One of the tenets of problem-solving is that any solution you propose will have implications. We call these the unintended consequences. Some may be positive and others negative. Emotional intelligence (EI) is a hot topic, so let’s consider the unintended consequences of focusing on EI.
EI refers to an ability to recognize the meanings of emotion and relationships – and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of these. Researchers have looked at this issue for 30 years. Professors John Mayer and Peter Salovey suggest emotional intelligence falls into four areas of skills:
- Managing emotions and relationships for personal and interpersonal growth.
- Understanding emotional information about relationships.
- Facilitating by harnessing emotional information to enhance thinking.
- Perceiving emotion by identifying it in faces and pictures.
Popular books on EI use quite different definitions. Daniel Goleman’s mega-selling book includes over 25 characteristics of emotional intelligence, from emotional self-awareness to a service orientation. Traits such as teamwork, collaboration, initiative and achievement are important personality traits, but Salovey asks whether they have anything to do with emotion, intelligence or a combination of both.
Goleman claims emotional intelligence helps with teamwork, cooperation and collaboration. He often said that, at best, IQ only contributes 20% of the factors that determine life success, leaving 80% to other factors. He suggests these relate to emotional intelligence.
The high EI individual can better perceive emotions, understand their meanings and manage emotions. Solving emotional problems likely requires less effort for this individual.
So far this sounds fantastic for those with high EI. Salovey suggests, “We all need emotional intelligence to help us through our emotionally demanding days. Even if we are not emotionally intelligent ourselves, we may rely on those higher in emotional intelligence to guide us.”
He then asks, “But guide us to what? What is it that people high in emotional intelligence can see that so many others are blind to? ” The key to this lies in what those high in emotional intelligence are very good at doing themselves … and what they may be weak at doing. They’re particularly good at establishing positive social relationships with others and avoiding conflict.
I am a specialist on cognitive diversity work. We know people think in different and predictable ways. Much of this is defined by the degree of structure people need to be satisfied in their way of living. Some prefer structure. We call this the adaptive style of thinking.
Those who operate best with little structure are labelled as having an innovative style of thinking. Most people are a combination of these attributes. When I compare this work with EI, I see a pattern that looks less appealing. Those with high EI have similar attributes to those with an adaptive style of thinking. They prefer to conform, operating within rules and structures. They prefer consensus. They generate ideas that will seem acceptable to the group; ideas to improve, refine and enhance. While this may suffice is most cases, it does not support thinking that challenges the status quo.
Those with an innovative thinking style are often seen by adaptors as unsound, impractical, risky, abrasive and threatening to the established system. Why? Innovators tend to reject the generally accepted perception of problems and redefine them. Worse, their view of the problem may be hard to get across.
They often challenge rules. They may have little respect for past approaches. They may appear insensitive to people when in pursuit of solutions, so they often threaten group cohesion and cooperation. What happens when the innovator challenges the group; are they expected to confirm or to follow their conviction? They may seem like loners or outsiders. They may even complain that they could create better ideas in half the time if they didn’t have to work with other people.
What is the potential unintended consequence?
Innovators may not score well on EI. I have seen enough evidence to suggest that people who are brilliant at coming up with ideas are also weak in their relationships. Do we get rid of them as they are not keen team players? Be careful of the unintended consequences.