The most recent NexusEQ Conference included delegates from over 100 disciplines and 37 nations gathered in Holland to see how emotional intelligence improves leadership. On EQ.org, more and more practitioners are appearing from all over the world. Google News has stories about EQ every day. It all goes to show that emotional Intelligence is of interest to a wide and growing audience. But what do we mean by “emotional intelligence” — is it just a nice way of talking about concepts that have been popular for decades? Or is there really a new concept to explore?
Part of the vision of these world conferences is to find a shared understanding, a common vision, which is challenging in an emerging science. There are many different theorists, many different practitioners, and many different models. So rather than choosing one specific model, the NexusEQ conferences work to bring out research and practice that values the power of emotions as a driving force in our capacity for wisdom. In this view, “Emotional intelligence” is different from “emotional,” different from humanism, different from openness, different from caring, different from consciousness, and even different from emotional literacy. While there are many forms of psychology, self-awareness, and personal growth that deal with emotions, that does not mean they are informed by the science of emotional intelligence. One key differentiator is how people define the role and function of emotions. In most of psychology emotions are identified as a symptom, an artifact, an aberration, or a coincidence (even in “emotion-friendly” disciplines such as Positive Psychology, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Emotional Freedom Technique, Constellation Therapy, and Transactional Analysis). Emotion is seen as secondary, sometimes even as dysfunction. Generally speaking, psychological approaches say, “Thinking is King,” and emotion is a byproduct (as is behavior). Perhaps this is most clearly visible in Rational Emotive Therapy, which deals with emotions but treats them as artifacts of mistaken beliefs.
Another whole school of thought focuses on “Behavior is King.” This paradigm is almost insidious in the way it creeps into management, parenting, and education. In this view, all we need to focus on is behavior – and if we can “pull the right levers” (rewards and punishments), we can change any behavior.
At the other extreme, some approaches arising from the “self-esteem movement” treat positive emotions and “feeling good” as something magical or transcendental. Somewhere along the road, the current incarnations of EST, Forum, Tea Groups, and Essalon still act like emotions are a barrier that must be “broken through” with intense feeling and catharsis to arrive at true understanding.
Part of the revolutionary value of EQ is a new perspective on emotions that’s truly different from other views. From the EQ perspective, emotions are a functional, adaptive source of information and energy – they are understandable, measurable, and practical. Thinking and feeling are two notes of the same chord. Perhaps behavior is a third note. In this view, emotions are part of intelligence – part of cognition. Both are biological processes and inseparable from our physical selves.
As far back as Darwin (and maybe before), scholars have proposed that emotions help us survive. Going several steps further, we now know emotions are a basis for group interaction, they give us critical information about others and about ourselves, they influence thinking and even create our very consciousness. They cannot be meaningfully isolated from “thinking,” and it’s meaningless to say one comes first and the other is a result. There are no “bad” or “irrational” emotions, though there are emotions we don’t understand and many we express inappropriately. To be intelligent with our emotions, we must recognize and attend to them respectfully and intentionally. Emotional intelligence is an emerging science; we are living on the cutting edge, and this creates some confusion. The plurality of models, theories, and views is a sign of a healthy debate as different scholars and thought-leaders test the boundaries of this new field of study. In the last two decades there have been tremendous advances in our understanding of the intelligence of emotions and there is still much more to learn.
The task you and I have is to find the jewels of value amidst the bustle of new discovery and the hustle of marketing hype. As you learn about emotional intelligence and as you find practitioners and allies to support your implementation – keep the key principle in mind. If you want the benefits of emotional intelligence, you’ve got to link up thinking and feeling as two partners building a sustainable and prosperous alliance.