Emotionally Speaking

EQ is a hot topic in many HR circles. Certainly a large part of that popularity can be attributed to the New & Latest Thing Effect, however EQ does provide fascinating information and valuable insights into how people behave. A key question seems to center around EQ’s effectiveness in pre-employment selection. While many have found EQ to be undeniably useful, whether or not it is as useful as other options in making selection decisions is still in doubt. The following excerpts from a digital interchange among some serious psychometric experts offer some important perspectives. Please put on your statistics seatbelt and have your unabridged dictionary handy. In between the academic citing and arcane numerology, there are some practical tidbits that may be of help to you.

“The much acclaimed Van Roy & Viswesvaran study (Van Rooy D & Viswesvaran C (2004) “Emotional Intelligence: a meta-analytic investigation of predictive validity and nomological net”, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 65) in reality found that validity was modest for measures of EQ – around 0.14 – against objective metrics. And in a kind of head to head competition between IQ and EQ, emotional intelligence accounted for only 2% of the variance in effectiveness, whereas cognitive intelligence added 31% .

O’Boyle’s meta analysis (O’Boyle, E., Humphrey, R., Pollack, Hawver, T. & Story, P. (2010). The relationship between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 10) – examining three streams of EI research (EQ as aptitude, as self or peer report measures, and as competency based), seemed to find decent levels of validity (.24 to .30). But again, when the data was evaluated to pinpoint the specific incremental validity over and above cognitive aptitude and personality, EQ demonstrated next to zero for aptitude measures, 5% for self or peer report measures and only 7% for emotional competency measures.

In the Harmes & Crede meta analysis (Harms PD & Crede M (2010) “Emotional Intelligence and Transformational and Transactional Leadership – A Meta-Analysis” (2010), Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies (17), they did find a high level of correlation between self report measures of EQ and transformational leadership (i.e. individuals who saw themselves as more effective as transformational leaders also reported themselves as more emotionally intelligent). When the data rather than relying on self esteem, incorporated others’ ratings, validity however fell to the .16 mark.

Does EQ predict leadership effectiveness? If it does, does it provide improved prediction over and above established measures? JA concludes: “I have yet to find one study that has followed the accepted guidelines and has shown that EI matters for leadership effectiveness.” (Antonakis, J et al (2009) “Does Leadership Need Emotional Intelligence?”, The Leadership Quarterly, 20

Moshe Zeidner in “What we know about Emotional Intelligence” summarises: “From a practical perspective there is little empirically based evidence, generated from representative samples in different occupational categories, and published in peer reviewed journals to indicate that EI measures do reliably and incrementally predict criteria of job success, beyond that predicted by standard ability and personality measures.”

The conclusion from Christiansen’s 2010 study, looking at EQ in a selection scenario: “measures of EI, even performance based measures, offer very little additional information about applicants when measures of cognitive ability and personality are already used in the selection process.” (Christiansen N et al (2010) “Emotional intelligence in selection contexts”, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 18)

See also: Murphy K “A critique of emotional intelligence” in Jordan P et al “Evaluating the Claims: Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace”; no evidence that EQ is a predictor of career success”

A pretty bleak picture for EQ, certainly compared with the original claims.

Ever wondered why Goleman’s (amongst others’) opinions – make perfect sense even though it is not substantiated by research findings? It is of course (in my opinion) the questionnaire-based manner in which EQ is mostly assessed. We are using the wrong tool – like eating soup with a fork – and no amount of number crunching will correct for that. It is a circular argument that underlies the idea to use questionnaires to ask people about their emotional intelligence. Those with the least EQ / the most optimism and confidence, will rate themselves the highest. And as some studies have indicated: a lack of critical thinking will in most cases result in elevated EQ scores. “Leaders” that are often characterised by confidence and optimism, are likely to achieve high EQ scores, and they may well be good leaders, but that does not mean that they are emotionally intelligent. Their 360 EQ results may relect this (as mentioned earlier). To rely on transparent items to assess EQ will provide the very results that Andrew summarised above.

There seem two main objections to the EI movement. The first is about prediction, and the original claim that EQ would fill in the missing 80% that cognitive and personality measures were struggling with. This in fact has proven dismally wide of the mark.

The second is more philosophical and relates to the last decade of leadership folly and fiasco. When Daniel Goleman suggested in the 90s “there is an old fashioned word for EQ, it’s character” he was fundamentally wrong.

SC points out “emotional intelligence is not character. It’s like any set of skills that we have that can be used to promote moral goals or selfish goals.” The “intelligences” of emotional awareness and self regulation can as easily be deployed by the Machiavellian operator as the authentic leader.

Locke (“Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept”, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26) comments “leadership is not primarily about making people feel good. It’s about knowing what you are doing and knowing what to do.” The last few years saw some leaders using emotion rather than reason with damaging business consequences.

After a period of “irrational exuberance” the argument is that we need leaders with character who know what they’re doing and why, rather than attempt to deploy emotional intelligence as a short cut for executive know how and leadership wisdom.

Although EQ still hasn’t resolved the paradox of the Dunning-Kruger effect: “that people of low competency in a given area tend to overestimate their abilities, while those of greater competency tend to underestimate their performance.” “If 80% of people believe they are among the top 50% most emotionally intelligent people”, and a key component of EQ is self awareness, how do those of low emotional intelligence come to the conclusion that they are not emotionally intelligent?

As stated in the beginning, EQ can offer meaningful information for personal development and insights into others. As with too many assessments, EQ can be seen as the “magic bullet” or “philosopher’s stone” through which all wisdom is possible. It is our intent that you use assessments effectively to open up the potential of people. Using tools within the limits of their capabilities is important, however it can be challenging when salespeople exaggerate the scope of their wares, often unintentionally.

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