When Emotional Intelligence Does Not Matter More Than IQ

The sub-title of my 1995 book Emotional Intelligence reads, “Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”  That subtitle, unfortunately, has led to misinterpretations of what I actually say – or at least it seems to among people who read no further than the subtitle. I’m appalled at how many people misread my work and make the preposterous claim, for instance, that “EQ accounts for 80 percent of success.”

I was reminded of this again when browsing comments on a journal article that fails to find much of a correlation between teenagers’ level of emotional intelligence and their academic accomplishments (Australian Journal of Psychology, May 2008).  For me, there’s no surprise here. But for those misguided people who think I claim emotional intelligence matters more than IQ for academic achievement, it would be a “Gotcha!” moment.

But I never made that claim – it’s absurd.  My argument is that emotional and social skills give people advantages in realms where such abilities make the most difference, like love and leadership.  EI trumps IQ in “soft” domains, where intellect matters relatively little for success. That said, another such arena where EI matters more than IQ is in performance at work, when comparing people with roughly the same educational backgrounds (like MBAs or accountants) – which is exactly what goes on in human resource departments of companies every day.

As I’ve explained elsewhere on this website:

My belief is that if a longitudinal study were done, IQ would be a much stronger predictor than EI of which jobs or professions people can enter. Because IQ stands as a proxy for the cognitive complexity a person can process, it should predict what technical expertise that person can master. Technical expertise, in turn, represents the major set of threshold competencies that determine whether a person can get and keep a job in a given field. IQ, then, plays a sorting function in determining what jobs people can hold. However, having enough cognitive intelligence to hold a given job does not by itself predict whether one will be a star performer or rise to management or leadership positions in one’s field.

IQ washes out when it comes to predicting who, among a talented pool of candidates within an intellectually demanding profession will become the strongest leader. In part this is because of the floor effect: everyone at the top echelons of a given profession, or at the top levels of a large organization, has already been sifted for intellect and expertise. At those lofty levels a high IQ becomes a threshold ability, one needed just to get into and stay in the game.

The one place I expect we will be seeing more data showing a relationship between skills in the emotional and social arena and school performance will be in studies of children who have gone through social/emotional learning (SEL) programs. These curricula give students the self-management skills they need to learn better. And so to the extent that advantage boosts learning (as opposed to IQ, which differs from learning), they should do better on academic achievement scores.
A forthcoming study from the University of Illinois finds around a 10 percent boost in achievement test scores among these students. Presumably, the SEL programs would also have meant higher scores on the particular assessment of EI used in the Australian study – and so had they tested such children, there may well have been a positive correlation.

So learning seems to be another domain where EI may matter – whether more than IQ is an empirical question.

15 thoughts on “When Emotional Intelligence Does Not Matter More Than IQ

  1. I am currently enrolled in OB at Kaplan University and EI happens to be the topic of study currently. I am very interested in learning more of the philosophy behind the concept of EI.

    During my experiences through the Military and civilian workforces I wonder if time will stand still long enough to teach our children, which are our future leaders, the IQ and EI that is required in our ever changing world.

    I believe with the constant mixing of cultures there has to be a starting period in our children’s lives well before high school about learning to understand self-emotions and how to use the tools to reach out to other peoples whole-being.

  2. EI is a tool for my business/leadership coaching. It’s a given for leadership coaching for the reason you stated in the blog. And I found it could determine the success of a small business. When I coach my business clients on business growth, I also coach them on personal growth based on EI.

    I am certified to debrief EQ Profile – an EI assessment tool from http://www.learninginaction.com.
    Through debriefing clients’ profiles, coaching them and watching them grow, I see the result of growing EI. People have more self-awareness by being an observer of themselves. They practice self-management intentionally and learn to be more empathetic and social aware. They are more present in relationships.
    When my clients’ EI grows, their business usually grow too.

  3. The major concern I have is that in the workplace there are those who are jealous of my intelligence and job experience that I achieved prior to coming to my present job. I was an officer in the U.S. Army and this is a sewcond career for me. I seem to be stuck in a lower level job in production as a supervisor. I do not wnt to resort to Machiavellian strategies to get ahead.
    Do you have any ideas on how I can achieve favor with the bosses to dio what Jach We ch says and “get out of the pile?”

    Sincerly Yours,
    Bruce L. Weatherspoon

  4. AMEN! I would agree that EQ is just as important as IQ. And in some situations, it’s even more important.

    Let’s look at the problem in many lower income communities of low high-school graduation rates, as well as lower college attendance rates among the members of the community. When you look at the negative influences that become such a huge distraction for children in these communities (drugs, delinquency, violence, etc.), it’s no wonder they drop out of school, or begin to devalue education as a whole. No matter what the IQ level, these children are losing their way well before they are able to flex their intellectual muscles!

    Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs give children the tools they need to effectively deal with conflict they face in their lives and making good decisions. This is critical when you are dealing with generations of families who may or may not be passing those tools onto their children.

    Implementing such programs in early elementary school (before the bad influences tend to take over) and building a culture of SEL throughout K-12, would create a generation of young men and women who are equipped to deal with conflict and emotion effectively. This not only will help their success in avoiding destructive paths in their lives, but will also open them up to the value of education (with the right coaching from teachers and older students who already possess the tools to be successful in their lives).

    This kind of change would take more than individual programs that exist on their own. They must be woven into the everyday culture throughout a K-12 in order to ensure that the skills are transferred into everyday life. If children are not taught these skills everyday (and expected to use them in everyday situations), what they learn becomes something they learned in a “class” and have no idea how to apply in their lives. Even if they are taught how to apply the skills in their lives, they still need the reinforcement outside of the classroom in order to make that transfer happen and to make it a lasting change in behavior. So, if they are not getting the reinforcement at home (and let’s face it, most of them will not), they will have to get that reinforcement throughout the rest of their day in school.

    I’d love to see how these programs, when implemented on such a scale would make an impact in performance scores as well as graduation rates at both the high-school and college level.

    Just my two cents! Or maybe that was more like twenty!

  5. Hello!
    Finding Your blog was a big surprise for me.

    I would like to personally thank you for writing Emotional and Social Intelligence.
    I havent finished the second one yet, but i am loving it.

    Your books have taught me how to understand myself and the world surrounding me, they have lead me through hard times and have been a great guide!

    Best Regards
    Georg L.
    Estonia, Tallinn

  6. “….Nobody cares how much you know till they know how much you care!”. A good IQ is certainly essential for success in career and business, and would prove important even in rewarding relationships, but i do not choose to believe that there isn’t a correlation between EQ and IQ.
    Simply put, higher EQ should translate into higher IQ, maybe not in a fixed linear style, but we shouldn’t deny there’s a significant relationship.

    When kids (and grown-ups too) learn that they could seek help and always depend on others to fill-in knowledge and skill gaps (that would have required significantly higher effort if they went about it on their own), they tend to achieve more and in essence build higher IQ.

    EQ helps us to better leverage resources and opportunities domiciled in others in our spheres of influence and environment. No single human, no matter how smart has monopoly of knowledge and resources.
    EQ is essential to building and utilising people and technology networks.

    We do not need research data to deduce that a kid that early on in life learns how to relate with people (and in the process learn more and encounter more information and challenges that build up current in his neural nerves and force his brain and mind to process more information) has a much higher possibility of attaining higher IQ than if he kept to himself and remained content in his own little world.

  7. I am a big admirer of Mr. Daniel. He changed my life as well as the lives of people around me who came to agree with me on EI.

    Simply put, there are two kinds of jobs that exist in the world.

    1: jobs that requires a lot of analytical skills with limited or no interaction with other people. Such as research, mathematics, economics, technologies etc..

    2: jobs that requires a lot of synthetical skills with an intense interaction with other people. Such as leaders and managers.

    The first call for technical skills (IQ) and the later call for soft skills mainly (EI).

    Even though it is unlikely for people in the first to want to move to the second (i.e. Technical people don’t like to become managers for instance) and vice-versa, I believe nonetheless that there is a very tiny community no more than 1% that would posses both.

    Thank you very much Daniel.

  8. Daniel,

    I read your book when it first came out, and I absolutely loved it. However, it was not until years later did I realise what a significant part it would eventually play in my life. EI is now the wrapping paper around everything we do. From coaching executives and owners to running customised corporate training.

    We dovetail best business practice with the fundamentals of EI. We use a robust EI assessment tool, which gives clients an inner compass to make better choices.
    I really see EI as a Meta skill, the missing link between IQ and technical competences.

    So thank you so much for articulating so well what we have known for so long, that our feelings play a significant part in our decsion making.

    Many thanks,

    Joseph Geraghty

  9. I totally agree with you. I work in a team of seven led by a supervisor who is not fantastic at the job but brilliant at soft skills. This is what has differentiated her from the pack and she shines more than her peers

  10. I was introduced to EI last year and it’s been one of my favorite topics to discuss and share because I believe it to be the key to effective leadership, relationships and achieving goals.

    Thank you Daniel for your research and work on EI.

  11. I have had several “light bulb” moments when reading your collected works. It seems so easy for me to review and manage the works of others and so hard to apply the same standards to myself. Often it is to my detriment to be my own critic, so reading your works has allowed me to increase my EI significantly. Thank you.

  12. The phrase “I love you” – can you use it or can you not?

    One of the most interesting aspects of my marriage in the U.S.A. in the early 1990s was the long-distance communication that was needed in the cross-Atlantic Ocean long-distance relationship maintenance. This was much earlier than you ever tried to benefit at my expense. I was completing my Finnish military service at “Esikuntapatteri” in Hamina as a clerk, the easiest position in the whole Finnish military at the militarily worst unit of the whole land, where I actually wanted to complete my service voluntarily as I was able to enter there after some little acting in another more militarily competent unit. I liked the easiness of “Esikuntapatteri.” During the time of my service, I had to maintain my long-distance relationship with an American woman by making telephone calls, writing letters and recording on my mini-tapes that I started using already in Michigan in 1989. However, one interesting aspect was critical in this relationship maintenance, and this method was taught me by a Lutheran priest in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991. He told that the U.S. women like to hear “I love you.” Of course, I took his advice and I started using this phrase systematically in my telephone conversations, letters and my mini-tape recordings. It worked and the relationship was maintained during my European travels and military service, although my statement “Haistakaa Paska” to some sergeants of the unit could have caused a critical break in this continuous “I love you” communications. I always taught it was a punishment for those sergeants to do their service at “Esikuntapatteri” while I enjoyed it. In 1999 the FBI taught that I had spied on the U.S.A. close to 10 years. I have always wondered what Olga taught me in Moscow, 1987, when she tried to be near me and eventually married in Italy. Was the program “Olga” just a KGB intelligence program? Bill Clinton used the phrase “I love you” very often, one of the masters of its use in the U.S. public media in the 1990s while hugging closely female persons so much that only a priest could do so. Did he ever mean it or not, maybe be totally irrelevant, but it worked. A typical Finnish man very rarely says “I love you” and even then a man is more emotional than usual, and so what makes a Finnish man make “I love you” statements so often that other conscripts in “Esikuntapatteri” had a lot of fun while listening my English language mini-tape recordings and me making statements such as “I love you” – whether I meant it or not. Of course, in 1999 I stopped following the instruction of this Georgian Lutheran priest knowing exactly what happens as it happened – the marriage failed, the fact I knew much earlier, because I controlled the marriage and its end. The U.S. women just like to hear “I love you” whether true or false as worded in “Pride and Prejudice (2005)” in which English is so well spoken and only few times “I love …” is said. Even in this message more times “I love you” is written than said in this love movie “Pride and Prejudice.”


    DI Markku J. Saarelainen

  13. Dear Dr. Goleman,

    I’m a huge fan of yours after reading your book, “Emotional Intelligence.” Has any more research been done on the areas of brain activiity you cited in your book with regard to which areas drive EI as well as which areas drive IQ?

    Also, I’d like to know if you have done any research in generations in the workplace. This seems to be a growing concern as friction sometimes heats up among them.


  14. Dr. Goleman I was very interested in the response by E.Creach as I am conducting research on EI, a topic I am entertaing with African American males and graduation rates. I do not want to go into detail, but the comment by E. Creach is on target. As a A/A female in higher education, I share the same concern about schooling and school drop-out rates among those cultures of a lower socio-economic class. I agree EI curriculum and EI professional development training among school administrators would be advantageous and incrase the graduation rate of A/A students.
    I would be interested in attending some symposims, conferences and having some dialouge, please email me back. Thanks E. Creach for being on the same page

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