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What is Emotional Intelligence?

What is emotional intelligence? Great question. So great I wonder why I didn’t attempt to answer it on the very first post of this blog. After reading about 18 books on the topic, I think of emotional intelligence as “knowing and managing our own emotions and those of others for improved performance”. But who asked me? I mean, I did not make up the term so why would I offer a definition?

The term emotional intelligence was actually coined by two psychologists, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, in 1990. I am a little surprised they didn’t call it the Salomayer Principle or something nutty like that. I bet if they had known that Daniel Goleman would come along in 1995 and use the term for the title of his best selling book they would certainly have called it the Salomayer Principal. In any case, the definition that Salovey and Mayer attached to Emotional Intelligence was something like this:

“The ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”

Most people have heard of that first Goleman book and know that the rest is history.  In one of his recent books, Goleman calls emotional intelligence “the ability to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others”.

For those project managers who are new to emotional intelligence, I recommend a very simple book by Linda Wasmer Andrews called oddly enough, Emotional Intelligence.

This book could easily be read on an airplane and it provides a helpful overview of emotional intelligence.  It does not tell how to apply it to project management (there are no published books which do).

If you want a simple read, DO NOT purchase one of the numerous Goleman texts.  They are nearly unreadable.  Goleman writes in support of those who are emotionally intelligent vs. the old-fashioned IQ intelligent types.  The irony is that Goleman himself is definitely one of those high IQ types he disparages in his books.  Despite his Harvard doctorate (or perhaps because of it), he has the ability to reduce Starbuck’s junkies like myself to deep and peaceful sleep.

Goleman has provided a lot of food for thought so it is somewhat unfair to skewer him.  I guess as a project manager I tend to be very pragmatic about concepts like emotional intelligence.  I want to understand it so that I can apply it to be more successful as a project manager.  My focus is on emotional intelligence as it applies to the project management arena.

After working on this for the last 4 years, here are 5 ways that I believe emotional intelligence can help project managers:

  1. Provides an ability to use our emotions to better understand what is going on with our team members and how to best motivate them to achieve the project objectives.
  2. Provides us with tools to understand the emotions of our stakeholders to build strong relationships that will provide a fertile environment for a successful project.
  3. Help us to appreciate the importance and timing of courageous truth-telling.
  4. Anticipate and recognize some of the breakdowns that occur with people on the team and how to best avoid or deal with them.
  5. Recognizing the fine line between dealing with project conflict and dealing with bullies or narcissist personalities. There is an excellent book on this topic by Roy Lubit.

Bottom Line:  I think there is something here for project managers.  Stay tuned