Emotional Intelligence

Social GracesAfter yesterday’s post summing up my conclusions on intelligence I got a comment asking my opinion on how I thought “Emotional Intelligence” factors into success. So that’s today’s topic. I admit a complete lack of knowledge on this subject but that isn’t going to stop me from telling you all about it!

A quick perusal of Wikipedia reveals the following definition: Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.

I’m willing to get over my initial distaste at the combination of the words “Emotional” and “Intelligence”, as the two things are paradoxical in many respects, and try to break down the concept. It seems to me what is being said here is equivalent to social graces. People who are good at judging others’ emotions get along in social gatherings. They are good at “reading” what another person is feeling and are able to respond appropriately. As a card-carrying member of the Aspberger Team this is not exactly my forte but I can certainly recognize the trait in others.

This is supposedly testable using something called the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT … for short (insert eye roll here)). Event this admits it is testing against social norms. I don’t want to get into a big debate about testability. It is pretty clear that getting along socially is part of success in life, in answer to the original question.

So, if we say high intelligence leads to success are we not also bound to say that high emotional intelligence, or social graces, also tend to lead to success in life. My answer is … yes. Sadly.

Why sadly? I’ll tell you why. Because being good at social graces doesn’t mean you are good at achievement. People who are good at social graces get far in life. They convince people to trust them, they achieve positions of power, but they do not have the ability to actually achieve great things once they get there. There are exceptions, naturally. Some, rare, people have both high intelligence and high social graces. But, by and large what we are talking about here is The Monkeys or Milli Vanilli. Fake musicians who make millions of sales without doing anything other than being socially adept.

How many times have you lamented “politics” at work? This is someone using social graces to achieve promotion. Why do we call it “politics”? Because that is what politicians do. They get elected not on their actual qualifications but upon their ability to manipulate the emotions of voters.

Do I sound bitter? Maybe … well … probably. My social graces are next to nil. But, I think I make a valid point here. We want people who have the talents to get things accomplished in positions of power. Would you rather hire a charming plumber or a competent one?

I’ll wrap this up with a test question I’ve been asking for year. How you answer it is telling in this social intelligence versus intelligence debate.

Place in order your preferences for the checker in your lane at the grocery store:

  1. Friendly and Fast
  2. Friendly and Slow
  3. Surly and Fast
  4. Surly and Slow

My order is 3-1-4-2.

Yep, I prefer Surly. Why? Because I don’t want to have a conversation with the checker. It is rude to the people waiting in line and, frankly, I’d rather be at home analyzing my chess games and planning my next Dungeons and Dragons session.

In all seriousness, the issue isn’t black and white. Everyone has shades of Intelligence and Social Intelligence. But, I stand by my conclusions. I’d rather have competent people working with me than socially adept ones.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

One thought on “Emotional Intelligence

  1. You knew I would chime in on this one! I think there is more to emotional intelligence than “social graces.” True, that is usually an outcome of high emotional intelligence, but there is another aspect that is potentially more constructive to society. Especially in my role as a psychotherapist, if I am able to intuit and identify what others are feeling – perhaps fear or anger or another emotion that is preventing them from being as effective as they wish to be, then I am better able to help them understand and overcome that obstacle. If emotional intelligence is used constructively rather than deceptively, it is a positive addition to human functioning.

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