• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • When I use the phrase “emotional intelligence” I want to emphasize that:

    • Emotional intelligence is a partnership between emotions and reason, not domination of emotions by reason
    • Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that can be learned, not a fixed and inherent personality trait

    Although I’m about to teach a class on it, something about the phrase “emotional intelligence” makes me a bit uneasy. There is an unspoken, organic, and mysterious quality in emotions that makes them glorious and unique. I worry a bit that “emotional intelligence” sounds too clinical, too detached, as though emotions were a group of easily trained circus animals. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde has the title character say,

    “It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

    Maybe this is a common attitude; the conventional stereotype of the software engineer certainly fits this model. But we rob emotions of much of their power to guide us, connect us to others, and impart necessary wisdom with such a manipulative perspective. In fact, “emotional intelligence” in practice has nothing to do with domination. It’s more accurate to describe it as a partnership between emotional experience and cognitive experience – bringing rational consciousness to bear on emotions not to control them but to understand them, work with them, and allow them to teach us.

    The other concern I have with the term “emotional intelligence” is it suggests that our individual capacity to engage our thinking with our emotions is fixed. We are learning that even cognitive intelligence (commonly, and inadequately, measured by IQ) does in fact change through our lives, but it seems to me that there is a cultural carryover of the notion that intelligence is something we are born with and can’t do much about.

    In any case we should completely discard the notion of fixity when it comes to the kinds of capacities that are associated with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that can be learned. It is certainly true that different people have different levels of ability at a given time, but everyone is capable of improving those skills in the usual way: through intention, practice, and habit formation.

    Daniel Goleman, the popularizer and most effective advocate for emotional intelligence, categorizes emotional intelligence skills into five groups. In my view these skills depend in turn on more fundamental skill development:

    • The EQ skills of self-awareness and empathy depend on mindfulness: in its essence mindfulness is cultivated awareness, so emotional intelligence is a specific application of mindfulness. Self-awareness is mindfulness of your own emotional experience; empathy is mindfulness of the emotional experience of others.
    • The EQ skills of self-regulation, motivation, and social skills depend on positivity: choosing to adopt a positive frame of mind in relation to the challenges at hand. Self-regulation is the set of choices we make in relation to our emotional experience, motivation is the choices we make in managing our emotions to help us move toward our goals, and social skills are based upon the choices we make in relation to others’ emotions.

    You can learn more about how to develop your emotional intelligence skills at my Emotional Intelligence for Technology Delivery class, October 25, 2017 from 4-6pm in Pioneer Square. Learn more and register here.