YANG: Intelligence Has Many Sides – It’s Easier to Acquire Hard Technologies Than to Grasp Soft Emotions

Intelligence Has Many Sides: It’s Easier to Acquire Hard Technologies Than to Grasp Soft Emotions
Column by ELENA YANG

Everyone has experienced the distance between what we see ourselves and how others see us. 

Not everyone notices such experience or acknowledges it. In order for such an experience to occur, one has to have a keen sense of self-awareness, and you can’t possibly grasp that distance if you lack the ability to gauge how others see you. 

However, by itself, the concern for how others see you does not arise from self-awareness; rather, it’s often a sign for being self-centered. 

So, once again, readers, the key is in the relationships. Of course, having these perceptions doesn’t automatically lead to possessing skills in managing relationships at workplace or elsewhere. 

But those abilities, to be self-aware and to be empathetic with others, is the foundation of “emotional intelligence” (EI) which while gaining some traction with organizations, is still regarded as light-weight and irrelevant by many.

At the very basic level, emotional intelligence, as defined by Daniel Goleman, refers to the “abilities to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others.” 

He further breaks the concept down into four essential domains:  self-awareness, self-management (the “regulate” part), social awareness, and relationship management. 

The basic tenants of EI have been around for decades, but Goleman put it on the organizational and public awareness radar screens with his enormously popular 1995 publication, Emotional Intelligence, followed by 1998 publication of Working With Emotional Intelligence. 

Since then, increasing number of organizations have put the concept in their Training and Development curriculum, ranging from ½ day course to 4-day sessions. 

Unfortunately, not all produce positive results. We all have seen an organizational concept “catching fire” and becoming trendy, and its subsequent institutionalization and trivialization.  

Changes for individuals and organizations don’t come easily and transformation doesn’t take place in days, especially for those transformations worthy of staying power.

By now, you are probably familiar with some of my views, in particular: it’s relatively easier to master technical knowledge and skills and much harder to acquire capabilities in softer areas, such as management of relationships and emotions. 

Goleman talks about three types of competencies: technical, “purely cognitive abilities” such as analytical reasoning, and “abilities in the EI range” such as conflict management. 

EI does involve analytical thinking, hence he distinguishes it from the “purely cognitive abilities.” 

He finds that “for jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined.” 

And the higher one moves up the management rank, the more EI competencies matter. 

The following figure illustrates Goldman’s framework of EI: 



(Personal Competence)


(Social Competence)




·         Emotional self-awareness

·         Accurate self-assessment

·         Self-confidence

Social Awareness


·         Empathy

·         Service orientation

·         Organizational awareness




·         Emotional self-control

·         Trustworthiness

·         Conscientiousness

·         Adaptability

·         Achievement drive

·         initiative

Relationship Management


·         developing others

·         Influence

·         Communication

·         Conflict management

·         Visionary leadership

·         Catalyzing change

·         Building bonds

·         Teamwork & collaboration

From “The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace,” by Cherniss, C. & Goleman, D. (Eds), p.28

When I glanced at the table, the item of “developing others” jumped out at me. In my experience, that particular item is often neglected by managers. 

I think a probable reason for this negligence is cost, both in monetary consideration and the time taken from production-oriented tasks. 

But that’s “penny wise, pound foolish.” In my role in the Diversity Office, almost a decade ago, I requested to go to a conference on – of all topics – diversity, to which my manager’s response was, “you don’t have the time.” Shouldn’t I be the one to judge that? Besides, I was on a half-time basis!  

Most people would agree that EI, like other (soft) management skills, are important, and intuitively they get it. Yet, people are still a bit weary and suspicious of these “touchy-feely” topics. 

But, research in EI has linked these skills with neurological studies, and has shown where each of these functions resides in our brains. 

For instance, patients with lesions to the amygdala cannot discern nonverbal cues for negative emotions, such as fear or anger, and cannot judge trustworthiness in others. I wonder if I know some of these people…

While these softer skills are harder to learn, they are learnable, as long as we allow time for people to internalize what they learn. 

For instance, training and development (T&D) would be a waste of organization’s money and participants’ time if the design does not incorporate longitudinal perspective. 

To produce sustainable effects such programs should allow participants time to think through how to apply what they learn, construct their own application program (with before and after comparisons), go through a trial period with periodic feedback from multiple sources, have chances for follow-up questions and answers with trainers or experienced people. 

Having mentors would add to the strength of a thoughtful program.  Equally important in the design of such a program is what to do with participants who feel frustrated or make mistakes. 

Of course, in most of the writings on EI, many authors have noted that those with higher EI skills tend to be optimistic, self-confident, allowing for mistakes but ready to overcome their own failures. 

But we can’t just view those with higher EI scores as the model to emulate; it’s the process that matters in internalized growth. 

In the firing of the previous Yahoo CEO, Carol Bartz, she was quoted in the New York Times business section, “people should understand that they will learn more from a bad manager than a good manager.” 

Read more:http://www.businessinsider.com/carol-bartz-management-style-2011-9#ixzz1XaFYTno8

Oh, how inspiring that message is!  Now, managers all over should aim to be bad managers, and bad managers should congratulate themselves for their teaching skills?! I wonder how she’d score in EI test! 

But this is part of the struggle in management: Topics like Emotional Intelligence, Appreciative Inquiry, Evidence-Based Management, etc., that advocate positive framing do seem to encounter cynicism, suspicion, or doubt at best. 

It is so much easier to be mediocre than to be good, isn’t? In the ever-increasingly stressful and busy life in organizations, it really requires strong and deep commitment to be good and better in the management of tasks and relationships, not limited to only managers. 

So, when you encounter those colleagues, be they of lower rank than you or above you, with noticeable EI skills, pay close attention to them, won’t you?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.





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