13 January, 2009

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ - Daniel Goleman

Reviewed by C. Radhakrishnan

Is having a high IQ indicative of future success?
Not necessarily.

Goleman's research studies the factors at work when those with high IQs struggle and those with only modest IQs excel. These factors represent another way of being smart - one Goleman refers to as "Emotional Intelligence".

Daniel Goleman's 1995 bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ has managed an achievement not many bestsellers can generally boast: it has influenced society and public policy -- from business practices to teaching pedagogy to parenting techniques.

You might even say Emotional Intelligence has started a small revolution ‘the revolution of emotional awareness’. The focus of Emotional Intelligence is on a series of skills, mostly having to do with social interaction and self-knowledge, that Goleman and plenty of other persons argue make up a neglected sort of smarts. The argument running throughout the book is that to be intelligent in the ways that schools and colleges measure such things is certainly advantageous, but it's much more important to your general success in life-and health and happiness - to be emotionally intelligent: to be able to do things like identify and label your feelings, to be empathic, to delay gratification, and to be able to read and interpret social signs.

This book focuses its attention on that most indefinable of human theatres of emotions - leads one to imagine that it is perhaps a self-help guide, full of half-cooked ideas and feel-good philosophy. But, pleasingly, it is a book that in its best moments is firmly rooted in psychology and neuroscience research findings, and by and large it is a book that makes sound sense. In its not-so-enjoyable moments, incidentally, it sometimes slips over research implications, fails to define its terms, and relies, in places, too heavily on unsubstantiated story. But these shortcomings are largely the result of the huge ambition of the book and should by no means prevent anyone from picking it up.

What has made Emotional Intelligence possible are the amazing advancements made in the brain sciences in the last few decades of the twentieth century? The human brain, like some newly discovered continent, has rapidly been brought into focus in recent years and the process of mapping every circuit of its immensely complicated system is underway. Daniel Goleman has capitalised on all these developments beautifully.

The most compelling parts of Emotional Intelligence are the result of Goleman's bringing scientific research to bear on the questions of emotions and on what an early researcher in the field, Eileen Rockefeller Growald, first called "emotional literacy," a phrase that suggests the importance of these skills to get on in the world. In Part One, Goleman explains in detail what is included in the functional emotional brain -- particularly, the limbic system's amygdala and its interface with the prefrontal lobes -- how the emotional brain evolved, and why it still plays such a dominant part in our lives despite the ability of the neo-cortex-what Goleman calles "the thinking brain" -- to reason. This part of the book, being a student of history, I felt very boring and difficult to understand even though he explained it very well.

The concept of emotional intelligence, we come to understand, is surprisingly far reaching - it is not, as one would expect, just the ability to get along well with others. Goleman includes sections on the emotional differences between men and women in relationship with one another (and the fascinating physiological-based testing methods used to define them), on the neuroscience of post-traumatic stress disorder (an emotional brain illness, of sorts), and the way emotional deficiencies are passed down through families by example. One of the most appealing chapters of Emotional Intelligence handles the role of emotions in medical health. He writes that "People who experienced chronic anxiety, long periods of sadness and pessimism, unremitting tension or incessant hostility, relentless cynicism or suspiciousness, were found to have double the risk of disease-including asthma, arthritis, headaches, peptic ulcers, and heart disease."

The argument of the book - that emotional intelligence is a real if not wholly solid thing and that it is likely more important than current methods of weighing potential success - is a compelling one. Everyone, after all, knew someone growing up who was "booksmart," who may be toped the Entrance exams and marched through a college engineering curricula as if asleep, but whose success in the workplace has been moderate, and who never really learned how to participate in a conversation. These are the people we might say are "poorly adjusted." Goleman argues that these people have a deficiency in emotional intelligence.

After all the bad news ... there is some good. Goleman believes that emotional intelligence is not "fixed at birth". He gives instructions and examples on how we can as parents and teachers help our children improve their emotional intelligence thereby improving their lives and opportunities. For those of us past the age of adolescence, it is also possible to make improvements and changes in our lives.

The identification of emotional intelligence and the implementation of emotional intelligence courses into our schools and jobs will undoubtedly not be the answer that Goleman and others hope it to be, our emotional life certainly seems like something most of us could stand to think a little more about. But one thing I am very sure as an educator, after reading the chapters related to learning and emotional intelligence; some drastic changes must be introduced into our curriculum to impart some training to our children to develop this new arena of intelligence, otherwise the whole exercise we carry out in K-12 system may go in vain.

This book gives other qualities besides just intelligence recognition for their importance. Keep reading!