4 Business Ideas That Changed the World: Emotional Intelligence

ALISON BEARD: Welcome to 4 Business Ideas That Changed the World, a special series of the HBR IdeaCast. In the early 1990s when science journalist Daniel Goleman wanted to publish a book on emotional intelligence, he was told that he couldn’t use the word emotion in business. After all, companies weren’t supposed to care about that kind of stuff.

That belief informed much of HBR’s first century. When the magazine was founded in October 1922, managers were focused on physical productivity, a calculation of manufacturing output with labor input. And while over the decades, psychologists studied social intelligence and emotional strength, and the idea that intelligence was more than just a single general ability, businesses cultivated financial acumen, operational research, and the other so-called hard skills that improved the bottom line.

Then in 1990, psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer published their landmark journal article, “Emotional Intelligence.” It proposed EI as the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others.

Dan Goleman popularized this idea in his book, and it quickly moved into widespread practice. Companies now hire for it and teach it, and it’s seen as key to authentic and empathetic leadership. One of the key pillars to an inclusive organization. Critics however question whether emotional intelligence is actually an intelligence, one that can be quantified like IQ is, or one that can be taught to people who don’t have it.

On this special series from HBR IdeaCast, we’re exploring 4 Business Ideas That Changed the World. This week, emotional intelligence. With me to discuss it are Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, Susan David, psychologist at Harvard Medical School, and author Emotional Agility, and Andy Parks, Management Professor at Central Washington University. And I’m Alison Beard, executive editor at Harvard Business Review and your host for this episode.

So, Susan, let me start with you. In the 1920s when HBR was founded, business schools were cropping up to teach the businessman, and it was man at that time. How much were emotions taken into account?

SUSAN DAVID: Well, I think you captured beautifully in your articulation of businessman. Not only were emotions not taken into account, but females were not taken into account. And I think this is really important when we start thinking about so called soft skills, because that’s often the term used in organizations and the context that we have is this view that dates back even to Victorian times, for example, public education. What could be taught were subjects like mathematics and opportunities were offered to males.

In contrast, women were regarded as emotional, as people who should be held out of the public eye and whose job it was essentially to create homes in which there was a domestic bliss. And this is really interesting because what you then have is a feminization of emotions, and certainly the sentiment finds its way into organizational life even today.

So, when we think about language that we use, when we think about human resources, human assets, what that very much does is it sees human beings as objects devoid of emotion. And we also see in management practice, even today, this idea that so-called soft skills are denigrated, they’re seen as peripheral. And this is real cost to organizations because what it essentially does is it shelters really bad leaders because they’re so called deliver on results. And it also results in a context in which until very recently, human needs like wellbeing were seen as really at the sideline of what an organization was doing.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. But then there was a movement to improve the lives of workers. And certainly leadership that takes emotion into account is important in that. So, did the workers’ rights movement, the labor movement, make managers think more about these types of issues? Andy, could you address that?

ANDY PARKS: Sure. The early labor movement involved to bring awareness to the worker’s emotions, but not without a lot of resistance. It really was about physical working conditions and production efficiency and operational efficiency. Just consider Frederick Taylor’s scientific management approach and the time management studies. The sole focus there was finding that one most efficient way to complete a task and then rewarding those employees for completing the task as efficiently as possible.

This did work to a certain extent. What was missing, however, were the social and psychological factors. Management didn’t fully consider the impact of employees not feeling challenged, or the boredom of doing the same task repeatedly. This naturally morphed into the study of human relations around the 1930s.

And I talk a lot to my students about the work of Elton Mayo with the Hawthorne studies and how it showed that informal work groups had more to do with productivity and motivated employees more than any of the other factors, like the hard skills that Susan talked about, or money, or the actual working environment.

And the other significant factor here was Maslow’s need states and the consideration that when companies support advancing to our higher level needs like belongingness, esteem and self-actualization, they would meet both the needs of the individual and the organization. So, I would say that the need for productivity ultimately fueled the awareness of emotions in the workplace.

ALISON BEARD: Okay. So, mid-century we’re getting to a place where people are thinking like, “Oh, actually people are more productive when their bosses treat them well and they get along with their colleagues.” Dan, at this time was anyone trying to measure aspects of what we now think of as emotional intelligence?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: During the height of Taylorism in the 1920s, there was a glimmer of understanding that, oh, maybe how people feel matters at work. Edward Thorndike, who then was an eminent psychologist at Columbia, proposed the concept of social intelligence in a 1920 article in Harper’s monthly magazine, he said, “Social intelligence sews itself abundantly in the nursery, on the playground, in barracks and factories and sales rooms, but eludes the formal standardized conditions of the testing laboratory.” And he added, “The best mechanic in a factory may fail as a foreman for lack of social intelligence.” So, he saw that so early.

But you know what? People did not listen much to Edward Thorndike about social intelligence. He was an eminent theorist on IQ at the time, which had come into descendancy in business thinking because it was used first in a major way to sort people into various roles in World War I with some effectiveness. People understood that IQ mattered. But the idea of emotional intelligence wasn’t really formulated systematically until say, 1990 when a very important seminal article by Peter Salovey, now the president of Yale, then a junior professor and his graduate student, John Mayer, now a professor at University of New Hampshire, they proposed the idea of emotional intelligence.

ALISON BEARD: Why did it take so long? To all of us now I feel like it seems obvious.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, let me get back to Susan’s very good point, because as I found when I started writing about this for business, there was a hostility, actually, to the idea that emotions mattered in business. And I do think that pinning this on men and executives is correct, that they didn’t want to have to deal with emotions in their day-to-day work, and they didn’t want to hear about it.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. So, finally in 1990, Salovey and Mayer write this article about emotional intelligence. Susan, who were they? What made their approach unique?

SUSAN DAVID: Yeah, so I think firstly the comment that Dan made, that emotions were largely ignored in management practice, and there was hostility to it. This was true beyond management. So, even in the study of psychology at the time, emotions were largely seen as disorganizing and as maladaptive.

When I was doing my PhD in emotional intelligence, even 20 years ago, it was extraordinarily difficult for me to find someone who would advise me. And this was because there was this view that emotions were intangible, ephemeral, difficult to measure. And I think that one of the reasons that Jack—he often goes by the name Jack—Jack’s and Peter’s article was so important is because they challenged this pervasive view of emotions.

Firstly, they argued that emotions were not maladaptive. In fact, they suggested that emotions at core were functional, that they helped us to organize our responses and to adapt to the world around us. And this was not a new view. For example, Charles Darwin was one of the first people to propose the idea that emotions were actually functional, that they served a purpose, but this functionality of emotions had gotten lost.

And so, Jack and Peter did this extraordinary article in which they proposed not only are emotions adaptive and functional and serve purpose, but also what they proposed secondly is that just like you have cognitive intelligence, there was an analog to cognitive intelligence. And this was emotional intelligence.

In other words, to their mind, emotional intelligence was not just a group of capacities or a group of skills, it was an actual intelligence, hence the term emotional intelligence was, which at the time was oxymoronic. But it was very, very important because they’re proposing that there is an ability to problem solve with and about emotion, and that this ability helps people to adapt and respond to the world around them and is crucial.

ALISON BEARD: So, Andy, how did these guys suggest that you could identify EI?

ANDY PARKS: Yeah, they did propose a new intelligence and suggested that some people may be more intelligent about emotions than others. But what I would say the major contribution here is the ability model which positions EI as a standard intelligence that has its own unique set of mental abilities, four fundamental emotional related abilities that support problem solving.

ALISON BEARD: What are those four?

ANDY PARKS: Yeah, the four are perception and expression of emotion. Using EI to facilitate thinking. The understanding of emotions. And the management of emotions. And those abilities are correlated. They work along with other intelligence and evolve as we mature.

ALISON BEARD: And so, Dan, you came across their article in your work as a science journalist at the New York Times. Why did it stand out to you? Why did you want to write about it?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: When I saw that article and I saw the oxymoronic phrase, as Susan said, emotional intelligence, I loved it. I thought this is what I’d been looking for.

I had been writing in the New York Times about new findings on emotions in the brain. The 1990s were called the Decade of the Brain, and there had been a troubling event in a school in New York City, some violence. And I started writing about what I was then calling emotional literacy, saying we should be teaching kids how to manage their emotions. They’re getting out of control.

And I decided there was a critical mass to write a book. And when I found that rather obscure article that Mayer and Salovey had written, I thought, “This is the name of the book.”

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. And so, how did you build on Salovey and Mayer’s work in a way that made it more practical and usable for a business audience?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Actually, I didn’t really build on their work. I took their concept that emotions matter. And my own model has four parts. I call them self-awareness, self-management, empathy, relationship or social skills. Those are the four domains and the different competencies nest in those domains.

I went back and started working with Richard Boyatzis, who’s now a professor at Case Western [Reserve University’s Weatherhead] School of Management, and we developed a model looking at the competencies that distinguished the very best performers in leadership, in teams, and so on, from mediocre ones. And which of those are nested in emotional intelligence competencies? It’s a different way of thinking about emotional intelligence.

I would like to point out there are two cultures when it comes to the study of emotional intelligence, or the application of emotional intelligence. One is academic, and Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer are solidly in that camp and it sees emotional intelligence as a classical intelligence. The first camp, the academic camp has open data. It wants to share its methodology so people can question it and improve it. There’s another camp which I think is very important for HBR readers, which is, what could we use here? What will help us? And that’s a very different way of thinking about it.

The second camp sees findings on emotional intelligence as competitive information to do well in business. It’s a different way of thinking about emotional intelligence. I’m not sure that it really meets the standard of intelligence, actually, but it certainly is useful in a business setting.

ALISON BEARD: Susan and Andy, I don’t know how old you were when Dan’s book came out, but how was it received? When did you first come across it? Susan, why don’t you start?

SUSAN DAVID: So, I first came across the book Emotional Intelligence, really from a general psychological perspective, when I was beginning to study my PhD. It came out in 1995. Just one year before, Herrnstein and Murray had written a book called The Bell Curve. And The Bell Curve was a book on IQ.

And it was a hugely, hugely controversial book, because essentially what was proposed in the book was that cognitive intelligence, now not emotional intelligence—cognitive intelligence or IQ—was determinative. In other words, you got what you got, essentially, there was nothing you could do about it, you couldn’t learn about it.

And one of the reasons that it was controversial is because if you are pretty much proposing that what you’re born with is what you’re born with, what that does is it then calls into question any kinds of social policies that might actually help or support people, for example, in poverty, or people who are struggling.

And so, Herrnstein and Murray, their book was incredibly, incredibly controversial, and that’s in 1994. And then one year letter, Dan publishes Emotional Intelligence. And Emotional Intelligence says, well, huh, there’s another kind of intelligence that matters more than IQ. And not only can it be measured, but it can be learned. And so, it was no surprise that Dan’s book created a stir.

ALISON BEARD: Can I just pick up on something you just said, that EQ is more important than IQ. Was that your contention, Dan?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: I actually don’t agree with that. That was a subtitle proposed by an editor, and I think it’s misleading. It’s not always more important than IQ. IQ predicts school performance much better than emotional intelligence does, although emotional intelligence may play a factor. I was thinking it has more to do with domains where emotions matter, like relationships. Very smart people do very dumb things in relationships and get divorced.

ALISON BEARD: And very smart people are very bad bosses. So, Andy, what about you?

ANDY PARKS: Yeah, so, when the Daniel’s book first came out, I was probably 10 years into my corporate career. So, prior to joining the faculty at Central Washington [University], I had a career in the consumer products goods industry. And Daniel’s work was life changing for me. My typical approach, and I was raised the same way, I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and we never talked about emotions. We didn’t talk about feelings. I remember my father saying to me, you want to talk about feelings? I’ll give you something to cry about. That was the extent of the–

ALISON BEARD: Oh, Andy, I want to give you a hug right now.

ANDY PARKS: And believe me, we were one of the kinder families in the neighborhood. So, there was just not a lot of discussion around feelings at that point. But what changed for me is I went from an individual contributor to a manager of people. I was very successful as an individual contributor. I was able to hide a lot of my feelings, emotions, I didn’t talk about them at work, handled them in not the healthiest of ways, but all of that came to the forefront or became visible when I started to manage people. I was basically a train wreck when I started to manage people for the first time.

ALISON BEARD: Because you weren’t taking their emotions into account.

ANDY PARKS: I was not not only taking their emotions into account, I was actually not aware of my emotions or what I was feeling at the time. I just wasn’t raised that way. So, I started to work with a life coach, and I remember the first question the life coach asked me was, “What are your core values?” And I couldn’t articulate those very well.And I remember this life coach saying, “If you don’t know what your core values are, how can you connect with your people at a heart level?” And I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t need to connect with them at a heart level. It’s all about the productivity and our thinking ability or our IQ.”

The life coach that I was working with gave me a copy of Daniel’s book, and that was the catalyst for my change. And I studied it. I started to embrace emotional intelligence. I practiced it daily, and I started to develop many workshops around self-awareness, self-management and I was teaching those to my teams.

And senior management was not supportive of it at the time. They felt, this is too soft, it’s too passive, it’s not going to make us aggressive. This was on a sales and marketing function. And so once I started to teach my teams emotional intelligence as well as continuing to practice myself, our division became the highest, in terms of sales growth, the highest growing division in the company that I worked for. So, I knew something that was working. But not only that, my productivity, my poise at work, all the intangible factors that we talk about or consider soft skills improved. And I attribute all of that to emotional intelligence and the earlier work by Dan.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah, Dan, that must make you feel so amazing.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, Andy, it’s so interesting to hear you say that. I think that your story was repeated multiple times all over the business world. People intuitively knew this helps me. But when I first published Emotional Intelligence, and I actually think for Mayor and Salovey, too, there was huge pushback academically.

ALISON BEARD: Susan, what were some of the early criticisms?

SUSAN DAVID: There were many, particularly in the academic context. So, some of the criticisms were things like, number one, you cannot call something an emotional intelligence if it’s not an intelligence. Your construct actually needs to be measuring what it’s named to measure. A second: overstated claims.

A third has been the idea that we can’t simply take a whole group of successful people and then say, “Oh, let’s retrospectively look at what it is that makes these people successful.” Teamwork, being achievement oriented, et cetera. Now let’s take these competencies and call them an intelligence. An achievement orientation is a personality factor. Teamwork is very much about the context in which a person operates. So, a lot of the skepticism was basically saying, “Hey, you’re calling this thing an intelligence, but it doesn’t comply with how we think an intelligence should behave.” And these were some of the major academic criticisms.

ALISON BEARD: I think most people think of intelligence as just a thing, IQ, but what are some of the types of intelligence?

SUSAN DAVID: So, traditionally, intelligence is the ability to abstract and to problem solve. And usually this is assessed in two domains. So, problem solving in the verbal domain. What is your ability to navigate language and to understand language? And then the spatial domain. So, mathematics and performance IQ come into that.

And so, a lot of the early academic criticisms were really pushing back on, well, now you’ve taken this idea, you’ve popularized it, you’re still calling it an intelligence, but it doesn’t operate like an intelligence. There are these overstated claims. There’s a whole hodgepodge of personality factors and values that are put in this big bucket and it loses its ability to actually be a useful term. And that’s one of the reasons that I, in a lot of my work, don’t actually use the phrase emotional intelligence. I talk more about emotional skills or emotional capacities or emotional agility, which purposefully then brings in this idea of emotions being functional and values and a skillset that people can learn.

ALISON BEARD: And it doesn’t raise academics hackles.

SUSAN DAVID: Yes.

ALISON BEARD: So, over the years, as the idea has evolved, what criticisms did you face, Dan, and do you think that you’ve addressed them?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: My tactic in addressing critiques is data. I feel that the data is getting stronger and stronger. So, the critiques are getting weaker and weaker, frankly. When I first published Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence was a hypothesis, I thought. It was an idea to be tested and improved upon. There was no data really, it was all circumstantial. In fact, there were several books published early on that critiqued my idea of emotional intelligence.

And then slowly, slowly, there’s been more and more data accumulating in support of it, partly through something called the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence. The consortium groups academics and practitioners, consultants, executives to try to bridge that gap. And so, the consortium has now established that higher emotional intelligence in employees and their leaders predicts better job satisfaction, higher organizational commitment, lower turnover, more positive on the job feelings, better job performance, more engagement.

In other words, the metrics, the so-called soft skill metrics that make a division or a team or a person highly productive and highly effective. And the data is overwhelmingly in the favor of emotional intelligence in the workplace as opposed to the early skepticism.

ALISON BEARD: What about the claim that it’s just not valid to call it an intelligence? It’s not something that can be accurately measured?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Actually, there are more than a dozen different measures of emotional intelligence, many of which unfortunately are only self-ratings. The most effective measures, the most powerful measures and accurate ones turn out to be what are called 360s, where you ask other people who know a person well to evaluate them. The reason is blind spots. People who don’t know that they are lacking in some aspect of emotional intelligence may think they’re just fine, but they’re not. So, that’s the problem with self-report measures.

The issue of measuring emotions is hotly debated in emotions research right now. To me it’s rather, what shall I say? I’m indifferent to the question, is it an intelligence in the formal academic personality theory sense of intelligence? I don’t care. My main concern is it useful?

ALISON BEARD: Yeah.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Will it help people? Will people be more satisfied with their jobs, more committed? Will it lower turnover? These are practical concerns of people in business, of course. And that’s really what I think is the most important. The pragmatics of it, not the theoretics of it.

ALISON BEARD: I’m already learning a lot, but we need to take a short break. And when we come back, we’ll talk about how the idea took hold in the business world.

Welcome to 4 Business Ideas That Changed the World, a special series of the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Alison Beard. Andy, how do you see that emotional intelligence has been refined or evolved since the mid-90s? What are the new ways that we’re understanding it?

ANDY PARKS: Sure. There’s really two large areas of evolution on the business side especially. The first is a growing acceptance that emotional intelligence can be taught, measured, and improved. And as the science of measuring emotional intelligence continues to evolve, I can see companies using benchmarking as a way to improve leadership development and employee engagement.

So as an example, once I started to teach my teams emotional intelligence when I was in the corporate world, I noticed that our employee engagement scores also started to go up. The company had not made any wholesale changes, but employee engagement did improve.

The other thing that I want to talk about in terms of evolution is that I really see that emotional intelligence will start to become integrated into all aspects of an organization. So, for example, I’m working with several colleagues at different institutions here in Washington State, and we developed a 12-week training program for leaders that are BIPOC, so diverse leaders and their mentor/sponsor. And we’re going to take them through a 12-week emotional intelligence course that really emphasizes the four components that Dan developed. And then we’re going to go into traditional leadership skills and mentoring and networking.

And we feel that EI is really the core that holds all this together. And one of the things that we really want to emphasize is, especially in this area of diversity, equity, and inclusivity, is that when you are stepping into a room as the only person that looks like you, there is no worse fear. And I’ve experienced that myself. So, as we can start to teach business leaders this approach, it moves from being a soft skill to a fundamental skill that businesses cannot afford to be without.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. And Susan, where does emotional intelligence rank among other ideas we see in the business world around soft skills? I’m thinking of things like psychological safety, authentic leadership, inclusivity. Does EI inform that?

SUSAN DAVID: So, I think in many ways, emotional skills sit alongside and support things like inclusion or authenticity. So, for example, a lot of times when people think about emotional intelligence, they think about, oh, emotional intelligence is about controlling emotions. If you’ve got a context in which a leader says to someone, “Oh, I know you upset and panicked at this change, but you’re not allowed to be. You’re either on the bus or off the bus. And if you’ve got these difficulty emotions, you need to push them aside.” That is not effective leadership. Forced false positivity is not effective leadership, it’s denial.

In truth, when we try to suppress difficulty emotions that is actually associated with poorer levels of wellbeing and it actually crushes a psychological safety and an innovation in organizations. So, I think it becomes very important not to conflate the experience of emotion with acting on emotion.

So I’ll go to the example of anger or rage. Anger is a completely functional emotion. Anger signals to me that my values have been trespassed. It signals to me that something that is important to me is at stake. And when I have the skill to connect with that anger in a way that doesn’t suppress it, but that actually says, what is this thing that I’m feeling? The reason that that anger becomes functional is because that anger is pointing me in the direction of something that I care about. So, the idea here is that our emotions are data, they’re not directives.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Can I speak to this?

ALISON BEARD: Yeah.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: I agree with Susan. I think that every emotion has its place. However, there’s a spectrum of emotion. And when emotion like anger becomes rage, then we can’t think clearly. I’m thinking of a woman yesterday behind me on a two-lane road who was getting, I was doing the speed limit and she wanted to go faster. She honked, and then she did something very stupid. She passed me without being able to see what was coming at her. I assume that was rage that got her there. Rage makes us do stupid things.

SUSAN DAVID: Yeah.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: I think that anger is, smart anger, of course is very useful because it tells you what matters to you as you said. And if you can marshal the energy and the focus and the persistence that it gives you, then you can get goals attained…

SUSAN DAVID: Yes. Yes.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: … that you might not otherwise. That’s all I wanted to say.

SUSAN DAVID: And this is where I think this recognizing number one, that these emotions are functional. Number two, there’s skills that help emotions not to move into rage. For example, if we recognize them early, if we are able to label them effectively, if we don’t over-identify with them, if we are able to connect with our values. There’s a practical skillset that helps people to understand their emotions and what they’re pointing to, but also not to get stuck in those difficult emotions and to be directed by them.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. So, we talked about one misconception about EI is that it means controlling your emotions. Dan, what are some other big things that people have gotten wrong about your idea?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, we actually mentioned two misconceptions. The other is that emotional intelligence is always more important than IQ, which it is not in every context, context matters. Another common misconception is that emotional intelligence just means being nice and getting along with people, being harmonious. That’s a big mistake. It’s not being nice, it’s being kind, I think.

That means you may say the difficult thing, as Susan has pointed out when it needs to be said, you may have to tell a coworker, for example, that they’re lacking in empathy. They may be very good at emotional agility, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re tuning into other people or building relationships.

The other misconception is that it’s a snapshot like IQ and it’s fixed. It’s not. It’s learnable and it’s learned and learnable throughout life. And one of the big mistakes some companies make is not training people or helping people develop it further. I feel that this is really where the action is for companies rather than trying to, for example, guess that someone will have it or not when they hire them.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. Andy, what do you see companies and individuals getting right and wrong as they try to cultivate EI?

ANDY PARKS: Yeah, it’s really understanding that when employees come into the workplace, they don’t leave their personal lives or their personal selves at home, they’re bringing their whole and multidimensional selves into the workplace, and it’s okay to discuss feelings in the workplace.

And it is that shift. Dan mentioned one of the misconceptions about EQ being nice. And no, that’s not true. But it is about being open and being able to discuss your emotions and feelings with your employees or even with a supervisor. The other area actually is generational. There’s a shift. And when I teach those business leaders that are say 45-plus, I hear this comment a lot. “This wasn’t the way that I was raised. I have my own way of managing people and no one’s going to take advantage of me.”

ALISON BEARD: And do you tell them, this isn’t the way I was raised either, but-.

ANDY PARKS: I do. I do. Yeah.

ALISON BEARD: … I’ve learned?

ANDY PARKS: I do. Yeah. The other thing that I tell them is, how are you currently handling a rough day? Or what do you do when you have a rough day? And I tell the story about when I was early in my career, my way of managing through a rough day or a very emotionally upsetting day was to go have a drink at a bar, complain with a bunch of friends, and then go home and isolate myself, go in my man cave. And those are not healthy ways of managing through your emotions.

And so, that’s what I also mentioned to people. There’s, if we think this is soft skills, they are not. It is very difficult work to really dive deep and understand in your emotions and how to manage through them.

And then the other area has to do with safety. And I know in the EQ courses that I teach, it takes a while for my students to warm up. In fact, I actually start out sharing the story that I mentioned earlier about my personal life and Daniel Goleman’s book was dropped right in front of me. And I found that when I open up and express vulnerability, the students will start to open up as well. But there’s still that initial concern of I don’t feel safe talking about emotions and feelings, especially when there’s a power dynamic there. And if someone is controlling my career, I am not going to become vulnerable in front of this person.

So, I think there’s a lot of training and coaching that needs to be done with senior leaders, and this is one that I’m extremely passionate about. I would love to see the day when CEOs and senior vice presidents talk openly about their emotions, their feelings, and really model the behavior in the workplace.

ALISON BEARD: So, working at HBR, I obviously am steeped in the emotional intelligence literature. Susan, are there organizations that still don’t care about it and are getting this wrong? And if so, what are the costs?

SUSAN DAVID: I think that there is still this pervasive view that so called soft skills, and I would–often these organizations are putting emotional intelligence into the container of soft skills-.

ALISON BEARD: Even though they’re sometimes the hardest skills to cultivate!

SUSAN DAVID: Yeah. And so, this idea, that you only need to, or can bring good emotions into the workplace. In other words, positivity and happiness. And as soon as you do that, as soon as you say to people, you’ve got to be positive, what you are doing is you are partialing out innovation, because innovation holds hands with potential failure. You are partialing out collaboration, because collaboration holds hands with potential conflict. And you are actually stopping people from being agile and effective.

So, there’s often this thing that organizations get wrong, which is they will either say something like, well hand wave here, we know soft skills are important, so-called soft skills, but actually what really matters is all of the other things. And as soon as they take that approach, what they’re doing is they’re actually hindering not only the wellbeing of their people, but the actual capacity of that organization to thrive.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. Dan, have you seen, as you’ve spread this work far and wide, that that’s true across different sort of industry cultures too? I imagine thinking about emotional intelligence being valued in healthcare settings, but not so much in finance. Have you found that?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: You know, it’s changing. Now I’m seeing that more and more companies and more and more sectors are understanding that this is at the heart of leadership. This is at the heart of high performing teams. In fact, research by Vanessa Druskat at University of New Hampshire on teams shows that the highest performing teams, by any metric that’s appropriate, have a collective emotion intelligence. And as this permeates the business culture, I think acceptance is wider and wider, including by the way, even in finance.

ALISON BEARD: And Andy, what about you in your work teaching and sharing these ideas with companies, what kind of pushback do you most often get and how do you address it?

ANDY PARKS: Sure. A couple of different areas where I’m seeing some pushback. So, in addition to teaching in the College of Business, I’m also a faculty fellow in our DEI office. And one of the pushbacks that I hear around emotional intelligence, especially weaving it into the DEI space and work, is it’s too soft. It takes the focus away from the hard discussions that we need to have. And I remember someone saying to me before, “We’re not going to meditate our way to racial equity.”

And I strongly argue that point, I really feel that in order to move towards a position of anti-racism, you have to understand yourself at the core. So, what’s triggering you? What biases do you have and what core values are being violated? In my opinion, when you can understand those aspects of your internal self, then you can move to a place of empathy and compassionate action. But it really starts with understanding yourself at the core, using EQ principles.

The other pushback that I see really has to do with the way that leaders are incentivized. And so, in the corporate world, there is a very short shelf life on results. So, if a leader has two quarters of negative results and maybe is studying and practicing emotional intelligence, but the business results haven’t shown up yet, there is a shift of, I need to get away from this and really just focus on delivering results. And I’m going to put EQ on the back burner. It’s a nice to have, but not mandatory. I hear that quite a bit as well.

SUSAN DAVID: I think what you said that was so important was the thing about, you don’t get to a changed world through just thinking and sitting about your emotions. But actually you do! And what came to mind was this Nelson Mandela example where Nelson Mandela described how his ability to change Apartheid South Africa came through his ability to understand his anger and to be able to manage his anger and to ultimately sit down and converse with others.

ANDY PARKS: Absolutely. And there’s so much power in that.

ALISON BEARD: Yeah. So, I want to ask all of you this, but we’ll start with Dan. What do you see as the future of how we’re going to apply emotional intelligence in our professional and also our personal lives?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Well, my hope is that starting with our personal lives, we’ll teach these basic skills to children, they’re life skills. They’re not just business skills, they make people better parents, better spouses, better citizens.

And I also think that training for professions will start to include emotional intelligence skills. Of course, why not? It matters. And that more and more companies will create cultures that are open and encourage and support emotional intelligence and help to develop emotional intelligence, help give people the systematic training that it takes.

You’re not going to get it in a weekend, you’re not going to get it in an offsite on a day. It takes ongoing work, and I think that it’ll become part of coaching more and more, and part of grooming people for higher levels of leadership.

ALISON BEARD: Andy, same question for you. What is the future of emotional intelligence?

ANDY PARKS: I see emotional intelligence as a core and fundamental competency that companies, government, institutions, and individuals will embrace and support. I strongly believe that compassion and corporate America can and will coexist at some point, and emotional intelligence will be the glue that holds both together. And this is my purpose and the focus of my work.

ALISON BEARD: And Susan?

SUSAN DAVID: Probably in some replication of what’s been said, but the idea, essentially, I think in the future is that emotions and emotional skills are foundational. It is a great tragedy when you go through a pandemic and a child who wants to learn algebra can quickly go online and find a million algebra lessons. And yet that same child who is struggling emotionally is feeling lost or lonely or unsupported, does not have the same curriculum when it comes to emotions.

So, one of my dreams is firstly, the recognition that these skills are foundational. They’re foundational to healthy human beings, organizations and communities. They’re learnable, they’re teachable, and they should be taught.

Secondly, to Andy’s beautiful way of summing, these skills can and do coexist alongside effectiveness. And that is because these skills support effectiveness, these skills are not at odds with effectiveness. And the more we are able to cultivate them, the more we are able to support effective change, engagement, mental health in our communities and in the world at large.

ALISON BEARD: That’s author Daniel Goleman, Susan David of Harvard Medical School, and Andy Parks at Central Washington University.

This is the final episode of 4 Business Ideas That Changed the World. Be sure to check out the other three episodes on scientific management, disruptive innovation, and shareholder value. Find them in the HBR IdeaCast feed in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This episode was produced by Curt Nickisch. We get technical help from Rob Eckhardt. Our audio product manager is Ian Fox, and Hannah Bates is our audio production assistant.

Thanks for listening to 4 Business Ideas that Changed the World, a special series of the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Alison Beard.

Maria Flores

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