What Really Makes You Smart?

September 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

In 1997, Reuven Bar-On  (author of the EQi emotional intelligence assessment) and Steven Stein were keynote speakers at a Toronto non-profit, community based agency’s 50th anniversary celebration.  The smattering of pamphlets, newsletters and street posters advertised that they would be speaking on the importance of emotional intelligence and it’s link to success in life.  350 chairs were set up in a hotel ballroom to accommodate those the organizers believed might wander in with some curiosity in the subject.  It turned out that over 1,000 people attended.  The presentation was delayed in order to open up a side ballroom to accommodate the overflow – a cross section ranging from mental health professionals, to housewives, to business people to retirees.  Why such an overwhelming response, which continues to be typical wherever the topic is presented?

The answer is because people are interested and relieved to have confirmation of what they’ve intuitively known all along: that there are other intelligences we have that are important, and that IQ need not be taken as seriously, or at least monolithically as it has been.  Do you know someone who is brainy, yet turns others off with coarse behavior?  Is clueless as to how they present themselves? Caves under stress, even mild stress? Runs around like Chicken Little at the hint of bad news, or deflates in “Eeyore” manner when faced with a challenge? Maybe they get so anxious about getting things right that they overcook their own and other’s lives? Perhaps you know the high school Valedictorian who showed up as a train wreck at the reunion? Or the student with the high SAT scores who’s impulse control problems tanked their college career?

Since the 90’s, an explosion of researchAngry Man has shown that one’s success in life is substantially more dependent on EQ than on IQ.  With higher EQ the more likely you are to be successful as a worker, leader, parent, college student, manager, adult child to your own parents, and partner to your significant other. Emotionally intelligent people are more aware of their emotions (and the effect they have on themselves and others); are more positive about themselves; get along better with others; are able to influence others more positively; are better problem solvers; cope better with stress; are less impulsive; and enjoy their lives more – regardless of their situation. By definition, emotional intelligence is the array of non-cognitive emotional and social skills that help us succeed in coping with the pressures and demands in our lives (Reuven Bar-On, author of the EQi Assessment)

This is not to knock the importance of being cognitively smart (IQ).  Your ability to concentrate and plan, organize material, use words, understand, assimilate and interpret facts are critical skills that contribute to doing well in your life. But if you look at the convergence of research, the fact remains that in at least the workplace, IQ can predict between 1-20% of success in a given job. EQ, on the other hand has been found to be directly responsible for between 27-45% of job and success, depending on which field was under study.

In his book, The Millionaire Mind, Thomas Stanley cites a survey taken by 733 multi-millionaires residing in the United States.  When asked to rate the factors, (among the 30) that were most responsible for their success, the top five were:

  • Being honest with people
  • Being well disciplined
  • Getting along with people
  • Having a supportive spouse
  • Working harder than most people

Cognitive intelligence – or IQ – was 21st on the list, and only endorsed by 20% of the millionaires.  Another big difference between IQ and EQ is that IQ is pretty much set by the time your 17.  EQ is not.  It grows naturally on it’s own as we approach 50 – and the skills that make you emotionally intelligent can be improved at any age.  College students can learn to control their impulses, just as grumpy old men can learn how to get along better with their neighbors.

grumpy old manSince I’ve referred to “success in life” so many times in this post, the notion is worth some mention.  What success means for each of us is very personal and changes over time.  What I wanted in my twenties, is different than my goals now.  I have different goals in my work, home, personal and relationship parts of my life.  So let’s define success as your ability to achieve those goals, on your own terms, in all aspects of your life.

Looking at the research on emotional intelligence, we can say that having EQ skills would help a CEO of a Fortune 500 company be successful, just as they would a person rendered homeless by bad circumstances. The CEO is looking for ways to better navigate and lead his/her people through a challenging business climate. The homeless person is looking for ways to utilize health and social services, find access to food and a safe bed, survive on the streets, and eventually re-enter the main stream.  Both need the help of EQ skills to survive (self-regard, confidence, optimism, assertiveness, impulse control, stress tolerance, problem solving, just to name a few).

Emotional intelligence redefines what makes us smart.  As Reuven Bar-On says “it levels out the playing field for success. It helps us account for those cases where some high IQ individuals falter in life, while others with only modest IQ can do exceptionally well.”

To learn more about the components of EQ and how you can develop them, Stein and Book’s The EQ Edge  is the best resource out there.  If you want to get an assessment and interpretation of your current EQ level, using the Bar-On EQi assessment instrument, contact me.

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§ 3 Responses to What Really Makes You Smart?

  • Momma E. says:

    I used to work with a woman who was literally so smart she couldn’t relate to people. No EQ whatsoever. We used to refer to her (very un-PC in the 70’s I know but..) as “socially retarded”. She also might’ve had Asberger’s syndrome – but she was really really super genius level smart. Socially though there was no relate-ability. thanks for sharing this! Best, Donna

    • Thanks for the comment Momma E. Not an uncommon situation.
      Funny thing . . . I recently heard a book commentary on NPR, about Asberger’s, as reported by a husband and wife who have been living with the condition – in him – for a long time. In a humorous moment, they shared that a great many women, upon reading the symptoms, claimed that it described there husband.

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