Working With Emotional Intelligence: Notes & Review

working with emotional intelligence book cover

Working with Emotional Intelligence is a sequel to Goleman’s initial “Emotional Intelligence“, and discusses the role of emotional intelligence on work performance, career success.


About the Author: Daniel Goleman is a journalist who often wrote on science and psychology. He worked at Psychology Today and then at The New York Times. He is most famous for his work on Emotional Intelligence, and he is also the author of “Emotional Intelligence” and “Social Intelligence“.

Misconceptions About Emotional Intelligence

There are plenty of misconceptions around “emotional intelligence”, and Goleman first sets out to dispel those myths:

  1. Emotional intelligence is not (merely) “being nice”. At times, emotionally intelligent can mean getting angry, or confronting someone
  2. Emotional intelligence is not about “giving free rein to feelings”, but it’s about managing feelings to express them effectively and appropriately
  3. Emotional intelligence is not genetically fixed and, unlikely IQ, it seems to be largely learned, and in continuous development as we grow

IQ Doesn’t Predict Career Success, EI Does

Daniel Goleman says that IQ accounts for career success at most for 25%. 

More accurate figures, says Goleman, suggest that IQ accounts at most 10%, and some other analysis suggests 4%.

My Note: I find these numbers spurious
To me putting a number on how much IQ matters for career success without explaining how he came up with those numbers, is not science, but  marketing. And saying IQ accounts at most for 10% makes me question Goleman’s credibility.

Getting Compliance With Emotional Intelligence

Imagine you’re a flight attendant. 
The plane is about to board, and everyone is already standing up. But you want an orderly boarding, and you only want the passenger you are going to call to stand up.

How do you do it?
If you remind people to stay seated with the typical robotic voice, the compliance will be low. 
Instead, says Goleman, the flight attendant said “you’re standing” as if she were singing a tune, as if she was speaking to a kid who needed to be reminded of what mommy wanted.
That made people smile, and they went back to sitting.

This was interesting for me, and especially it was interesting that it was a woman who used that technique.
It’s more difficult for women to get compliance when being assertive, and women who are too assertive are seen in a negative light. That was, in my opinion, the real genius: to combine femininity with power.

I had already written about it, check this topic here:

Feminine AND Powerful: 9 Tips For Women Bosses

The Higher the Job Level, The More Important EI Becomes

The higher you go in an organization, the less technical skills and cognitive abilities become relevant.

The only cognitive abilities that mattered was “pattern recognition”, a big picture thinking that allowed 

For leadership and executive positions, emotional competence skills are paramount.

My Note: It’s power and exec skills that become relevant when you go higher
I only partially agree with Goleman, and I think he is missing an important factor. 
Yes, it’s true that the higher you go, the less technical skills matter. But what counts is not the whole spectrum of emotional intelligence. What matters most are ambition, knowledge of power dynamics, and coming across as confident and powerful.

Just look at Margin Call, and you know what I mean by “exec skills” and coming across as powerful and confident:

It’s true that the boss is not the smartest or most technically expert in the room. But he’s not higher in EI, he’s higher in social power and confidence

Also read:

17 Tips to Exude Exec-Level Confidence at Work

The Politics of Empathy: It’s Subordinates Who Must be High in Empathy

Those with little power are expected to sense the feelings of those with power. While those in power can allow themselves to be sensitive in returns.

Not being empathic and emotionally intelligence, in a way, is one way one can show power and status.

My Note: I wish Goleman had expanded on the relation between & EI
Goleman here hits on a crucial point: emotional intelligence, he is basically saying, is more important for subordinates. And that’s why, probably, CEOs and execs score lower on emotional intelligence. I wish he had expanded on this, instead of going on in his crusade to prove EI is the be-all, end-all.

Also read:

Managing Your Boss For Ruthless Career Advancement

Don’t Confuse High Empathy With “Softness”

There are some people who discount the usefulness of empathy at work. 

But they do so because they confuse empathy with “psychologizing”, such as explaining behavior and motivation instead of being aware of it and understanding it.
And they confuse empathy with “agreeing”.

Neither of the above is part of empathy.

The 4 Meta-Abilities of Emotional Intelligence

Some components of emotional intelligence are so crucial that they constitute meta-abilities.

They are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills


My criticism of “Working With Emotional Intelligence” concerns not the basic premise, that “emotional intelligence” is important.
I agree with that.
My criticism concerns one, the darker side of emotional intelligence, which was never addressed; and two, the scientific rigor and the data, which were at times either hidden, absent, misconstrued, or misinterpreted.

If EI Matters, Why Do CEOs and Execs Score Lower?

Bradberry’s data on 100.000 individuals shows that CEOs and execs score lower on EI. 
So how can Goleman say that emotional intelligence is most important of all in career success?

chart plotting EQ results by job titles

I wish he had addressed this conundrum which, in my opinion, is not a conundrum at all.

The Myth of Emotional Intelligence: Machiavellis At The Top

Big claims require big evidence, and I’ve seen little

Goleman says that “when IQ scores are correlated with people’s achievement at work, IQ predicts at most 25% and more realistic figure say it’s more like 10%”. 
His whole book -and his whole career, in part-, is then about proving that emotional intelligence is what really matters.

Yet, I see a lot of words and examples, but little evidence for Goleman’s theory. 
And, just to be clear, I am a guy who believes there is such a thing as emotional intelligence, and I also believe that it matters a lot.

Conflates “entry-level requirement” with “non-important”

When Goleman says that cognitive abilities (IQ) or technical skills matter little to reach the top positions, he mentions in passing by that “IQ is a prerequisite, so it does not explain the differences in performance”.

That’s spurious, and either a huge failure of understanding what “minimum requirement” means, or just intellectually dishonest. 
If all top execs have a minimum level of IQ, and if execs are on average smarter than the average population, then IQ is important.

Poor Analysis of Why EI is More Important in Latin America

The author says that a lack of emotional intelligence leads to managerial failure in Latin America in almost every single occasion.

It’s not as important in Japan or German yet, says the author.

Why not?
Because EI becomes crucial in dealing with changes, says the author. And Latin American countries have gone through incredible changes (hyper-inflation, political regime changes, switching from closed to open economies, etc.).
The daily changes require managers in Latin America to always stay in contact with people to weather the storms, and that’s why, Goleman says, emotional intelligence is so crucial.

That’s nonsense to me. 
It’s not written anywhere that Latin America has seen more changes than, say, Europe -or any country, for that matter-.
The reason why EI matters more in Latin American countries is probably that work is more informal and interactions are less formalized. Managers are less removed from their reports, and are expected to be better with people.

I remember a Brazilian colleague talking to me about our very formal Swiss boss:

Swiss people are not good at managing (us) Latins

And he was right.

Soso interpretation of groups selection and selfishness

The author says that people who work for the good of the group tend to out-produce the selfish players.

He is not wrong, but an important note should be added: good evolutionary theory shows that selfish players can survive -and thrive- as long as they remain the minority. That’s what, some authors theorize, is what psychopaths are doing: feeding off the majority of cooperators.

Also, a healthy individualism overlaps with some selfishness, and selfishness in the right doses can be good and value-adding.

More Wisdom

  • Women are better at reading emotions when they are not purposefully hidden: women are generally better at reading emotions, but only when nonverbal cues are not purposefully hidden or camouflaged. Otherwise, men are equally good when it comes to recognizing emotions that cannot be easily camouflaged
  • Empathizing is more difficult through cultures: people have more difficulties in recognizing emotions across cultures, nations, or ethnic groups
  • The most emotionally expressive person influences the other: being emotionally expressive helps influence other people’s mood. This is important information for frame control.
  • Good teams produce more than the mere sum of their parts: and emotional intelligence is key in developing well-functioning and harmonious teams
  • In many areas, others know us better, so always ask for feedback


“Working with Emotional Intelligence” does have some important gold nuggets.
I was able to pick a few great insights, one of which even made it into the workplace module of Power University.

Overall though I did not like this book.
I found it scientifically lacking, and with little pragmatic usefulness.

On the scientific side, Goleman says that IQ doesn’t matter to reach the highest corporate positions because IQ is an entry requirement. To me, that’s intellectually dishonest. Sure, it will matter less once you’re in, because everyone else has it. But anything that is an entry requirement, by definition, matters a lot.

It feels like Goleman is on a quest to discredit IQ and inflate EI.
That’s a pity, because Emotional Intelligence is a powerful enough concept that stands on its own. 

One survey should be enough to cast a huge shadow on Goleman’s assertions: 
Bradberry’s survey shows that execs and CEOs have lower scores of emotional intelligence than their own managers.
That means that emotional intelligence might not be so useful in your carer.

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