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Business Book Club: ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman 

Why it can matter more than IQ.

In my search for unique insights in the business world I am regularly drawn to treatises on personal and business philosophies that have changed the face of human interaction. This month’s selection falls squarely into this category.

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist who lectures frequently to professional groups, business audiences, and on college campuses. As a science journalist, Goleman reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. This 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, was on The New York Times bestseller list for a year and a half, with more than 5 million copies in print worldwide in 40 languages, and has been a best seller in many countries.

The book delves into five critical areas of emotional intelligence that can improve what Goleman terms as “emotional literacy.” He defines this as the ability to control one’s own emotions and the ability to interpret the emotions of those with whom one interacts.

In the first section, “The Emotional Brain,” Goleman outlines the connection between our emotions and our actions. Our brain attempts to balance emotions and reason, however, in a state he refers to as “emotional hijacking,” and our emotions take over the decision-making process and we overreact. The first step in establishing control is recognizing that this process is taking place while you are still in a position to make a rational decision.

In the second section, “The Nature of Emotional Intelligence,” Goleman compares IQ and EI. He explains how many people with a high IQ fail miserably in life while many people with an average IQ go on to great success. He posits that only 20 percent of a person’s ability to succeed is based on IQ, while as much as 80 percent is due to high emotional intelligence.

Overcoming and controlling negative emotions is one of the critical keys to success. Fear, anger, jealousy, and contempt can create a dark spiral that prevents an individual from reaching their potential. Goleman believes that mastery of these emotions can improve everything in a person’s life — from physical health to financial achievement. IQ tests simply don’t take this fact into account when a person’s career path is being contemplated.

In the section titled “Emotional Intelligence Applied,” Goleman explains how EI directly affects relationships in areas like work and marriage. The ability to control specific emotions can eliminate feelings like worry. This will positively affect your relationships with others and will also dramatically reduce stress in your life, a known factor in physical health.

The section goes on to explore the differences in emotional communication between the sexes. Women tend to be better at expressing and explaining their emotions, while men tend to be more closed off on the subject. I remember hearing a therapist speak on the topic when he said, “If a man wants to know how his relationship with his wife is going, all he needs to do is ask and then listen.” Men often don’t realize they have a problem with their relationship. A woman is much more open about it, especially if it’s bad.

“Windows of Opportunity,” is a section where Goleman describes how critical childhood is in the development of these skills. Children who are abused or neglected can often carry those scars into adulthood. They may never be able to display empathy or compassion and create a cycle of abuse going forward. In fact, these traumas can literally modify the physical structure of the brain. But all is not lost. He goes on to elaborate on the idea that “temperament is not destiny.”

Lastly, Goleman discusses “Emotional Literacy.” He lists the costs from a lack of emotional intelligence, including violence, depression, and substance abuse. This can result in the loss of cherished relationships and loneliness, and lead to severe health problems.

The key to Goleman’s premise is first to recognize the problem and then to actively work at correcting it. He believes this should be taught alongside academic subjects, as it is of equal or greater value to the overall wellbeing of the individual. I must agree.

Check out all the titles in Dave Donald’s Business Book Club.