How Do You Feel?

“Emotional intelligence” is starting to find its way into companies, offering employees a way to come to terms with their feelings — and to perform better. But as the field starts to grow, some worry that it could become just another fad.

Appreciation, apprehension, defensiveness, inadequacy, intimidation, resentment. Twenty midlevel executives at American Express Financial Advisors are gathered in a room at a conference center outside Minneapolis. Each has been asked to try to convey a specific emotion — by reading a particular statement aloud. The challenge for listeners is to figure out which emotion each speaker is trying to evoke. It seems like a relatively straightforward exercise but only a fraction of the group comes anywhere close to correctly identifying speakers’ emotions.


“I sometimes wish I had a corporate decoder for each relationship,” one woman laments. “It’s very hard to know what people are feeling in my office and how I should respond.” Her comment prompts a discussion about the difficulty in the workplace of finding a balance between reasonable openness and respectful discretion.

“When one of my direct reports starts talking to me about her medical problems, I don’t want to be unsympathetic, but it makes me very uncomfortable,” says a male department head. “I find myself joking by saying to her, ‘Too much information.’ But I’m not really sure how to get the message across.”

Conversations like that one, focusing on the importance of emotions in the workplace, are occurring with greater frequency in all kinds of American companies. Inside American Express, training sessions on emotional competence take place at the Minneapolis facility several dozen times a year. An unlikely pioneer in the field of emotional competence, AmEx launched its first experimental program in 1992. An eight-hour version of the course is now required of all of its new financial advisers, who help clients with money management. During a four-day workshop, 20 participants are introduced to a range of topics that comprise an emotional-competence curriculum, including such fundamental skills as self-awareness, self-control, reframing, and self-talk.


Much of that material represents new territory for these businesspeople. “The majority of those we work with are very cognitive and not very experienced with emotions,” explains Darryl Grigg, a psychologist who practices in Vancouver, British Columbia and conducts about 20 workshops each year for AmEx and other organizations. “We’re introducing people to a whole new language.”

Most attendees of these emotional-competence workshops are compelled to learn a new language for one simple reason: They’re visiting a foreign land. Over the past 50 years, large companies have embraced a business dictum that told workers to check their emotions at the door. A legacy from the days of “The Organization Man” and “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” this never-spoken but widely shared policy reflected the sensibility that frowned on employees who brought messy emotions and troubling personal issues to work.

Employees, for their part, complied with that prevailing mind-set. Until recently, the workplace was dominated by male employees — and most of them were just as eager as their employers were to avoid the ambiguous complications and unexplored terrain of personal feelings.


One notable exception to that tacit pact occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s, when the influence of the human-potential movement prompted a brief corporate romance with such experiential techniques as sensitivity training and encounter groups. But those approaches lacked the rigor to endure. Before long, business got back to business. A backlash set in, and the focus returned to no-nonsense training methods that were highly quantifiable, happily free of emotions, and demonstrably able to produce results that would show up on the bottom line.

Today, more than 20 years later, companies in a variety of industries are once again exploring the role of emotions in business. This renewed interest in self-awareness is, in part, the result of the rising corporate power of baby boomers. The increasing presence of women in the workplace and the higher comfort level they bring to the territory of emotions have also nudged companies in this direction. And the arrival of the new economy has made companies realize that what they need from their workers goes beyond hands, bodies, and eight-hour days.

While the field of emotional competence appears to have emerged overnight, it has, in fact, been 15 years in the making. In 1985, Reuven Bar-On, 56, a psychologist who practices in Israel, first coined the term “emotional quotient,” or EQ. Bar-On had moved to Israel at age 20 and became interested in the field while studying for his PhD in South Africa. “My simple — almost simplistic — question in the beginning was, ‘Are there factors that determine one’s ability to be effective in life?’ ” he explains. “Very quickly, I saw that people can have very high IQs, but not succeed. I became interested in the basic differences between people who are more or less emotionally and socially effective in various parts of their lives — in their families, with their partners, in the workplace — and those who aren’t.” For his thesis, Bar-On identified a series of factors that seemed to influence such success. He then developed a tool that assessed strengths or deficits, based on those factors.


A diminutive, bearded man with a genial style, Bar-On, now a research fellow at Haifa University, is a meticulous researcher who has gathered more scientifically validated data worldwide about emotional intelligence than anyone in his field has. His work has recently focused on developing EQ “profiles,” which reveal the specific competencies that characterize high performers in a range of professions. In 1996, he launched the EQI, a self-administered test designed to assess specific emotional competencies. Companies and organizations, ranging from the Bank of Montreal to Fannie Mae to the Toronto Maple Leafs, have used the EQi for employee development. “To measure emotional intelligence is to measure one’s ability to cope with daily situations and to get along in the world,” argues Bar-On, whose test is marketed through Toronto-based Multi-Health Systems. “I’ve conceptualized emotional intelligence as another way of getting at human effectiveness.”

But if Bar-On pioneered the field, Daniel Goleman, 54, formerly a behavioral- and brain-sciences writer for the “New York Times,” brought it to popular attention. Drawing on the work of two academic psychologists, John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, Goleman published “Emotional Intelligence” (Bantam, 1995). The book became an instant best-seller — with more than 5 million copies in print worldwide — and sparked inevitable criticism from Mayer and Salovey, who believed that Goleman distorted their work and made sweeping claims about the benefits of emotional intelligence.

Goleman has gone on to advance the case for emotional competence in the workplace. He published a second book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence” (Bantam, 1998), aimed specifically at businesspeople. He then authored two articles for the “Harvard Business Review.” He also coedited a forthcoming book of essays written by leaders in the field; cofounded the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence, a group of academics and businesspeople with interest in the field. Later, he began working with the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting firm that specializes in human-resource issues, to deliver emotional-intelligence training.


All of this should come as welcome news to residents of the new economy. Companies can continue to give top priority to financial performance — but many now also realize that technical and intellectual skills are only part of the equation for success. A growing number of organizations are now convinced that people’s ability to understand and to manage their emotions improves their performance, their collaboration with colleagues, and their interaction with customers. After decades of businesses seeing “hard stuff” and “soft stuff” as separate domains, emotional competence may now be a way to close that breach and to produce a unified view of workplace performance.

But like other good ideas that started in psychology and later found new applications in business, emotional competence is confronting the challenge of its own sudden popularity. Increasingly, emotional competence is being sold as a solution to each of the categories for which companies have training budgets, from leadership to motivation to leveraging diversity — competencies that are emotional only by the most ambitious of stretches. The emerging field has sparked the almost inevitable scramble to cash in on the spreading claims of its potential applications.

As emotional competence grows in application, so do the questions: Are these new dimensions of emotional competence genuine and verifiable categories? Can they be effectively taught and measurably improved? And what is the risk that emotional competence will veer badly off course and end as the next short-lived fad?


AmEx’s Emotional-Insurance Policy

It’s difficult to imagine a less likely setting for a training program on emotions than American Express — that buttoned-up, by-the-numbers, financial-services giant, which last year had more than $21 billion in sales. In fact, the company launched its program in 1991 as a possible solution to a simple business problem that defied a logical solution. More than two-thirds of American Express clients were declining to buy life insurance, even though their financial profiles suggested a need for it. Jim Mitchell, then president of IDS, American Express’s Minneapolis-based insurance division, commissioned a skunk-works team to analyze the problem and to develop a way to make life insurance more compelling to clients.

The team’s findings took the company in an unexpected direction. The problem, the team discovered, wasn’t with AmEx’s product — or even with its cost. Put simply, the problem was emotional.

Using a technique called “emotional resonance,” the team identified the underlying feelings that were driving client decisions. “Negative emotions were barriers,” explains Kate Cannon, 51, formerly an AmEx executive who eventually headed the team and whose interest in the role of emotions in the workplace was in part sparked by her background in mental-health administration. “People reported all kinds of emotional issues — fear, suspicion, powerlessness, and distrust — involved in buying life insurance.”


But the team’s second finding proved the clincher: The company’s financial advisers were experiencing their own emotional issues. “All kinds of stuff going was holding them back — feelings of incompetence, dread, untruthfulness, shame, and even humiliation,” explains Cannon. The result was a vicious cycle. When clients expressed negative feelings, advisers had been trained to press harder. But this hard-sell approach only exacerbated clients’ emotional conflicts, increasing their discomfort and distrust. In turn, advisers experienced more distress, stemming from their mandate to apply high-pressure tactics, which made them feel unethical. Ultimately, they became reluctant to try to sell life insurance at all.

At the same time, interviews with AmEx’s most-successful advisers revealed that they took a very different approach to their jobs. They tended to take the perspective of their clients, which enabled them to forge trusting relationships. They were also more connected to their own core values and motivations for selling insurance in the first place. Perhaps most important, they were more aware of their own feelings, better able to manage those feelings, and more resilient in the face of disappointment.

“We were sitting around a conference table one day,” Cannon recalls, “when it dawned on us that someone with all of these positive qualities is emotionally competent.” Eager to test the hypothesis that specific nontechnical skills can influence performance, Cannon’s team devised a study: One group of financial advisers received 12 hours of training to help them understand their emotions better, while the other group received no training and served as the control.


The training, called Focus on Coping Under Stress, was relatively brief — only 12 hours — and relatively narrow in design. It used techniques to increase AmEx salespeople’s awareness of their emotions, gave them tools to change negative emotions into positive ones, offered ways to rehearse mentally before stressful events, and provided a way to identify deeper personal values that motivated them at work.

At the end of the study, Cannon’s team compared the sales results of the two groups: Nearly 90% of those who took the training reported significant improvements in their sales performance. In addition, the trained group, in contrast to the control group, showed significant improvement in coping capacity, as measured on standardized psychological tests. Advisers, in short, had become more emotionally competent.

After Cannon’s team made adjustments to the program, including recasting it as emotional-competence training, a second, more-detailed project was launched to assess sales results. The group that participated in the more-detailed study improved its sales by 18.1%, compared to 16.1% for the control group. That 2% difference may seem insignificant — but it apparently added tens of millions of dollars in revenues. While Cannon’s group quickly acknowledged that the sample was too small to be statistically significant, the results did suggest that even a modest, short-term program aimed at teaching “soft skills” could have a noticeable impact on the bottom line.


AmEx disbanded its skunk-works team in 1994, but Cannon, convinced that the group was on to something important, found a new source of support in Doug Lennick, 47, now an executive vice president of American Express Financial Advisors. With the clean-cut, boyish looks of a high-school class president, Lennick had built his reputation at AmEx as a superstar salesman. Long before he learned about Cannon’s program, Lennick had become something of a Stephen Covey-type figure in his own organization, spreading the word about self-improvement techniques and eventually writing up his ideas in two, short, folksy books published locally in Minneapolis: “The Simple Genius (You)” and “How to Get What You Want and Remain True to Yourself.”

For all of his salesman’s pithy aphorisms and upbeat exhortations, Lennick was also interested in people’s interior lives — and specifically in the role that emotions play. “Emotional competence is the single most important personal quality that each of us must develop and access to experience a breakthrough,” he says emphatically. “Only through managing our emotions can we access our intellect and our technical competence. An emotionally competent person performs better under pressure.”

With Lennick’s support, Cannon gathered several colleagues and six outside psychologists to develop longer versions of the initial training. The focus broadened from improving people’s coping capacity to training people in the skills of emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management, and emotional connection with others. Lennick, in turn, mandated that all newly hired financial advisers receive an eight-hour version of the program as part of their job training. Since 1993, more than 5,500 new advisers have had the training, and an additional 850 “high potential” managers from other parts of AmEx have voluntarily enrolled in the full five-day course.


Cannon, who left American Express a year ago and now licenses emotional-intelligence training to corporations like Motorola, as well as to individuals, is modest but firm in her claims about the program that she helped to create. “It’s a basic introduction, but what it gives people is permission, a language, and a structure for bringing their emotional lives into the workplace,” she says. “It also prompts a shift in perspective. They come out seeing the world differently. For men, who are often talking about emotions for the first time, it opens a window. They finally understand what their mothers and sisters and wives have been talking about all these years when they say, ‘You don’t communicate with me,’ and ‘You never tell me what you’re feeling.’ For women, it’s often their first confirmation that qualities like self-awareness and empathy can really make a positive difference in the workplace.”

The Air Force Flies on Emotions

If emotions and life insurance seem an unlikely match, consider instilling emotional competence within the ranks of the U.S. Air Force! That experience, according to Rich Handley, 43, an organizational-development specialist and chief of human-resources development for the Air Force Recruiting Service, has been a very valuable one.

Like AmEx, the Air Force found itself stumped by a problem that seemed to defy conventional solutions. Each year, it would hire about 400 new recruiters and charge them with finding a fresh group of recruits. And each year, within just seven months, the Air Force would dismiss as many as a quarter of those recruiters for failing to meet their quotas. The cost of that turnover was catastrophic. The Air Force spends an average of $30,000 to train a recruiter. The direct cost of replacing 100 a year was nearly $3 million. The indirect costs — which, for starters, included the missed recruiting targets — were even greater.


For Handley, the challenge was to figure out a way to assess each recruiter applicant more accurately — to predict a candidate’s likelihood of success before hiring that person. After looking over a series of sales-aptitude screening instruments, Handley was most impressed by Reuven Bar-On’s EQI. “It just seemed to go to the heart of it,” he says. The 133-question self-administered test evaluates 15 qualities, such as empathy, self-awareness, and self-control, but also includes categories that seem less obviously a measure of emotional competence — among them assertiveness, independence, social responsibility, and even happiness.

In early 1997, eager to learn more about the predictive capabilities of the EQI, Handley administered the test to 1,200 staff Air Force recruiters. They were divided into three groups: high performers who met 100% of their quotas, average performers who met at least 70%, and failures who met less than 30% of their quotas. The highest performers outscored the lowest in 14 of the 15 EQI competencies.

Handley found the results intriguing but not fully satisfying. “They were equivalent to telling you, ‘Here are 14 ingredients that will make a good-tasting cake,’ but then not giving you the exact amounts of the ingredients,” he says. Taking his analysis one level deeper, Handley used a statistical-modeling technique to determine the top-five qualities that were associated with the highest-performing recruiters. They were (in order of importance) assertiveness, empathy, happiness, self-awareness, and problem solving. Disparate as these qualities may seem, they made sense to Handley. “Assertiveness is obviously important,” he says. “If you’re happier, you’re more positive, and that’s infectious. Someone with strong empathy skills can read a cold sale very quickly and won’t waste time if it isn’t going to work out. And recruiters with strong problem-solving skills think on their feet more efficiently, waste less time, and feel less stressed — which makes them more effective in the long run.” Indeed, the highest-performing recruiters put in the fewest number of hours. “The best ones work smarter, not harder,” Handley says.


Recruiters who matched this high-performance profile turned out to have been nearly three times more likely to have met their quotas than their less-successful counterparts. The model yielded five categories for rating the probable success of new recruiters based on their EQI scores — excellent fit, good fit, fair fit, poor fit, and bad fit. This assessment turned out to be remarkably accurate. All recruiters who were considered “excellent” fits have met 100% of their recruiting quotas during the past year. More than 90% of the “good” fits met their quotas, compared to 80% of the “fairs” and less than 50% of the “poors.”

The real value of that data was its ability to predict the performance of job applicants. Theoretically, the model suggests a 95% chance of success of a potential recruiter with a “good” or an “excellent” EQI profile. So Handley required every new recruiter to meet that threshold. One year later, the turnover among new recruiters had dropped from 100 to just 8. Based on an investment of less than $10,000 for EQI testing, the Air Force saved $2.76 million. “I come from an aeronautical orientation, and drag is what slows a plane down and impedes performance,” says Handley. “To me, the EQI is a way to profile individual and organizational drag.”

Handley went on to administer the EQI to two other groups in the Air Force — chronic substance abusers and spousal abusers. His goal was to identify their EQI deficits. Substance abusers’ key deficits turned out to be problem solving, social responsibility, and stress tolerance. Spousal abusers primarily lacked empathy and had poor impulse control and an inflated self-regard. Again, the results made sense to Handley — and suggested a better approach to those problems. “We typically give people standard treatments,” he says. “For spousal abusers, it might be anger management. The implication of these findings is that you need to individualize training to enhance the specific competencies that a person is lacking.”

Handley has also begun to experiment with delivering such training through a Web site called EQ For $99, visitors to that site can take the EQI online, receive a seven-to-eight-page assessment, and participate in a 30-minute confidential telephone consultation with Handley or another trained professional. Based on that feedback, people can then select the competencies that they want to improve on and sign up for Web-based courses on 9 of Bar-On’s 15 competencies. (The other 6 will be available by summer 2000.) Each course costs $49, and personal coaching is also available. So far, these courses are very basic and minimally interactive. It will be interesting to see whether deeply habitual behavior patterns can be transformed through Web-based training programs. Bar-On believes that progress will occur in increments. “We’ve got a good start in assessment,” he says. “Successful training is what we really have to tune up over the next several years.”

Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Journey

No one has done more than Daniel Goleman to spark corporate interest in emotional intelligence, to launch training programs that carry the message to business audiences, and to convey the ideas of emotional intelligence in an accessible manner. Much like Peter Senge with learning organizations and Michael Hammer with business-process reengineering, Goleman has become the most visible proponent of this new field. Now he must also contend with critics who argue that in broadening the appeal of emotional intelligence and tailoring it to the needs of a corporate audience, Goleman has sacrificed and diluted its original meaning.

As in any burgeoning field, a number of questions hang in the air: Will emotional competence become a better-understood concept, with clear definitions and well-defined boundaries — or will it slide into ambiguity as it becomes commercialized consulting property? Will companies use the demonstrated value of emotional competence to help improve performance and humanize employees’ experiences — or will they come to view it with suspicion? In short, will emotional competence emerge as a useful and valuable tool to help businesses evolve — or will the lure of big consulting and big money distort its value, turning it into the next fad? Answers to many of those questions ultimately involve Goleman and the direction he chooses to take.

Until 1995, when Goleman published his book on the subject, emotional intelligence had languished as a relatively obscure theory. Psychologists Mayer at the University of New Hampshire and Salovey at Yale first introduced the term in 1990. Their first paper, published that same year, discussed emotional intelligence in highly technical terms. Reduced to its simplest description, emotional intelligence was defined as a group of mental abilities that help you recognize and understand your own feelings and those of others.

When Goleman tackled the subject, he expanded the definition to include the ability to motivate oneself. Where Mayer and Salovey appeared content to identify the concept of emotional intelligence, Goleman staked out a more aggressive claim for its value and benefits. Witness the subtitle of Emotional Intelligence: “Why it can matter more than IQ.”

Published in the wake of Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray’s controversial book, “The Bell Curve” (Free Press, 1994), which argued that IQ is the critical variable in achievement, “Emotional Intelligence” offered readers a new set of metrics. “We have gone too far in emphasizing the value and import of the purely rational,” Goleman wrote. “For better or for worse, intelligence can come to nothing when the emotions hold sway.”

Among Goleman’s skills is his ability to move easily between different audiences and disciplines without any sense of contradiction or ambivalence. After getting his doctorate in psychology at Harvard in 1973, he went on to write popular pieces for “Psychology Today” and later became a reporter for the “New York Times.” He published his first book, “The Meditative Mind” (Tarcher, 1988), and for years, he lectured and held workshops on meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhist psychology.

Although “Emotional Intelligence” focused largely on applying emotional competencies to education, the book resonated with a business audience, and Goleman began getting flooded with corporate speaking invitations. He also established a consulting firm in 1996 to deliver emotional-intelligence training. But he quickly realized that he was more interested in speaking and writing than in designing training programs and running a business.

Goleman solved that dilemma a year later when he began working with the Hay Group. David McLelland, founder of one of the firm’s divisions, had been Goleman’s dissertation adviser at Harvard. The Hay Group largely took over the design, marketing, and delivery of a Goleman-branded emotional-intelligence training program.

The program model was based on the work of Richard Boyatzis, a classmate and fellow doctoral candidate of Goleman. Boyatzis, now 53 and a professor and department chair at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, had focused his research on identifying the competencies that predict high performance in a particular job. Goleman found the data compelling. “If you want to know what will make an outstanding performer, don’t look at IQ scores or specific technical skills,” he says. “Look at the people who are the stars and see the abilities they exhibit that aren’t found in people who are mediocre.”

From there, it wasn’t a huge leap to adapt that model to emotional intelligence — which is precisely what Goleman did in his third book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” which he aimed specifically at corporate audiences. “The competency model uncovers hidden ingredients for success,” he explains. “The correlations between performance and these emotional competencies have been well-established, but no overarching framework or theory could make sense of the foundation of these abilities.” Goleman’s competency model suggested an accessible way of understanding the connection between “soft” skills, such as adaptability, interpersonal effectiveness, leadership, and teamwork — competencies that previously seemed to stand alone.

Goleman set out to demonstrate this model’s predictive power. He began by looking at research results, from studies conducted by several hundred organizations, on a range of competencies as predictors of performance. “When I sorted out those results, EQ abilities were twice as important as anything else in distinguishing stars from average performers,” Goleman says. “And the higher you go in an organization, the more they matter.”

In one Hay study, outstanding sales agents at a financial-services company were compared with average agents. The competencies that distinguished the two groups were ranked and then correlated with the degree to which a strength in a particular competency contributed to agents’ annual revenues. High “networking-empathy skills,” for example, correlated with a $50,000-a-year difference in revenues. High “team-leadership skills” increased salaries by $39,000 a year. Those agents who demonstrated a high “drive to achieve” earned $31,000 more a year. According to Goleman’s and Hay’s interpretation of the findings, emotional competencies accounted for a difference of 58% between earnings of high and low performers, whereas technical skills accounted for a far lower percentage.

The study seemed initially to provide resounding evidence that emotional intelligence helps predict business success. But, as is often the case when psychological measures are used in business, the data were open to more than one interpretation: In developing a model for business, Goleman had widened his definition of emotional intelligence far beyond Mayer and Salovey’s original model — and even beyond the one that he had offered in his first book. The business version includes 25 separate “emotional” competencies — among them, achievement drive, commitment, conscientiousness, influence, initiative, political awareness, self-confidence, service orientation, trustworthiness, and even something called “leveraging diversity.” Goleman’s new model of emotional intelligence comes dangerously close to including nearly any competency that isn’t explicitly cognitive or technical. He and Boyatzis have pinpointed qualities that correlate with success but not necessarily with one another. “They have included many competencies that are not really part of emotional intelligence but probably are important in determining effectiveness,” argues Bar-On.

Take, for example, the “drive to achieve,” which Hay has found to be the single most important predictor of success. “What makes you smarter is understanding your own feelings better,” argues John Mayer. “Goleman has broadened the definition of emotional intelligence to such an extent that it no longer has any scientific meaning or utility and is no longer a clear predictor of outcome.”

And what about the different forms that a drive to succeed can take? Does, say, an executive exhibit the core qualities of emotional intelligence, such as self-awareness, self-control, and empathy? Goleman acknowledges that many top executives currently lack those competencies, which will, he argues, be increasingly more critical to success in the decade ahead, as the competition for talent escalates and hierarchical structures continue to break down. “A coercive style of leadership is a negative driver on every measure of climate in a company,” he says. “Bosses who lead by coercion are the kinds of bosses whom people hate.”

As a practical matter, the Goleman-Boyatzis-Hay approach has focused less on training emotional intelligence than on addressing specific deficiencies in those competencies. Boyatzis’s work has been influential: At Case Western, he developed an elegant, comprehensive, highly successful approach to training competencies in graduate students, as well as in executives. His model blends work on deepening self-awareness (“the real self”), defining one’s values (“the ideal self”), and implementing one’s goals (changing specific behaviors to do that).

But adopting this competency model as the basis for emotional-intelligence training has proved complicated. Goleman has suggested that, broadly speaking, emotional intelligence is similar to character and virtue — and that positive values go hand-in-hand with such qualities as self-awareness and self-control. In practice, however, it’s simply not that neat. Used-car salesmen can just as easily use emotional-intelligence skills to sell defective cars as social activists can to inspire positive action. Intelligence — emotional or intellectual — is a value-free capacity that can be marshaled as effectively for good as for ill. “My statement might have been too unconditional,” Goleman acknowledges. “This model is still evolving.”

Finally, just how enthusiastically has the business community embraced offerings from consultants in emotional intelligence? Here, the evidence is mixed. Goleman has found companies that are willing to pay him as much as $40,000 for a one-hour lecture. But far fewer have been prepared to invest in a weeklong training program for top executives. “We’re hearing a great deal of talk about emotional intelligence, but mostly it’s at the inquiry stage,” says Mark Van Buren, 35, director of research for the American Society for Training & Development, which monitors trends in corporate training. “It’s not yet clear whether many companies have figured out how to put the concept to work so that it produces meaningful results.” Annie McKee, 45, director of management-development services at the Hay Group, who heads the company’s efforts in emotional-intelligence, insists that she is pleased with how things are going. “We have thousands of inquiries, many of which are from senior executives who want to introduce those concepts and practices into their organizations, and we’re working steadily with dozens of clients,” McKee says. Clients range from the Bank of Montreal to the Department of Defense’s accounting office.

Hay’s five-day emotional-intelligence training programs are typically customized to each of its clients. Hay begins every program by administering an Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI), that Boyatzis and Goleman developed. Unlike Bar-On’s test, which is self-administered, the ECI is a 360-degree instrument given to bosses, colleagues, and direct reports. “People tend to be very poor judges of what they aren’t good at, and that is particularly true of those who are having performance problems,” says Goleman. Based on a dozen responses, participants receive detailed feedback on their perceived strengths and weaknesses. Next, they design an “action plan,” typically in consultation with a Hay coach who regularly monitors progress during the months ahead.

Goleman argues that even with a broad definition of emotional competency, Hay is offering something substantially different from ordinary technical-competency training. “When it comes to people’s emotions, you’re dealing with a different part of the brain,” he says. “That part, the limbic system, is where you learn not just by processing information cognitively but also by repeating it. You need to practice a new habit to change your neural circuitry. It’s not like sitting in a classroom. If you want a habit to stick, you have to repeat it over several months.”

Whatever model finally prevails, the challenge ahead is to demonstrate to executives who are curious about emotional intelligence that their employees can actually be trained in such competencies, and that doing so will have a direct and significant impact on employee performance. Successfully demonstrating that will depend partly on developing a simpler definition of emotional intelligence; it will also depend on the ability to identify which competencies have the greatest effect on high performance and to make those the focus of corporate training.

Goleman is carefully optimistic about the future prospects of emotional-competency training in business. “I believe that this is a new paradigm for business and that paradigms shift slowly,” he explains. “The first job is to raise awareness that this sort of training might actually make sense. It’s less of a commitment for a company to have someone like me come in and talk about emotional intelligence for an hour than it is to do something about it.”

Tony Schwartz ( is a Fast Company contributing editor. He is author of What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America (Bantam, 1996).

Sidebar: My EQ: the Good News and the Bad News

The good news, according to the results of my ECI (Emotional Competency Inventory), a test developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis for the Hay Group, is that I’m a model of emotional intelligence. I scored at or above the target level in every single category, and I got the highest possible score in the majority of them.

The bad news, according to my EQi, developed by Reuven Bar-On for Multi-Health Systems, is that I’m sorely lacking in emotional intelligence. I rate “high” in only one of five categories, and I’m “low” or “markedly low” in each of the other four.

The really sad news is that the bad news seems more accurate to me than the good news, and that neither test has told me much I didn’t already know. But, first, how is it that my scores could be so radically different on two tests, each of which purports to assess emotional competence?

One possible clue is that Bar-On’s EQi is a self-assessment test, whereas my scores on the ECI reflect not only my responses, but also the aggregate opinions of the nine others who rated me. Since I fared much worse on the EQi, one potential explanation is that I’m tougher on myself than others are one me. However, with a couple of notable exceptions, I gave myself almost exactly the same ratings that others gave me on the ECI. In any case, I’m skeptical that my ratings from others are necessarily more accurate than my own assessment.

Another possible explanation for my contrasting scores is that the two tests are based on different definitions of emotional intelligence. Indeed, although they do have several common elements, they also have significant disparities. In any case, the incongruence between the scores on my two tests does raise a troubling issue: Which one should a potential employer believe?

In their defense, the two tests targeted many of the same relative strengths and weaknesses. on both of them, for example, I did very well in such categories as self-awareness, initiative/assertiveness, and conscientiousness, and much less well in impulse control, stress tolerance, and conflict management. Bizarrely, however, I rated very high in “self-confidence” on the ECI (including by my own assessment) but low in “self-regard” on the EQi. maybe it had something to do with the days on which I took the tests. Of course, if that’s the explanation, how reliable is either result?

Sidebar: Test Your Emotional Intelligence

Exactly how do emotional-intelligence tests work? And what kinds of questions are you likely to encounter on such tests? Reuven Bar-On’s EQi lists a series of statements and asks respondents to rate how true each is. The test uses a one-to-five scale that ranks the degree to which each statement is true in one’s life. Here are a few examples from the EQi.

  • It’s hard for me to share my deep feelings with others.
  • I can handle stress without getting too nervous.
  • Before beginning something new, I usually feel that I’ll fail.
  • When I’m angry with others, I can tell them about it.
  • It doesn’t bother me to take advantage of people, especially if they deserve it.
  • I’m sensitive to the feelings of others.
  • I would stop and help a crying child find his or her parents, even if I had to be somewhere else at the same time.
  • It’s hard for me to face unpleasant things.
  • I generally expect things will turn out all right, despite setbacks from time to time.
  • Looking at both my good points and bad points, I feel good about myself.

The Goleman-Boyatzis-Hay ECI is also based on a series of statements–but since it’s a 360-degree instrument, individuals other than the test’s subject are asked to answer the same questions about that subject. In this case, the ratings run from one to seven, with one being “slightly” and seven, “very.” Here are some examples from the ECI.

  • Respects, treats with courtesy, and relates well to people of diverse backgrounds.
  • Take personal responsibility for resolving customer or client problems undefensively.
  • Expresses own feelings.
  • Pays attention and listens.
  • Expresses positive expectations about others’ potential.
  • Calms others in stressful situations.
  • Assumes significant personal or professional risks to accomplish important goals.
  • Understands political forces at work in the organization.
  • Behaves consistently with own stated values and beliefs.

About the author

Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony’s most recent book, "Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live?" is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller