• Andrew Wien

The ONE problem with emotional intelligence tests

Does your organization measure emotional intelligence? They should stop. There is one huge problem with these tests.

Dan Goleman defines emotional intelligence as the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions and the emotions of others, and use that information to better advance one’s goals. In any situation you are in, whether it is a meeting, a 1:1 conversation, or even doing work or making decisions by yourself, there is emotional data present. The more you have access to that emotional data, the more effectively you’ll be able to navigate through that situation to get the outcome you want.

There are two main theoretical models of emotional intelligence, ability EQ and mixed EQ. Ability EQ presents test takers with a series of questions that have right and wrong answers. Mixed EQ is based on self-assessment.

For ability EQ, testing whether people know the emotionally intelligent response while sitting in a quiet room is completely different than being able to notice emotions real time. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to roll my eyes at my spouse. But sometimes my emotions get the best of me and I do it anyways. People are not emotionally intelligent if they know the right answers. They are emotionally intelligent if they can apply these concepts when they or other people are experiencing difficult emotions real time.

For mixed EQ, the tests are based on perception of oneself. Most people think they are above average drivers. It’s impossible for everyone to be right. The same is true with emotional intelligence. When I go into companies, most people say, “Can I get X to sign up for this? I’m already emotionally intelligent, but this person really needs the help.”

So if your organization uses emotional intelligence tests, stop. They are a waste of time. Instead, follow this process:

  1. Teach people what emotional intelligence is and how it will help

  2. Give them the tools to apply in real time situations to improve their emotional intelligence

  3. Help them form habits around the tools that they perceive are most relevant for them

In short time, their emotional intelligence will start to improve. And that is what we care about—not measuring EQ, which is difficult and inaccurate anyways, but improving it so people can be more effective and resilient at work.

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