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 / Autumn 2008 / Issue 52(originally published by Booz & Company)


Tea and Empathy with Daniel Goleman

Emotional intelligence is so well established in contemporary psychology that it has a widely used abbreviation (EI). And the idea dates back at least to Aristotle, who challenged humanity to manage emotional life with intelligence in The Nicomachean Ethics. Charles Darwin wrote that emotions provide animals with signals to one another that are critically important; those who can’t display or read emotions accurately may not survive. The concept also owes much to Goleman’s old friend and Harvard classmate, Howard Gardner, whose theory of multiple intelligences recognized “intrapersonal” intelligence (self-awareness) and “interpersonal” intelligence (the ability to understand others) as distinct forms of capability. In the 1980s, several psychology researchers began using the term emotional intelligence in published work; Goleman encountered it in a 1990 article by Yale psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. (“Jack”) Mayer. Salovey and Mayer found that the abil­ity to think dispassionately about one’s passions was correlated with success, or what they called “positive outcomes,” in experiments.

Goleman’s contribution to the new field was synthesis: combining the latest findings from neuroscience with the insights of psychiatric research, presented in deft, commonsense sentences. Readers had a kind of collective “aha!” moment, as if 5 million minds suddenly registered it: “So that’s why my boss, co-workers, spouse, children, neighbors, and I all behave that way.”

In Goleman’s model, emotional intelligence involves four competencies: self-awareness (recognizing a feeling as it happens); self-management (maintaining calm in stressful or unfamiliar situations); social awareness (empathy, organizational awareness, and an orientation toward service); and relationship management (effectively communicating with, influencing, and developing others). Each of the four domains derives from neurological mechanisms, all distinct from one another and from the purely cognitive abilities that are measured by intelligence quotient, or IQ, tests.

Some academic psychologists dismiss Goleman’s work as pop psychology, especially as human brain research expands beyond such concepts as the amygdala hijack. At the mention of “emotional intelligence,” a scholarly conference can erupt into booing, and entire Web sites are devoted to criticizing Goleman as a self-promoter. Some of this carping reflects Goleman’s millions of dollars in book sales, far more than any other researcher in the field has earned. And yet academic psychology increasingly recognizes that emotional intelligence can be studied and measured empirically: There are a number of standardized psy­chometric tests in place, including one developed by Salovey and Mayer, and endless debate about which is the most relevant.

Salovey, now the dean of Yale College and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology at Yale University, says that Goleman’s work is credible science journalism and good for the field. Mayer, now a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, is more critical. On his emotional intelligence blog, he writes: “[Goleman’s] enlargement of our model…had the unfortunate effect of suggesting to some that nearly every human style or capacity that was not IQ itself was a part of emotional intelligence.” And Goleman himself irritates his critics by continuing to insist that although emotional maturity may not “matter” more than IQ, it is a stronger predictor of leadership competence.

In a recent informal talk to graduate students at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, for instance, Goleman was bathed in affection until he questioned the relevance of their scores, presumably stellar, on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which the school requires from many applicants for admission. “How many of you know the correlation between your score on the GMAT and your degree of success in your career?” he asked. After a pause, he gave them the answer: “It’s zero.” When a student in the audience challenged the credibility of that result, Goleman said he was quoting from a study performed there at Harvard, where the average GMAT score is in the 90th percentile.

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  1. Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872; New York University Press, 1990): Observations of the emotions triggered by communication in faces and bodies of multiple species, still compelling today.
  2. Vanessa Urch Druskat, Fabio Sala, and Gerald Mount, eds., Linking Emotional Intelligence and Performance at Work: Current Research Evidence with Individuals and Groups (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005): Overview of the academic literature.
  3. Lawrence Fisher, “Howard Gardner Does Good Work,” s+b, Summer 2007: Goleman’s friend and colleague, expert on multiple intelligences.
  4. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Bantam 1995; 2006): First and still most compelling in Goleman’s series.
  5. Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2006): The neuroscience of social sensitivity.
  6. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Harvard Business School Press, 2002): How to prepare for loftier roles. Opening line: “Great leaders move us.”
  7. Theodore Kinni, Ilona Steffen, and Brenda Worthen, eds., Capturing the People Advantage: Thought Leaders on Human Capital (strategy+business Books, 2008): Interviews with “people experts” on leadership and human capital strategies.
  8. James O’Toole, Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle’s Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness (Rodale Books, 2005): Contemporary meditation on Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, aimed at thoughtful leaders of business and society.
  9. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” s+b, Summer 2006: Groundbreaking view of attention density in the modern organization.
  10. Peter Salovey, Marc A. Brackett, and John D. Mayer, eds., Emotional Intelligence: Key Readings on the Mayer and Salovey Model (Dude Publishing, 2004): Overview of the fundamental research. 
  11. Robert I. Sutton: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (Warner Business Books, 2007): Argues that bad bosses can’t be improved, only escaped or eliminated.
  12. Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations Web site: Provides links to a variety of books, articles, and ideas.
  13. Daniel Goleman’s Web site: Includes his Weblog, podcasts (for example, a conversation with’s Larry Brilliant on “compassionate capitalism”), and overviews of the field.
  14. The Global NeuroLeadership Summits Web site: Institute and summits that bring together brain science and organizational and leadership practice.
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