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Emotional Intelligence – ability, trait or mixed?

Emotional Intelligence – ability, trait or mixed?

If you were to review the existing models of Emotional Intelligence(EI) you would find many commonalities and many differences. Some are geared to leadership or work, some to well-being and some more neutral of context and application. Some incorporate traits, personality and other qualities that reflect the research base for the model or the preferences of the researchers.

Background

We were interested in models which met the following criteria.

  1. Fits the definition of Emotional Intelligence: “the ability to perceive, understand and influence our own and others’ emotions, across a range of contexts, to guide our current thinking and actions, to help us to achieve our goals”.
  2. Competences, or abilities, that are reliable need to be underpinned by knowledge, understanding, skill and the ability to apply them across contexts when the pressures are low, medium and high.
  3. Generic and capable of applying across contexts so need to be uncontaminated by a focus on specific occupations or societal roles (leadership/teams/work).
  4. Neutral of value judgements about what a person’s goals might be. We like to hope that the model will be used to support constructive cooperation, enhance safety and security across the world, win-win interactions and global compassion. Though we also realise some people select, or are charged with, goals that might not fit these values (e.g. poker players who need to read others and control themselves so they can beat their opponents, competitive business tendering against opponent businesses so you can secure contracts and jobs in your organization, influence that can deal with the goals of an oppressive force that is damaging society, and so on).
  5. Drawn from models based on good empirical research.
  6. Allow users to recognise and incorporate the contribution of other constructs such as traits, personality, mindsets, attitudes, values and other qualities that are important to themselves or their social/organizational entity.

 

So what is the best instrument for you to use? I am sorry, but I can’t say without spending some time with you to work out your goals, motivations and preferences. What I can say though, from working in this field for 27 years, is that all approaches are not free from their problems or criticism.

There are tools around which are labelled either Ability, Trait or Mixed. Lets explore those briefly.

Ability tools

If you wish to test competence and skills then it makes sense to explore the ‘ability’ instruments where you can test yourself against the (expert scoring) right answers, determined by subject matter experts and excellent EI practitioners, or slightly more controversially, against the database of respondents (consensus scoring). You also need to determine if the tasks you perform in the assessment test the abilities that will prepare you for the context where you plan to apply your EI. Some were designed for Leadership, or work, or well-being. If my goal is to read, understand, influence and beat competing professional poker-players then maybe there is no tool on the market (yet) that is fit for purpose.

The main argument against ability models, usually against the MSCEIT tool, is that that even though someone knows how he should behave in an emotionally laden situation, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the person could actually carry out the reported behavior. Further criticism says that, unlike tests of cognitive ability, such ability tools test “knowledge of emotions but not necessarily the ability to perform tasks that are related to the knowledge that is assessed”. To be fair to the MSCEIT tool, the developers do try to address this by using a range of tasks, but they accept the assessment is not free of technically issues and they continue to improve it.

Trait tools

Most of these are self-report. Some believe that self-perception is not reliable enough unless the tool is just for personal reflection. If your EI is not excellent then it might be very hard to judge how well you perform at reading your own emotions and managing them as that kind of thinking gets drowned out during emotional episodes. It’s the same in judging how you read and interact with others from a EI standpoint.

Those working in the more challenging areas of human behavior have concerns about the  “reliability of self-report about mental states (such as emotions). Although much of the research on emotion has presumed that research subjects and our patients during psychotherapy can readily report on their subjective experience through questionnaires and interviews, findings to date show that most people report only the most recent or most intense of their emotional experiences (e.g., Kahneman, Fredrickson, Schreiber, & Redelmeier, 1993; Rosenberg & Ekman, 1994) and are subject to bias.”

We are all loaded with biases, preferences and passion that can filter how we see ourselves when dealing with others. The prominent view in the scientific literature is the Trait EI view, re-interprets EI as a collection of personality traits. Claiming they are merely preferences and are not context specific.

Mixed tools

Some models and tools combine several types of EI qualities. Here are some examples of such qualities:

  • Knowledge and understanding (emotion triggers),
  • skills (empathy),
  • competences (read facial expressions),
  • traits (optimistic),
  • attitudes (service orientation), and
  • other qualities (inspirational).

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to measure all these aspects of EI with one instrument. So the only option seems to be to combine a range of instruments within one tool and then try to draw them together into an EQ % at the end, as is done with IQ.

The main theme of criticisms towards mixed models is against “the tendency to class almost any type of behaviour as an ‘intelligence'”. So what happens in practice is many tool designers tend to default to the simple self-report and suffer the criticisms around that.

Sample of current EI Assessment instruments:

A selection of EI measurement tools can be found on the CREIO website (www.eiconsortium.org) which includes the ones below (hyperlinked directly through to the site for you):

Inclusion here is not an endorsement by the author or EIA Group. In fact, CREIO themselves make it clear on their site that:

“Many tests that promise to measure emotional intelligence have appeared in recent years.  Some of these tests seem promising, but many have not been empirically evaluated.  As a service to our visitors, we have reviewed many of these tests and selected those for which there is a substantial body of research (at least five published journal articles or book chapters that provide empirical data based on the test).  However, inclusion of a test on this web site does not constitute an endorsement of that test by CREIO”.

The way forward?

We are not there yet. But there is a great deal of interest in getting to this end point from end users, recruiters, academics and other professionals. So we have developed a draft model at the EIA Group over the past four years that focuses purely on those components relating to competency. We don’t reject other qualities – we just believe the ideal EI model should sit on a sound, decontaminated competency framework.

 

The common themes that survive this decontamination ended up in a framework of 12 competencies organized into four quadrants.

 

Context is at the centre as it plays a key part in all 12 competencies.

There are some exciting research projects going on at the moment, some yet unpublished. This blog hopes to capture some of the key issues and remind us all to stay focused on the core of Emotional Intelligence. The model offered, draws on published research to date and we are working with the best in the field. Though we welcome any critique, feedback and input as we do our small part in moving towards an IQ equivalent for EI with adults this year, with a solid model that is empirically evaluated. This is being followed by a unique instrument that will measure what it says it measures.

 

Our plan is then to adapt this for children so we can help add emotional skills to the core curriculum of reading, writing and mathematics, to help children survive, thrive and make a positive difference in their communities.

Any critique, input, support and ideas please to cliff@eiagroup.com .

Thank you.

C A Lansley.

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