Think you're emotionally intelligent because you're nice? Think again.

There's more to emotional intelligence than empathy, positivity

Emotional intelligence has proven to be a stronger predictor of success than IQ in multiple studies.

But what does emotional intelligence really include, and how can you tell if you have it?

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis argue that emotional intelligence is much broader than many people realize. Goleman is co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University; Richard Boyatzis is a professor of organizational behavior, psychology, and cognitive science at Case Western Reserve University.

Goleman and Boyatzis note that many people associate emotional intelligence with "being sweet and chipper." But they argue that showing leadership and managing conflicts are overlooked, but important, sides of emotional intelligence. In fact, Goleman and Boyatzis believe that too much focus on being nice can actually frustrate employees and stunt their professional growth.

Instead, Goleman and Boyatzis recommend embracing the lesser known sides of emotional intelligence. They identify 12 competencies within emotional intelligence. Seven of them probably seem familiar:

  • Emotional self-awareness;
  • Adaptability;
  • Positive outlook;
  • Emotional self-control;
  • Achievement orientation;
  • Empathy; and
  • Organizational awareness.

But Goleman and Boyatzis say people often neglect the last five:

  • Influence;
  • Teamwork;
  • Mentorship;
  • Inspirational leadership; and
  • Conflict management. 

Truly emotionally intelligent people have the ability to give unpleasant feedback confidently and effectively, the authors write. Individuals with high emotional intelligence also face and manage conflict when they need to, even if it requires breaking out of the "sweet and chipper" mold.

"Bringing simmering issues to the surface goes to the core of conflict management," Goleman and Boyatzis write.

To develop any aspect of emotional intelligence, the authors recommend seeking external feedback, preferably anonymous, because these competencies can be difficult to self-assess. They encourage aspiring leaders to compare the feedback they receive with their own self-perception and reflect on differences and growth opportunities (Boyatzis/Goleman, Harvard Business Review, 2/6).

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