employers wouldn’t hire someone who has a high IQ but low EI.
  • 75 percent said they’re more likely to promote the high EI worker.

When asked why Emotional Intelligence is more important than high IQ, employers said (in order of importance):

  • Employees [with high EI] are more likely to stay calm under pressure.
  • Employees know how to resolve conflict effectively.
  • Employees are empathetic to their team members and react accordingly.
  • Employees lead by example.
  • Employees tend to make more thoughtful business decisions.

In other words, the typical management sociopath is looking for the exact traits in their subordinates that they, themselves probably do not have.

So what is this new psychological attribute that’s so cherished? In their influential article “Emotional Intelligence,” Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer defined Emotional Intelligence as “the subset 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 actions.”

Salovey and Mayer have been the leading researchers on Emotional Intelligence since their article was first published at the University of New Hampshire in 1990. In fact, the current professional measure of Emotional Intelligence is the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), which is a series of emotion-based problem-solving questions. It’s the only accurate and reliable way to measure EI. Since the MSCEIT is an abilities test, unlike standard IQ tests, its questions don’t have objectively correct responses. Therefore, it requires evaluation by a trained professional.

An organization’s management doesn’t constitute trained psychological professionals, so now we have potentially yet another subjectively measured behavior, administered by novices, used to evaluate employee performance.

Don’t misunderstand, I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of Emotional Intelligence and its importance. After having had many people, in both professional and non-professional roles work for me during my career I have to admit I’d much rather have people displaying those attributes versus just having a high IQ. However, I do not claim the ability to accurately (objectively) evaluate someone for them.

From my perspective, those EI traits detailed above all seem familiar. In fact, they’re all the traits of a good servant leader. This leads me to the disturbing concern that by adding this new attribute to the measure of an employee’s worth, the very people who are saying they value these attributes, and are evaluating the employee against them, are the same people who themselves most often don’t practice these servant leadership fundamentals.

So that leaves us with the question of how exactly might management measure their employees for Emotional Intelligence?

Again, according to the above noted survey, HR managers and hiring managers assess their candidates’ and employees’ EI by supposedly “observing” a variety of behaviors and qualities. These are the top responses:

  • They admit and learn from their mistakes.
  • They can keep emotions in check and have thoughtful discussions on tough issues.
  • They listen as much or more than they talk.
  • They take criticism well.
  • They show grace under pressure.

Ironically, these sound like all the behaviors expected of an employee as they’re forced to suffer through a performance review. They are expected to listen to their mistakes (and how they are not “responsive” or exhibit a lack of “initiative”); keep their reactions in check and show grace under the pressure; listen to the “expert” reviewer and don’t talk back; and take their medicine and learn from it so they can change. Ironically, these are all the behaviors that the sociopaths are not good at, so if we ever see EI become part of the performance review process we’ll have a real dose of hypocrisy in action.

Also, show me one boss who spends the appropriate amount of time calmly observing his inmates to be able to reasonably assess those traits. In most instances the only one-on-one observation the boss has of an employee is when the performance review is administered. And how long does that last−a half hour at best?

My fear is that EI could become yet another vague yardstick for the boss to rate his or her employees very subjectively providing yet more ammunition for negative feedback during the performance review. And we all know that the performance review process is aimed at exposing the negative versus the positive.


2 Responses to “The Emotional Intelligence Quandary”
  1. Anonymous says

    This is one awesome blog.Really thank you! Great….

  2. Thanks for the post!That’s why I love the topic of emotional intelligence because it’s so important for us to master.

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