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5 Myths about Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman is a bit of a superstar in the brain & behavioral science / leadership space.

It's been 25 years since he released his book Emotional Intelligence which was on The New York Times Best Seller list for a year-and-a-half, a best-seller in many countries, and is in print worldwide in 40 languages.

He recently shared some thoughts about those 25 years that we think are worth sharing (especially his answers to the 5 myths).

"Bring to mind someone you’ve worked for who you really liked – someone you enjoyed working for. That’s your favorite boss.

When I’ve asked folks to do this, and to name one outstanding characteristic of that boss, I get a list that looks very, very familiar: that boss is emotionally intelligent.

We know this intuitively, but now research confirms our gut instinct: The greater a leader’s EI, the more satisfied their direct reports are with their job, and the lower their turnover rate.

Low turnover rates, in turn, are connected with better business outcomes like return on investment, return on assets, and profit."


In the years since Emotional Intelligence was first published, some persistent myths about the concept keep popping up. The most persistent:

1: “Emotional Intelligence (EI) always matters more than your IQ.”

Wrong. This is a misreading of the subtitle of my book. EI can sometimes matter more than IQ – in romance, for example, or for leadership. But certainly not when it comes to academic achievement.

2: “Emotional intelligence accounts for 80 percent of career success.”

Wrong. This mistake comes from a misinterpretation of data I cited in Working with Emotional Intelligence: that IQ may account for up to 20 percent of career success. That other 80 percent is NOT all emotional intelligence, but a host of factors like the wealth of your family of origin, luck, connections, and other forces in one’s success.

3: “Being emotionally intelligent just means you are nice.”

Wrong. But the way a person with emotional intelligence confronts someone else would not be with anger and rage (nor with passivity). It would be with an assertive and firm, but calm, declaration of fact, viewpoint, or whatever else the moment calls for. I like the Dalai Lama’s idea of a “muscular” compassion, where the confrontation of injustice, corruption, and the like comes in a strong form but without hostility.

4: "I invented ‘emotional intelligence."

Wrong. The first time I saw the term was as the title of an article in an academic journal (obscure then and now extinct) by Peter Salovey, then a junior professor at Yale and now President of that university, and his then-grad student John (Jack) Mayer, now a professor at the University of New Hampshire. I just made the idea more famous. At the time I was on the science desk at the New York Times, and my job was to scour such journals to find research that was new and of general interest – like emotional intelligence.

5: "There are five parts to emotional intelligence."

Wrong. In my original model (e.g., in my 1995 book) I did parse EI into five parts. But two of these – self-motivation and self-regulation – have long since been combined into one: self-management. My most recent work focuses on 12 competencies that fold into the four parts of EI.

Interested in learning more? Check out this list of 100 books on Emotional Intelligence.


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