Is EQ the new IQ?

“Our feelings are not there to be cast out or conquered. They’re there to be engaged and expressed with imagination and intelligence.”
T.K. Coleman

My boss once told me a story about how he got the highest biology scores in the Southern Africa region when he was in high school. He always says he wasn’t the smartest kid in class nor did he have any particular predisposition towards biology, but he adored his biology teacher because on his birthday she cancelled class and presented the entire class with cake and coffee. Since then, he became a biology maverick!

We all know stories like that, stories about the underdog, stories about the unlikely person winning. Not because they’re the most intelligent but because of…something.

More and more research is coming up finding that, that something is actually Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Emotional Intelligence is the the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships cleverly and em-pathetically. Joelle Hadley, defines it as the balance between the head and the heart.

It is widely agreed that effective performance and success in various avenues of life is dependent on the presence of 3 factors;

a. Cognitive Capacities (Intelligence Quotient, IQ) – the foundations of intelligence, usually conceived as the processing and possession of information in the brain. In short, the knowledge one posses.

b. Technical Skills (Capacities) – the practical abilities involved in work roles, either inherent in the person or developed through practice or experience.

 c. Emotional Intelligence.

The question is then, what makes Emotional Intelligence so special?

In ordinary times, when one is not stressed, threatened, fearful or hurt,their prefrontal cortex is in the ‘drivers seat‘ thus controlling one’s thoughts, behaviors and actions. It is in-charge of executive functioning which entails acting as a high-level filtering mechanism that enhances goal-directed activities and inhibits irrelevant activities. It is also where our IQ and capabilities live. It’s what makes human beings special, of all the animals we have the largest and most developed prefrontal cortex. Thus, for the most part, you do want your prefrontal cortex to be in charge.

However, when one stressed, threatened, fearful or hurt, the Limbic System specifically the Amygdala which is usually in the ‘passengers seat’ hijacks the vehicle and takes over because one of it’s functions is to trigger the’fight or flight’ response. Another one of its functions is to hold emotional memories. The Limbic System is older and faster than our prefrontal cortex, thus when need be, it will always triumph over the prefrontal cortex. Research from the Institute of Health and Human Potential shows that when this happens we lose up to 75% of our rational cognitive thought, basically the Limbic System takes hold of the wheel.

What this then means for the person high in IQ and Technical Skills but low in Emotional Intelligence is that they are the best, up until they are stressed, angry, scared or feel threatened, be it real or imagined,which is a daily occurrence in today’s fast paced environment. However, unlike IQ, emotional intelligence is dynamic and can be grown by our desire to be better and learn; this can be done by understanding the 4 elements below.


  1. Self Awareness– This is how accurately you can assess your emotions, how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence. To grow in your self awareness, consider setting time aside for deep and meaningful introspection. Also consider getting into the routine of collecting specific feedback from people who will be honest and whose ideas you value.
  2. Self Management– Self-management is your ability to control your emotions, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances. This component also includes your transparency, adaptability, achievement, and optimism. Are you reactive or proactive? When you are reactive, you do what comes instinctively which is going with the emotional part of your brain. When you are proactive, you act against what is natural, which is why it is difficult. You engage the rational part of your brain and select the best response.
  3. Social Awareness – Have you ever visited a couple after they just had a big fight and you can literally cut the tension between them with a knife? That’s your social awareness. It is the ability to observe and understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization. One of the biggest ways to fine tune this is by practicing empathy.
  4. Relationship Management – Leadership is Influence, to influence people you have to have a relationship with them. This facet of emotional intelligence involves the ability to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict. In other words, having good social skills.

All this has implications for the Human Resource Practitioner. According to Talent Smart, 90% of high performers at the work place possess high Emotional Intelligence, while 80% of low performers have low Emotional Intelligence.When recruiting, designing and conducting appraisals, coming up with lesson plans that will boost productivity what do we look for? If it’s all I.Q and experience, what implications does this have given that there is this whole other determinant of performance and success to consider?


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