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Emotional Intelligence is Overrated (linkedin.com)
96 points by hownottowrite on Oct 1, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments

For me it could be one of the most important things.

As a manager and entrepreneur we had some people that were intellectually bright, masters of cognitive ability, but were miserable and made everybody miserable.

As bright as they were, they had their partners or children abusing them, or cheating. It was clear that they were not bright in other areas of their life.

The problem was when they projected their anger, frustration or cynicism on other members of the team.

This is a red line for me, I learned to never tolerate this and it is one of the best thing you could do for your team.

Emotions are addictive and contagious. It you let negative emotions of one member go against the team, soon the entire team will react and escalate(people work this way, hey he insulted me so I double the insult back and so on).

In lots of jobs, emotional intelligence is not that important, specially when you can "outsource" it from the workers to managers but on sales it is an essential ability.

In lots of jobs, emotional intelligence is not that important, specially when you can "outsource" it from the workers to managers but on sales it is an essential ability.

The article's point is that they designed a test to check whether this is true, and found that in terms of dollars (which are the whole point of sales people) it wasn't. If you'd said "programmers," there wouldn't be too much room to disagree. Or if the author hadn't published other papers in the field, there probably wouldn't be grounds for disagreement, since nobody should take someone's word that they "ran a test" without at least some academic familiarity. But here's the author's related research: http://amj.aom.org/content/56/6/1703.abstract

Unless the whole article is a submarine piece to plug http://www.optimizehire.com/ (which is quite possible), it would seem that ignoring the facts while sticking to your gut feelings is a bad idea. That said, whether they are facts is debatable, since it's simply an anecdote from the author. But personally, I'd find it extremely interesting if an experiment called into question conventional wisdom, so hopefully the author will release rigorous details about his methodology and process.

Eh, most managers are like you. And you know what? That's why I can pretty consistently hire very capable people at dramatically below market rates.

The way I see it, if you are the more emotionally capable team member, well, sometimes it makes sense to put a little bit of that emotional capability into helping your more mentally capable team members deal with the team and be productive.

I'm not saying I'm more emotionally capable than average; By those tests, I'm probably not. But I do seem to be pretty good at interacting with people that are generally thought to have low emotional intelligence, and that's probably what you want for a manager of Engineers.

See, the fact that I'm pretty good when dealing with "low-eq" types but generally much less good when dealing with "high-eq" types (and further, that I tend to make friends with foreigners faster than other Americans in work situations) indicates to me that emotional intelligence is a relative sort of thing. A person who is good at dealing with one type of person or one culture may be less good at dealing with another.

I find that a lot of people persons understand about 75-90% of people great, and do terrible at trying to interact with the remainder, because their various norms are so far apart and the person just can't picture the other's perspective in that situation.

Also, I'm completely with your other point: if your job at the company is to help manage emotions, why isn't it reasonable to expect that you impart some of that knowledge and experience on coworkers?

If I'm hired to do math/software, the expectation is generally not only that I develop new math/software ideas/code, but that I also explain these ideas to coworkers, and give my less technical coworkers the benefit of my knowledge and experience, including training them in basic concepts they need for their job.

I think a lot of companies would be well served by having managers/HR/etc run seminars for less people oriented people who want to develop their people skills (similar to the training that is given to people in people position roles, eg sales).

On the contrary, some of the best people I've ever worked with were people I bonded with over cynicism and an equal hate for most things. It made it incredibly easy to sift through the bullshit.

Cynicism and frustration, loudly projected, may be the only thing that saves a project from the groupthink toilet.

edit: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-30/here-s-theory-why-s...

You sound like a horrible manager. Those employees needed support.

I think the important part here is that the task "working with the team" is an entirely different task from "debugs a memory leak". So comparing based on the main skill might not be very helpful for actual workplaces.

One criteria of intellectual brightness, it seems to me, is the ability to recognize oneself as the primary source of one's own suffering and misery.)

Your employees were being abused and you blame them? Think your own emotional intelligence might need a firmware upgrade.

Ve described a situation and what ve did about that situation. Ve didn't say anything about assigning blame.


Gender-neutral pronoun.

We have one of those already, it's "they".

I sometimes use that, but it feels awkward to me when referring to a specific person. And in this case, I think that at one point I was using "they" to refer to the employees, and didn't want the ambiguity.

(I'll note that I've had this discussion multiple times before. I'm fine with people expressing disapproval of my choice, but please assume that I'm not making it out of ignorance.)

It takes some getting used to, but I think "they" is still a lot less awkward than using a completely new word.

My post was probably more condescending than necessary.

I immediately assumed you were putting on a comedy german accent. But for obvious reasons, I had some difficulty figuring out why you were doing this.

"You" already has this problem and we can deal with it.

Pronouns often need disambiguation anyway.

'They' can be confused with a plural pronoun and a lot of people feel it's grammatically incorrect to use it to refer to a singular person.

The problem with gender-neutral singular pronouns is that there are many of them originating from different contexts. Each group or person tries to get their pronoun - ve, ze, co - adopted as standard but it's difficult because they're invented, so nobody knows about them, so you have to have this discussion every time you use one.

I'm friends with an asexual person who doesn't identify as male or female, and ze asked me to use the "ze" pronoun when referring to zer. I do in zer presence but there's no way I'm going to drop a sentence like that when somebody asks what I did yesterday. I just want to continue the conversation rather than have an involved discussion about gender norms.

For what it's worth, most of the time I use ve nobody says anything. Probably they just think it's a typo, unless I use it multiple times. I'm okay with that. I've also used it in real life without comment.

Interesting. I also would have thought it was a typo except you used it three times in a row. I wonder if people think it's a slip of the tongue when said out loud.

Thanks for the comment :)

But this way you get to flag yourself as an SJW.

I can see why you'd make that assumption, but I assure you I'm not.

Fair enough ;-)

I'm fairly old fashioned, though. I still cringe when I hear actresses described as "actors", for example. Just because you have gendered names for the same job it doesn't make one inferior.

Ve sounds too much like a caricature German saying "we".

You nicked that from Greg Bear's Permutation City didn't you?

I meant Greg Egan.

You probably also meant Diaspora. :) (That's where I got it from - I don't remember it being in Permutation City.)

Ah, yup, that's the one. Got them mixed up, but love his stuff.

He blames them for bringing their issues in to work.

A more accurate title for this article would be "Emotional intelligence doesn't correlate to increased measurable performance (in dollars and cents)."

Having someone who's productive in the metric of work throughput doesn't necessarily a desirable employee make.

Particularly, I take issue with his apparent notion that emotional intelligence is only applicable in certain fields: "This isn’t to say that emotional intelligence is useless. It's relevant to performance in jobs where you have to deal with emotions every day, like sales, real estate, and counseling. If you’re selling a house or helping people cope with tragedies, it’s very useful to know what they’re feeling and respond appropriately. But in jobs that lack these emotional demands—like engineering, accounting, or science[...]"

Unless this employee is working for themselves in the dark vacuum of space, they're going to need to talk to people, and anyone who's worked with someone with zero emotional intelligence can tell you what a drag that can be.

> Particularly, I take issue with his apparent notion that emotional intelligence is only applicable in certain fields

Others may take issue with the notion that there are no fields for which one with less emotional intelligence is not universally inferior.

> anyone who's worked with someone with zero emotional intelligence can tell you what a drag that can be.

Do not conflate "zero emotional intelligence" (i.e. the clueless, innocently blunt) for "destructive personality" (i.e. the arrogant, egotistical, aggressive, confrontational etc.)

Do not conflate "zero emotional intelligence" (i.e. the clueless, innocently blunt) for "destructive personality" (i.e. the arrogant, egotistical, aggressive, confrontational etc.)

Yeah. I'd even go so far as to say that the worst offenders are often very high on the emotional intelligence scale. They're deceptive, manipulative, narcissistic psychopaths like Ted Bundy or Frank Underwood (of House of Cards fame).

Just so it's clear, my post isn't picking on people on the autism spectrum any more than the universe is picking on me by making my skin deficient in melanin such that I sunburn easily.

My opinion is that emotional intelligence is something that can be learned. Some people will struggle more than others, but we all have our challenges to overcome.

I know some autistic people who are actually far better at it, probably because they've had to actually learn it, instead of relying on instinct.

I don't have access to the full text of the paper that quote from the article refers, but I gather from the abstract that the idea of classifying high/low EI jobs is from the paper, not the OP. Perhaps full text of the paper has more details on how they classified the jobs.

Overall, I find it ironic that most people who say they care about EI are the ones who don't prefer to be accommodating when interacting with others with seemingly lower EI.

> Unless this employee is working for themselves in the dark vacuum of space, they're going to need to talk to people, and anyone who's worked with someone with zero emotional intelligence can tell you what a drag that can be.

I couldn't agree more, I find it really cynical and disgusting that all of his post was just about the bottom line. I'd rather work with people who have emotional intelligence than with someone who has the social skills of a houseplant.

But unless emotional abilities and cognitive abilities are negatively correlated, it's not as though selecting for cognitive abilities would make you any more or less likely to have a coworker that demands extra emotional work. It just means you won't be extra-lucky in finding coworkers of high emotional ability.

Personally, I think that focusing on work performance is a refreshing wind against so much folk wisdom hiring.

I'm also not at all surprised that someone was unable to unseat intelligence as a predictor of work performance. That predictor has been solidly established as powerful across a general array of work (better than past relevant work experience!), and scientists are ever on the hunt for a better employment sieve.

You are confusing "emotional intelligence" with "social skills", two very different things.

it is actually extremely valuable.

I'm a project manager at a big company that makes medical devices. we recently got our first shipment of prototypes, which we ordered and payed for months ago (because of long lead times for some of the parts). turns out, not enough units to go around for all the various testing. no one's fault, really, we just estimated our need inaccurately 6 months ago.

my job is literally to make everybody happy with what they get. this requires navigating the emotional landscape that is all the different hardware/software/firmware/quality/mechanical/marketing/whomever engineers and team leads and ensuring that everybody maintains high moral wh8le dealing with a lack of resources.

and yes, morale is extremely important to a productive team if you want to get anything done at a level of sufficient quality.

it's not easy.

I've got to recognize when someone is angry but staying quiet so I can remedy their situation. I've got to recognize when someone is holding back available resources from another party because of available personal vendetta. I've got to recognize when emotions are about to Crack and prevent the team from going over the cliff.

basically what I'm saying is that emotional intelligence is very important. without it, key players would get angry and fed up and quit.

the reason people think it is over rated is because it's hard to recognize until it isn't there.

Well now that we have an anecdote, lets throw out the data.

The "data" in the article doesn't take into account management or any of the situations referred by the parent comment.

And that's one of the fundamental flaws of the article: it attempts to asses the value of IQ or EQ with mean individual performance -- and completely ignores what matters most, which is of course group performance.

Yes, I once heard of a guy that recovered from cancer after Scientology. Time for an audit!

Without falling on either side of the debate, it's probably a good time to bring out this quote from 1704.

    "Good engineers are so scarce, that one must bear with their humours"

    - Lord Galway, 1704

Yes, but rationality in the sense of Stanovich isn't. See.


Touches on the phenomenon of "Smart people acting dumb" if I have to state it utterly crudely. This is not one of the common knee-jerk reactions to intelligence metrics. The book itself is incredible.

Summary of his previous work here http://lesswrong.com/lw/2g1/what_intelligence_tests_miss_the...

Dysrationalia: Separating Rationality and Intelligence talks about the phenomenon informally described as "smart but acting stupid". Stanovich notes that if we used a broad definition of intelligence, where intelligence only meant acting in an optimal manner, then this expression wouldn't make any sense. Rather, it's a sign that people are intuitively aware of IQ and rationality as measuring two separate qualities. Stanovich then brings up the concept of dyslexia, which the DSM IV defines as "reading achievement that falls substantially below that expected given the individual's chronological age, measured intelligence, and age-appropriate education". ..... He argues that since we have a precedent for creating new disability categories when someone's ability in an important skill domain is below what would be expected for their intelligence, it would make sense to also have a category for "dysrationalia":

Actually, the DSM (4, 5) does not have a diagnosis of "dyslexia". DSM 4 does have "Reading Disorder" (315.0), and other learning disorders. The terminology was changed in DSM 5 (see http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Specific%20Learning%20Disorder...).

The term "dyslexia" is used in the DSM's description of reading/learning disorders but was considered too imprecise to be used as a diagnosis.

It's probably obvious to most reading here that the ability to manipulate abstract representations, e.g., rational thought, is necessary but insufficient for adequate real-world problem solving that individual and group survival depends on.

Emotional reaction is also an essential survival tool functioning as a built-in signaling or warning system. Reactions serve as an "alert", triggering responses, arousing attention, motivating problem-solving and accordingly, reasoned action. However, in an emergency (e.g., a distinct threat), emotional reactions can be translated directly to action as in "fight or flight" activation.

Emotionality becomes problematic when emotional information is not adequately integrated with cognition/rational processing. If a person can't reason about emotion, reactions are more likely to "take over", and "primitive" (aggressive, "overly emotional") behaviors occur.

"Dysrationalia" or failure of logical thought or problem-solving is too general a phenomenon to have diagnostic specificity. IOW many better specified conditions manifest forms of "executive dysfunction", which I guess is the idea you were getting at.

And no specifically it is not executive dysfunction which is too low level a concept, something that is entirely addressed in his book. He specifically addresses how executive dysfunction means lack of supervisory processes and how rationality is more all encompassing.

You posted some "101" material to something so far beyond it I don't think you will be able to take yourself seriously after you survey his work.


sigh, I'll just quote you a few paragraphs from his book, this post will look silly after.

Is it really overrated? I've never heard of anyone using emotional intelligence in the real world.

That said, I'm actually surprised that it doesn't negatively correlate with sales performance. When I worked sales, it seemed that those that did the best were those who could leave their compassion and empathy at the door and really push -- it was a lot more Boiler Room than really understanding the customers needs. But maybe that was just an isolated experience.

I never hear it too but I surely experience my own lack of emotional intelligence on a daily basis. I'm sure nobody wants to talk about that because it's too subjective and personal.

The might have left their compassion and empathy at the door, but not their perception on if the other side could be pushed harder.

Definitely. As one of the top sales people would say (paraphrased), "A polite no is no different than someone cussing you out. Either way you don't get the sale. And some people you can effectively force to buy something they don't want."

EI is just another tool to manipulate people to the ends desired, and there will always be people who don't think they're emotional creatures.

Kirk always got Spock to do what he wanted.

One more thing.

Experts agree that it has three major elements: perceiving, understanding, and regulating emotions. - One's own emotions, in the first place! Manipulating other people's emotions is a mere cunning.

Cognitive ability was more than five times more powerful than emotional intelligence. The average employee with high cognitive ability generated annual revenue of over $195,000, compared with $159,000 for those with moderate cognitive ability and $109,000 for those with low cognitive ability. Emotional intelligence added nothing after measuring cognitive ability. - and this is just a stuffed with numbers bullshit for CEOs.

For starters - so called "cognitive ability" without a corresponding ability to control and manage one's own emotions is a plain nonsense. The too-well-known marshmallow test and studies of so-called "cultures of honor" are exactly about this.

People who haven't recognize the faulty of one's own uncontrolled emotions and one's own undisciplined mind as the cause of suffering, who have done nothing to improve themselves just cannot be considered smart or intelligent.

Maybe in sales, but there's a whole big world outside of sales. Most of the interactions your team will be having is internal. If you have people who have low emotional intelligence, it's going to make it hard for your team to functional smoothly. This study doesn't measure that in any way.

They are looking at the wrong question. Of course, productive output of a person does not depend so much on his/her EQ, but their output and their working conditions may depend a lot on the EQ of others in the group (especially the boss ^^).

My gut emotional feeling is that I'd like to see solid procedures and numbers from the study rather than a somewhat vague description before I'll be convinced either way.

I think there is actually a mountain of research in this area, and I believe that the general community of industrial / organizational scientists in this area have accepted that general mental ability is a really hard predictor (of work performance) to beat, and that it's a robust and powerful predictor across a variety of job categories. The author of the post actually listed one or two citations, but if you wanted the general opinion of the field, I think you should look for a review article.

I am not at all surprised that some CEO's offhanded suggestion / bet failed to unseat general mental ability as one of the most reliable and effective predictors of work performance. That doesn't mean that you should have a single-metric employment criterion. You could always select for both emotional and cognitive ability, you just have to judge whether it's worth sieving for that versus something else.

How does one really test for emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is by definition difficult to quantify. For that matter so is problem solving ability; a five minute problem solving exercise does not seem sufficient. Did they account for years of experience in sales? Were all the salesmen selling the same thing? At the same location? What about height? What about looks?

Well, the concept of whether something is "overrated" is a squishy one. Overrated by whom? Rated by what criteria?

As to the question of whether emotional intelligence has value, the answer is clearly yes, as even this author admits:

> Cognitive ability is the capacity to learn. The higher your cognitive ability, the easier it is for you to develop emotional intelligence when you need it. (This is one of the reasons that emotional intelligence and cognitive ability turn out to correlate positively, not negatively.)

So, it's not that emotional intelligence doesn't matter, but rather that it's possible for very smart people to be emotionally intelligent as well.

But where does cognitive ability come from? Quite a lot of what the author calls cognitive ability is actually developed through learning: "the capability to reason and solve verbal, logical, and mathematical problems."

And the first crucial step toward such learning is emotional intelligence. There is quite a lot of research showing that very young children who are taught how to recognize, name, and discuss their emotions achieve more in education and career than those who are not. The book "Brain Rules for Baby" summarizes much of this research.

Some people have a special knack for reading people's posture, expressions, vocal inflections. Others can at least listen to the words of their peers and take that into consideration.

On the other hand, some people are emotionally deaf/blind. I've witnessed occurrences of that multiple times and it always appalls me.


I find it a little strange that people constantly have such trouble with basic math concepts, such as variables, fractions, or exponents - things I understood clearly as an elementary school kid.

But there's reasons to think that there's a slight variance in our brain structures and how we perceive things, and that this coupled with our inclination to work at what we're good at leaves people with vastly different levels of skill in particular subject areas by the time they're adults.

It likely appalls me that I continually have to explain basic statistics to executives making decisions based on the information the same way it appalls you that you see people who don't seem to understand emotional concepts.

However, insisting that everyone should know what you know, or be as proficient at the things you're good at as you are, especially when all you do is condemn them for not being rather than genuinely helping them understand makes you an asshole.

I think a lot of people who are good at emotions (and more generally, topics related to people) often forget both how talented they are at those topics and the great deal of time they've spent developing those skills (eg, they're likely to have spent considerably more time socializing).

Just because something is obvious or straightforward for you now doesn't mean that it's that way for other people or that they're not just putting in the little effort it would be for you. (This applies to many topics and situations, really.)

tl;dr: Most people persons I've met seem to have forgotten how much work they put in to people related skills, and just assume everyone should be as good as they are at their subject.

An article about Emotional Intelligence on LinkedIn? Umm...

It depends of what you mean by 'Emotional Intelligence'.) If it is the hype which began with the book - well, it is overrated, and just hype. But if you think of the thousand years old Asian tradition of cultivating and maintaining a "balanced self" (via Indian meditation techniques or Asian Zen practices - doesn't really matter) then try to find anything more underrated. Losing the balance, losing ones face is considered to be very disgraceful and shameful event.)

The more clear way could be this: consider that so-called "emotional centers" in a brain (close to the center) are much more "ancient" than those in the cortex, which is a relatively "recent development" (we, presumably, share "emotional centers" with higher mammals). Thus it is very important (I would say - the most important) "part" of our brain - the world is non-verbal, it is "physical".

So, "training to develop of gaining and habitual maintaining of a fine control over these centers via breath techniques and other practices" which is called "meditation" is a very important aspect of one's personal development, especially in so-called primitive "cultures of honor". The results we could see in these "tranquil" south Asian and Indian cultures.

And, of course, the book and resulting hype is nothing but re-telling the same ancient ideas for a modern stress-ridden, anxiety-prone, ignorant busybody consumers.

A much better book, by the way, is the "7 Habits" classic. Same ideas, different context.

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