The evidence that Emotional intelligence is a linked to job performance is clear. The problem is that no-one can agree what it is about EI that actually makes the difference to performance, until now.
A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at the results of 36 separate pieces of research into the relationship between self-reported EI and job performance (measured via supervisor ratings), with an overall data set from 2,168 employed adults. Via a sophisticated bit of number crunching, the authors were able to conclude that there is a strong correlation between EI and job performance. More interestingly, they found that there were 7 traits that made all the difference to performance. Taken together, these 7 traits explained 62% of the variance in self-reported EI in the study’s 2,168-strong sample.
These are the 7 traits that make someone Emotionally Intelligent :
- Emotional stability. Emotionally stable individuals are better able to manage their own emotions and have higher tolerance for stress, making them more able to keep a cool head in stressful situations and avoid toxic conflict. Emotional stability is the most important predictor of EI, accounting for 29.5% of the variance alone.
- Conscientiousness. Conscientious individuals have good impulse control and strive to achieve their goals. They’re dutiful and seek excellence, and this extends to social situations too – they “exert extra effort in adhering to emotion-related norms” meaning that they develop superior emotional ability.
- Extraversion. Extraverts have an underlying desire for social contact and relationships, so it makes sense that in order to establish extensive social networks extraverts are likely to have developed strong emotion-related skills that help them build bonds.
- Ability EI. Ability EI refers to individuals’ ability to perform emotion-related behaviours such as express emotions, empathise and reason using emotions.
- Cognitive ability. Although many theories of EI say that it’s entirely separate to general cognitive ability (e.g. IQ), the results suggested that there is some crossover – because cognitive ability affects our ability to solve problems and adapt to our environment, which in turn boosts EI and performance.
- General self-efficacy. We all have a certain level of confidence in our ability to cope with the demands of our job. And in general we all want to behave in a way that’s consistent with our view of ourselves. So people with high self-efficacy are more likely to have developed the social skills needed to maintain this positive self-image, while those who believe in themselves less may shy away from social relationships because doing so is consistent with their self-view.
- Self-rated job performance. Several of the questions used to measure EI also seem to tap into people’s view of their own performance levels (e.g. “I perform well in teams”). It’s no surprise that EI is then related to actual job performance, if job performance was one of the factors used to conceptualise EI in the first place.
EI is not soft, fluffy or about wanting to be liked. Individuals who have high EI want to succeed, can control their emotions, are gregarious and have positive self-appraisals. Nothing fluffy there.
What’s more, these results suggest that EI isn’t a magical, standalone gift that you either have or you don’t. It’s a potent combination of several other traits which we all possess in some degree. By dialing up these 7 important traits we can all learn to relate a bit better to others, increase our emotional intelligence and therefore boost not only our own performance but unlock the potential of those around us.
UPDATE: One of the statements in my original post was: ‘’The evidence that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of work performance than IQ is clear.’ It caused some controversy because the research showed that when you control for the factors outlined above, the relationship between mixed EI and job performance dropped to zero. The upshot of this is that how you choose to define EI is crucial.
Mixed EI is a conglomeration of all the factors above, some of which contain well established constructs like extroversion and conscientiousness. If you choose to define EI as a mix, it does predict job performance, but because it’s this bunch of other well established factors, it begs the question of EI’s usefulness. Ability EI refers to individuals’ ability to perform emotion-related behaviors such as express emotions, empathize and reason using emotions. It’s often this loose idea that people refer to when talking about EI. It’s also a much weaker predictor of job performance than IQ. So the question of EI’s efficacy all depends on how you choose to define it.
Thank you to everyone who provided feedback on the article, including Professor Dana Joseph who is one of the authors of the original paper and shared her thoughts with me. I think a future post on value of EI vs. IQ will make for interesting reading.