Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Emotional intelligence: linked to performance or not?

Since Daniel Goleman first made the concept popular in the 1990s, trainers and consultants across the globe have been urging us to become more ‘emotionally intelligent’. However is this actually a concept in its own right and does it improve performance? The answers are ‘not really’ and ‘not much’.

Independent scientists have shed some light on the picture with a rigorous meta-analysis of 15 meticulously selected academic studies – leading to what Science for Work calls “the most up-to-date and trustworthy source of information on the subject at the moment”.

Behavioural scientists Joseph, Jin, Newman and O-Boyle found that emotional intelligence did correlate moderately with job performance (as evaluated by supervisors) – meaning that it can predict 8.4% of someone’s performance. However this is much less effective than the General Mental Ability test, which can predict 26% of someone’s performance.

In addition they found that the Emotional Intelligence construct is just a mixture of seven other well-known and well-studied factors:

  1. Emotional stability (vs. neuroticism)
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Ability EI (this is a more robust academic measure of EI than the more widely used ‘mixed EI’ introduced by Goleman – however by itself Ability EI is a worse predictor of performance)
  5. Cognitive ability
  6. General self-efficacy (similar to self-belief)
  7. Self-rated job performance

When they controlled for these 7 factors, the EI test predicted 0% additional elements of job performance – so it is adding nothing new.

Interestingly, testing these seven factors together predicted 15.2% of job performance – almost double that predicted by emotional intelligence alone.

We are not arguing that emotional intelligence is not an important skill to have – indeed it makes the world go round and workplaces a much more pleasant place to work (or at least the combination of the 7 factors above that it represents do). What we are demonstrating is that it’s importance with regards to job performance has been seriously hyped up.

So the next time someone says to you ‘emotional intelligence is the most important factor for this job’ or ‘you need to develop your emotional intelligence’ – take a moment to think through how you can improve the seven factors above – as these will stand you in much better stead for that elusive performance boost.

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