EQ – What Is It?

EQ or ‘emotional quotient’, is a term coined to describe emotional capabilities.  The term compares to the better-known IQ or intelligence quotient’ which attempts to measure and create a score of an individual’s intellectual capability and then compare it to the broader population.

The term was made popular in the 1990’s after the publication of a book, ‘Emotional Intelligence’[1] although, despite its seemingly obvious usefulness as a concept, it has been criticised because of its lack of specificity and predictability.

Emotional intelligence is difficult to concisely define and Colman described it as:  the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).[2]


An Easier Way to Understand EQ

EQ is simply a set of skills or competencies that create a picture of how an individual will deal with situations that require some level of emotional understanding.  These skills fall into two broad groups referred to as personal competence and social competence.[3]

Personal Competence

Personal competence relates to an individual’s internal emotional processes or controls and can be considered under three broad elements including:

  1. Self-awareness. This involves the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions, to assess one-self, and the degree of  self confidence.
  2. Self-regulation. Having self-awareness is not enough if it does not come with an ability to control emotions and behaviour.  This includes concepts like self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, and innovation.
  3. Emotional drives are important for setting goals and achieving those goals.  It relates to concepts of commitment, initiative, and optimism.

Social Competence

Social competence involves how an individual relates to those around them and includes an ability to extrapolate and understand how someone else might be feeling and then act on that understanding.  This involves two broad elements:

  1. Empathy involves an awareness of the feelings, needs and concerns of others.  Empathy is helps the individual to have a service orientation including the appreciation of diversity and political awareness.
  2. Social skills. Empathy is also critical for the development of important social skills which include communication and conflict management and is central to the development of leadership and collaboration.


Measuring EQ

There are a number of tests of EQ and they have varying degrees of focus and reliability.[4], [5], [6]

While providing a ‘score’ is helpful and they can be used to successfully identify someone with generally higher levels of EQ or someone with generally lower levels of EQ but they cannot, simply by looking at the score, be used to compare people whose scores are similar.  Understanding the measures requires a deeper understanding of the results to make an assessment.

While this may sound vague, it is worth noting that IQ scores are equally unhelpful.  It might be obvious that someone with an IQ of 140 will be more intelligent than someone with an IQ of 80.  However, if you compare two people with an IQ of 140, one may have excellent mathematical skills while the other may have excellent language skills – they will not satisfy the needs of all jobs just because of their IQ.  EQ is the same, the score provides only limited meaning without understanding what is behind the score.


Is IQ or EQ More Important?

IQ is a measure of cognitive ability while EQ is a measure of emotional ability.  They are completely different issues so it makes no sense to say one is better than the other.  They are also independent of each other.  It is possible to have high IQ scores while having low EQ scores.   For example, you probably know someone who seems incredibly smart but cannot deal with people at all, this would be an example of someone with high IQ but low EQ.  Similarly, you may know someone who is very understanding of other people but not quite so clever, and this would be an example of higher EQ with lower IQ.

They real issue is to ensure that the person doing a job has the appropriate levels of IQ and EQ in the various strengths compatible with the role.


Assessing EQ in Applicants

While it is possible for applicants to all undergo EQ assessments, this will not normally be necessary because:

  1. Not all positions require higher level of EQ. Some roles definitely benefit from higher levels of EQ, and as a general rule, the more the role requires interaction with others and leadership, the more value EQ will have.
  2. EQ (and IQ) can be assessed indirectly based on proper interview techniques. This requires interviewers to have a sophisticated understanding of emotional intelligence and other psychological drives and will be based on interpreting the applicant’s past performance in different situations.  These issues would be elicited during the interview if the interviewer knows what to look for.


Improving EQ

Unlike IQ, EQ is based on skills and can be learnt.  This means that if an individual is not particularly emotionally ‘switched on’ they can learn skills that will help to improve these functions.  There may be limits to this, especially if you accept the view that emotional intelligence is related to personality traits rather than just learnable skills.

Nonetheless, there is a growing evidence that improving EQ may create improvements in physical and mental health, and self-esteem of the individual [7],[8], including lower rates of substance abuse [9].  In an organisation, there is also growing evidence that higher EQ among leaders allows for more effective working relationships and a greater ability to motivate their teams.

Based on these ideas, it may be helpful to continually encourage the growth of emotional intelligence within your workforce, particularly those in leadership positions.  Not only will it benefit your business, but your staff will personally grow from the experience.


Summing Up

Emotional intelligence has been a popular concept for more than 20 years, and a lot of research has occurred to identify what it is, how to measure it, how to use it, and what it means in the workplace and life in general.  There is perhaps a lot more work to do to understand emotional intelligence and where it fits into recruitment.

In our view, emotional intelligence is important, especially in positions requiring leadership or a need to find compromise between parties.  However, the difficulties with assessing EQ require someone with adequate skill and knowledge to properly make those assessments in the light of the circumstances requiring the assessment and a simple EQ score, will never be genuinely useful.


[1] Daniel Goleman.  Emotional Intelligence (1995). Bantam Books.  ISBN 9780553095036

[2] Andrew Colman.  A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). (2005) Oxford University Press.  ISBN 9780199534067

[3] Daniel Goleman.  Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998). Bantam Books.  ISBN 9780553378580

[4] Mayer, J.D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D.L., Sitarenios, G. (2001). “Emotional intelligence as a standard intelligence”. Emotion1 (3): 232–242. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.1.3.232;

[5] Salovey, P; Grewal, D (2005). “The Science of Emotional Intelligence”. Current Directions in Psychological Science14 (6): 6. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00381.x;

[6] Bradberry, Travis and Greaves, Jean. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. San Francisco: Publishers Group West. ISBN 978-0-9743206-2-5

[7] Schutte (1 April 2007). “A meta-analytic investigation of the relationship between emotional intelligence and health”. ResearchGate. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015.

[8] Nehra DK, Sharma V, Mushtaq H, Sharma NR, Sharma M, Nehra S (July 2012). “Emotional intelligence and self esteem in cannabis abusers” (PDF). Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology. 38 (2): 385–393

[9] Brown, Chiu; Chiu, Edmond; Neill, Lloyd; Tobin, Juliet; Reid, John (16 Jan 2012). “Is low emotional intelligence a primary causal factor in drug and alcohol addiction?” (PDF). Australian Academic Press (Bowen Hills, QLD, Australia): 91–101.


Website | + posts

Dr Schultz spent 22 years working in psychiatry and then went on to qualify as a lawyer. He has spent 34 years helping people solve problems and the unique combination of medicine, psychiatry, law and mediation provides a unique academic and practical approach to life's challenges.

Hyperconnected eBook by Dr. Neil Schultz
For A Strictly Limited Time Get My Ebook - Hyperconnected