3 Takeaways From the Latest Emotional Intelligence Study

7 min read

Education & Career Trends: February 27
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

To understand whether EQ matters for life success, it’s necessary to dig deep into its original meaning and then take a clear-headed look at the available research.

  • Excerpts are taken from an article published on psychologytoday.com.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the concept of “emotional intelligence,” or “EQ.” It took hold in the 1990s and has only continued to attract the attention of both everyday people and academic psychology. Claims about its contribution to success in life announced even before its heyday, still remain somewhat controversial, however. In part, this is because the concept has become so blurry and all-encompassing that some of the original subtleties in its definition have since become long lost.

To understand whether EQ matters for life success, it’s necessary to dig deep into its original meaning and then take a clear-headed look at the available research. Fortunately, this is now possible due to the publication (in press) of a new major review article that does just that.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

According to this new paper headed up by UCLouvain’s Thomas Pirsoul and colleagues (2023), this blurring of definitional lines is a major problem in evaluating EQ’s role in promoting life success. In their words, the “plethora of definitions and conceptualisations” can be categorised into two main areas: EQ as a trait-like quality or ability (personal resources approach) and EQ as a behavioural disposition that helps people feel better about their ability to navigate emotional situations (self-efficacy approach).

From the standpoint of EQ’s role in promoting life success, the Belgian authors narrowed their search through the vast literature to studies specifically focused on career. If EQ helps promote career success, it would do so by “developing awareness of one’s emotions”.

Think now about people you would consider high in EQ. Perhaps you know someone at work, or who works with someone you’re close to, whom you regard as not just friendly but also sensitive, kind, and willing to listen. You trust this individual to show consideration to you but also to make good choices in their own life. They seem confident but not conceited, and you’ve seen them progress through their career in ways that you admire. Importantly, they are liked both by coworkers and supervisors, meaning that their progress up their career ladder seems that it should be easier for them than is true for most people.

EQ and Job Success

The route from high EQ to career ladder progression, as the UCLouvain authors propose, is charted through the intermediary step of adaptability. As you no doubt know from your own life experiences, being adaptable means that you can anticipate problems and then cope with them once they arise. If you are high in EQ, you can use your emotions to guide yourself through these difficulties.

High self-efficacy can build upon the strengths gained through career adaptability by helping individuals feel more confident about their ability to navigate work-related decisions. If you can, as high EQ implies, listen to your “gut,” you’ll feel that you have a more accurate career compass.

Self-efficacy can also contribute to an individual’s confidence in their so-called “entrepreneurial” skills. The belief that you can sell yourself, which is part of this skill, can help you be a more effective communicator of your strengths. You might also be better able to read people, making you a better negotiator. Finally, you could be better able to launch new ventures based on EQ’s role in helping you manage the stress associated with striking out on your own.

The ability to manage stress becomes its contributor to occupational success for those high in EQ. There are many situations in work settings, from job interviews to performance evaluations, in which people have to exert effort as they try to keep their stress down to manageable levels.

In evaluating the contribution of all of these factors to career success, the authors contrasted two theoretical models. In the trait or resource model, EQ alone would be enough to predict the objective favourable career-related outcome of salary and the subjective outcomes of feelings of job and career satisfaction. If career adaptability and self-efficacy serve as the intermediary influences on these outcomes, then this would support a model in which factors involving these two components are statistically better predictors than EQ is on its own.

After extracting data from more than 150 samples representing nearly 51,000 participants, Pirsoul and his collaborators concluded that the behavioural, rather than the trait or resource model, proved to have the strongest relationship to measures of objective and subjective career success. Supporting what they call the “career self-management model,” these findings show that people high in EQ do well because they are higher in self-efficacy. Supporting the “career construction model,” the findings also showed that people high in EQ do well because they can adapt to their circumstances, and they can also make better career decisions.

One set of findings also provided intriguing support for the notion that people high in EQ are lower in career turnover intentions, meaning that they are less likely to decide to quit their jobs or abandon their careers. Their greater self-understanding means that they choose a pathway that will be consistent with their needs and interests. Their better emotional self-regulation could also make them less likely to have problems with their coworkers and supervisors, going back to the idea that people high in EQ are just nice to have around.

Supporting the idea that EQ can continue to grow in adulthood, as is evident from prior research, the effect sizes for EQ and career outcomes were stronger for older samples included in the meta-analysis. It is possible that as people gain greater self-understanding, their EQ growth is reflected in these career adaptability and self-efficacy dimensions.

3 Ways to Get EQ to Work for You

These three takeaways from this study suggest that EQ is more than just a popular idea without academic merit:

  1. People high in EQ do well in their careers, not just because they possess an overall higher level of knowledge about themselves but also because they know how to make good decisions and can approach work-related challenges with expectations that they can succeed. They also have greater internal self-awareness, allowing them to have a better idea of what they want out of their work lives. They can also negotiate with others more effectively, meaning that they are both better collaborators and better strategists.
  2. The UCLouvain study focused on work and, therefore, wouldn’t have direct applicability to relationships or other areas of adult life. However, given the importance of satisfaction with and success in one’s work role, it would make sense that the EQ findings would have favourable implications for well-being in general. There is extensive evidence throughout the career–family literature showing that satisfaction at work is related positively to satisfaction with one’s home life.
  3. The final important conclusion of this study was the view that EQ isn’t a “thing” that you have or don’t have. Although high EQ may help improve an individual’s adaptability and self-efficacy, these latter two components of the Belgian model are behavioural in nature and, therefore, can be acquired.

To sum up, if you’re not naturally high in EQ, the Pirsoul et al. findings suggest that by using the skills that high-EQ individuals seem to have cultivated, you can find fulfilling outcomes in your most important life pursuits.

Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet

10 Careers In Game Design To Consider

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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