Critical Analysis of the Arguments for and Against Emotional Intelligence

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The essential aspect of emotional intelligence (EQ) is that it requires the awareness and ability to control and manage one’s own emotions and those of others. Emotional intelligence enables one to understand himself/herself, their goals, behaviour and intentions. It also leads to the understanding of other people’s feelings, thoughts and aspirations. Therefore, emotional intelligence involves two important elements of intelligence; understanding yourself and understanding others. According to Goleman (2005, 315), there are five domains of emotional intelligence: knowing your emotions, managing your emotions, motivating yourself, understanding the emotions of others and managing relationships.

The Need for Emotional Intelligence

Nowadays organizations use emotional intelligence as a measurement mechanism to measure and develop their workforce. The influence of emotional intelligence at an organization’s workplace and management has elicited big debate among critics and proponents. Emotions form part of human life. It’s therefore not possible to separate them from work (Wilson 2004, 226). Other people will perceive certain aspects about us through an examination of our emotions; our tone variations, facial expressions and body language. Emotions can also affect the way we make certain decisions and how we behave on certain occasions. For instance, if someone has a bad day in work we try to avoid him/her. In essence, emotional intelligence principles have been used by many managers seeking to motivate their workforce, meet corporate objectives and form stronger and more profitable organizations (Alexander 2011, 415). Although academics and research still debate on the definition and justification of emotional intelligence, managers have wasted no time to boost their bottom line. In fact, organizations have gone to the extent of hiring and marketing on the basis of emotional intelligence.

The proponents of emotional intelligence argue that emotions should be left out of the workplace through effective control and management mechanism. They propose that emotional intelligence is an essential tool in building relationships in an organization’s workplace. Nowadays the workplace is changing and organizational structures and management are moving towards people-based style of leadership. Such kind of leadership is highly characterized by the relationship of workers at the workplace. Goleman (2005, 319) holds that personal and social capabilities determine employees’ performance at the workplace. Therefore, the relationships built through people-based leadership in an organization will require emotional intelligence to develop a good relationship among workers given their varying personalities and social capabilities.

Arguments for Emotional Intelligence

Proponents of emotional intelligence also argue that a leader should embrace the emotional aspect of intelligence in her leadership. Jack Welch, the chairman of General Electric said that a typical leader should be self-aware, mature and exhibit self-control (TalentSmart, 2009). He argues that a good leader should be able to withstand pressure and deal with hindrances. He further contends that when good moment arise, a good leader is ought to enjoy it with joy and humility.

1) Developing Effective Leaders

Jack Welch observes that emotional intelligence is more seldom than any educational intelligence but is more important in the building of a good leader and should not be ignored by any company. Research also indicates that EQ is more significant than IQ in nearly all roles and even more important in the making of effective leaders (TalentSmart, 2009). IQ is a measure of competence but does not make one an achiever. Emotional intelligence does.

2) Individual Performance

TalentSmart (2009) also indicate that there is a positive relationship between emotional intelligence and job performance. It shows that emotional intelligence contributes 58% of a leader’s performance. Furthermore, 90% of top performers have a high level of emotional intelligence and only 20% of low performers have high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is therefore directly related to job performance for workers at all positions and across all industries.

According to Goleman (2006, 319), there are two broad aspects which determine one’s emotional intelligence: personal competence and social competence. These two aspects exhibit individual skills which can be used in an organization to improve on a worker’s performance.

Personal competence consists of self-awareness and self-management. Self-awareness enables an individual to identify his/her emotions and tendencies that may affect his/her job (TalentSmart, 2009). On the other hand, self-management helps an individual to manage his/her emotions and behaviour so as to realize a better performance at the workplace.

Social competence is composed of social awareness and relationship management. Social awareness enables a person to identify the emotions of the people with whom they interact. On the other hand, relationship management enables a person to manage his/her interactions with others in such a constructive manner that it may result in positive performance at the workplace.

3) Organizational Success

Bradberry and Su (2006, 60) also supported emotional intelligence claiming that it is often linked to organizational performance. The research indicates that most studies support emotional intelligence models based on personal and social influences and competencies. This concurs with Goleman’s theory that emotional intelligence revolves around personality and social competencies. Boyatzis (2006, 425) as cited by Bradberry and Su (2006, 59) claim that emotional intelligence correlates excellently with the success of leaders in their leadership roles. Bradberry and Su (2006) hypothesized that the ratings on emotional intelligence skills of leaders are more correlated to job performance than ability based ratings.

Emotionally intelligent workers, especially those exhibiting congruent ratings of emotional intelligence perform better at the workplace because they are more aware of their behaviours and personalities and they use this self-awareness to improve their skills, leading to better performance.

4) Effective Management

Bradberry and Su (2006, 63) also provide a similar proposition as that of Goleman (2005, 321); that there are four dimensions of emotional intelligence which predict the performance of management. These are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. However, Bradberry and Su (2006) argue that utilization of relationship management by companies yield better performance than the other three dimensions of emotional intelligence.

Generally, Bradberry and Su (2006, 65) suggest that emotional intelligence lead to better performance by leaders in a variety of company management settings but the degree of effect on by each of the four different dimensions of emotional intelligence as provided by Goleman (2006, 320) differ. Relationship management is considered as the most effective dimension of emotional intelligence which gives the best outcome of leaders in their leadership roles.

5) Sociocultural Effects

The success of emotional intelligence is also viewed by its proponents as being attributable to sociological and cultural influences. For instance, western culture is considered to be embracing a variety of conflicting views on emotions. Strong and passionate emotions such as furious anger and erotic passion are dangerous to individual’s wellbeing and lower the performance of workers. They also unethical and limits moral responsibility (Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts 2009, 425). However, intellect can rule the passions. Judgment should therefore be used to deal with emotions, hence the need for emotional intelligence. Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts (2009, 425) observed that some cultural trends such as romantic philosophy value the heart more than the head. This is echoed by Goleman (2006, 324) who also attests that some cultures have neglected ‘the wisdom of the heart’. This statement by Goleman proves that emotional intelligence is also necessary in decision making processes of companies.

Examples of Emotional Intelligence in Use

Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts (2009, 429) use various examples of quotations from prominent people who support emotional intelligence. For instance, they use the example of Vincent Van Gogh, a painter who made the statement: ‘let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it’ (Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts 2009, 432). By saying that we obey our emotions, Vincent perhaps meant that we exhibit emotional intelligence in dealing with our emotions. Marya Mannes, a writer and critic also observed that the sign of an intelligent person is the ability to control emotions by applying reason. Furthermore, John Sterling who was a poet between 1806 and 1844 claimed that emotion which turns back on itself without causing a thought or action is a sheer madness. Therefore, Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts agree with various proponents of emotional intelligence from all disciplines; from art to science; philosophy to psychology and religion to leadership.

Arguments Against Emotional Intelligence

Despite the fact that many researchers have given substantial evidence to support their cases for emotional intelligence, there are quite a number of critics who oppose the applicability of emotional intelligence in the business world.

1) Limited Scientific Application

Ashton-James (2003, 209) argues that many scholars of emotional intelligence don’t fully consider the scientific contributions on emotional intelligence in organizations. Ashton-James (2003, 210) agrees with the general basis of emotional intelligence but disagree with the measurement approaches used by past researchers to determine its abilities. For instance, it seems more plausible to place the respondents in a situation in which they can personally experience the emotions they are requested to respond to. Ashkanasy and Daus (2006) say that this will produce opposite results on the abilities of emotional intelligence.

2) EI is not Sufficient

Some critics such as Ashton-James (2003, 223) and Matthews et al (2001, 189) emotional intelligence is more of a manifestation of social intelligence in the modern society. Therefore, intellectual capacity is not sufficient to explain human abilities and character in reality. Ashkanasy and Daus (2006, 443) further argue that emotional intelligence movement is motivated by politics in the egalitarian ideals. These egalitarian modifications result in beliefs that everyone has equal intelligent levels with anyone else.

3) A Tool for Manipulation and Intimidation

Alexander (2011, 412) also provides a number of oppositions made by some people towards emotional intelligence. For instance, he cites the report of Professor Martin Kilduff and Dr. Jochen Menges both of Cambridge’s Judge Business School. The report claimed that there could possibly be a dark side to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence could be used by the more knowledgeable individuals to manipulate and intimidate others so that they can always agree with their will (Wilson 2004, 232) Menges wonders how Emotional intelligence could be used in competitive environments rather than cooperative ones. He tends to believe that some people may use the concept to get ahead rather than getting along with others.

Lord Jones who was a former head of the CBI observed that emotional intelligence often gives some people the opportunity to attempt to climb over others and get to the top. The cases presented by Alexander (2011, 412) view emotional intelligence as a powerful tool in management but can be used as a technique of misuse and intimidation against a person or a given group people.

Alexander (2011, 416) observes that there are four key emotional intelligence skills which can be used by individuals for good or ill, depending on the individual’s motives. These skills are: perception of one’s emotions and those of others, using emotional intelligence in one’s thinking and decision making, understanding and interpreting emotions, and managing one’s emotions and those of others. These skills may be used by protagonists as strategies to detect emotions, disguise and express emotions. Alexander (2011, 429) suggests that those who use emotional intelligence for ill always observe the emotional state of those they want to manipulate and use their emotional detection abilities to obtain an unfair advantage. They often focus more on those who are most important to them and use the information they obtain from them to misuse them.


Although some critics of emotional intelligence have emerged in the recent past, it is clear from this analysis that emotional intelligence is a significant tool used by managers to develop the best leadership qualities in their organizations and enable their organizations’ workforce perform better. Many researchers agree with the assertion that the use of emotional intelligence in a working environment yield better outcome in an organization’s outcome. This is more so when organizations use relationship management aspect of emotional intelligence to develop a good relationship among the company’s employees. Emotional intelligence may be misused by managers to manipulate others as critics of emotional intelligence suggest. However, it is not the emotional intelligence itself as a concept that leads to misuse but the ill-motive of managers. It is therefore appropriate than modern organizations should hire positive minded leaders who will not use their emotional intelligence to their advantage but to boost the company’s performance. If used well, emotional intelligence will indeed improve the performance of organizations using it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *