For some time, I have been interested in Daniel Goldman popularizing the term Emotional Intelligence (ET). On the one hand, this phrase seems to imply that emotional process is critically important in the realm of human intelligence. The general affirmation has been that testing high in IQ tests says very little about how a person functions in society. Further, Goleman’s use of term emotional intelligence may ‘sound’ like a brain function parallel to differentiation of self or other theories regarding mental health. Finally, the meteoric rise of a ‘science’ around ET is heartening such that a relatively obscure term in 1995 can become mainstream by 2020. It is fair to say that Emotional Intelligence has become the ‘go to’ popular theory in both the business world and other fields of popular psychology (including both education and, to a lesser degree, the family). The Harvard Business Review called ET “a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea” and chose Goleman’s article “What Makes a Leader” as one of ten “must-read” articles. Emotional Intelligence was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Business Management Books” by TIME Magazine.
On the other hand, a closer look at ET may give those who utilize Bowen theory pause. The ‘science’ of ET does not appear to be anything close to a hard science. Coaching around emotional intelligence, which is quite popular, can be quite subjective such that the teaching appears to be more in the realm of loosely defined personality traits as opposed to what exactly is happening in the brain. It presents as psychology without biology.
As a science writer for the New York Times, Daniel Goleman came across the work of Peter Salovey and John Mayer, and their reference to “Emotional Intelligence” (EI). These researchers defined EI as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior; the ability to perceive, use, understand, and managing emotions.” Goleman has remained faithful to this basic definition. When speaking, he refers to EI as, “How we manage ourselves, and how we handle our relationships.”
In his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence Goleman, I believe, was able to connect with three insights that may be common in the general population. Specifically, there appears to be a general understanding in our culture that:
- having a high IQ does not translate into professional or personal success,
- being successful does not automatically translate into social or emotional maturity; many leaders who “climb to the top” display socially inept behavior, and
- in the words of Goleman, “in a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.”.
These assumptions lead to the following conclusions:
- Many brilliant people are socially, emotionally immature;
- Many successful leaders (in business and public affairs) are socially, emotionally immature;
- There is something like emotional immaturity getting in the way of leadership development.
What I am suggesting here is that Goleman stumbled upon a phrase developed by two researchers that dovetail nicely with general public awareness; namely, that there is a dimension of human development that has little to do with intellectual brilliance and/or being successful in the business world. It is fair to say that Goleman presents a picture in which we have “two brains” – one that dominates the neocortex having to do with IQ, and a second ‘emotional brain’ that has to do the interaction between the neocortex and subcortical networks. The ‘emotional brain’ has to do with management of relationships and is most clearly reflected in the table below:
Goleman’s FRAMEWORK OF EMOTIONAL COMPETENCIES
Self-awareness – the ability to read one’s emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
Self-management – involves controlling one’s emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
Social awareness – the ability to sense, understand, and react to other people’s emotions while comprehending social networks.
Relationship management – the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.
On the one hand, the abilities mentioned in this table may seem to correlate with what Bowen theorists call a higher level of differentiation of self. On the other hand, these traits are referred to as ‘skills’ that can be learned, no matter the psychological maturity of the student. In short, anyone can learn self-control, how to build trust, how to influence others, how to communicate, how to manage conflict, how to be a leader (like Steve Jobs), how to enhance achievement drive (improve performance), how to influence others, or how to learn to collaborate. So far as I can see, there is no discussion on how emotional process, chronic anxiety in particular, interrupts the thinking process; nor is there any attempt to separate thinking from feeling. Instead, the focus is on skill development reflected in the following questions:
- Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds?
- Do you listen attentively and think about how others feel?
- Are you attuned to others’ moods? The mood of the Organizational?
- Do you appreciate the culture and values of the group or organization?
- Do you understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
- Do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion and appealing to their self-interests?
- Do you get support from key people?
- Do you coach and mentor others with compassion and personally invest time and energy in mentoring? Do you provide feedback that people find helpful for their professional development?
- Do you articulate a compelling vision, and foster a positive emotional tone?
- Do you lead by bringing out the best in people?
- Do you solicit input from everyone on the team?
- Do you support all team members and encourage cooperation?
Despite the popularity of ET, there are some questioning ET as a scientific theory. Scientific American published an article in 2016 entitled, “Too Much Emotional Intelligence Is a Bad Thing?”. In this study, psychologists Myriam Bechtoldt and Vanessa Schneider found that students who were rated more emotionally intelligent experienced greater measures of stress, presumably because of their ability to be ‘empathic’ with others. Consequently, during the experiment, it took them longer to go back to baseline. “The findings suggest that some people may be too emotionally astute for their own good.” In response to this article, Goleman wrote.
“Let’s not idealize emotional intelligence. Like any other human skill set, it can be used for self-serving ends or for the common good. EI is neither good nor bad, but a “skill set” used in accordance with personal intentions. … EI is not just one single ability that we are good at or not – we can have strengths in one part of EI – like excellent self-management … while lacking in other parts, like empathy or social skills.”
This assertion by Goleman is further evidence that EI is not so much a theory about human intelligence as it is a set of skills to enhance relationship systems. Goleman refers to different parts of the brain that pertain to emotional regulation, such as the ACC, but there is no comprehensive theory of brain function leading to more adaptive behavior. In this sense, EI represents a kind of popular dive into emotional process for an audience whose intuition says there is more to maturity than high IQ or “making it to the top”.
While differentiation of self may lead to social skills that enhance leadership, as well as strengthening important relationship processes, and while differentiation has very much to do with managing emotional reactivity, Bowen theory seeks to be a science of human behavior, which includes a general, but comprehensive understanding, of mental life. Chronic anxiety and differentiation of self are of the key variables, which are studied scientifically to identify eight concepts of human behavior. Taken together, these eight concepts form a theory of human behavior pertaining to higher and lower levels of human functioning. A higher level of differentiation is conceived as ideal, as it represents the ability to balance the emotional and intellectual centers of the central nervous system. A higher level of differentiation never seeks to thwart the common good. A higher level of differentiation functions to regulate levels of chronic anxiety, and thereby may lead to developing particular social skills. A person with a lower level of differentiation will find him or herself thwarted, to a greater degree, in developing social skills. A person with a higher level of differentiation may be viewed as a threat by persons operating out of a pseudo self, but still a higher level of differentiation, all things being equal, will lead to higher functioning in the family.
Bowen theory does not frequently use the phrase emotional intelligence, but would see emotions as an agent of social intelligence through mammalian evolution. The emotional system learns how to apply such affect as seeking, fear, rage, lust, care, panic, and play (using Pankseep’s typology) to achieve important social goals. In this sense, the emotional system represents many lifetimes of learning. The fundamental challenge within the emotional system is the tendency to perceive excessive threats, resulting in a hyperactive emotional system that can thwart the thinking vested largely in the neocortex. This hyperactivity of the emotional system not only dampens important neuro networks in the cortex, but also challenges various bodily systems that are in a chronic state of adapting to perceived threats.
As articulated by Panksepp in The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion, science is still in its infancy stage in terms of studying human emotion. Psychology was not ready for Pankseep’s seminal work on Affective Neuroscience, believing that ‘emotion’ was too subjective to be studied in a scientific manner. De Wall also found this to be true as he presented the life of emotion in the animal kingdom. In the 50’s and 60’s Bowen was far ahead of the curve supposing that emotional process could be studied in a scientific manner to compose a theory of human behavior. Meanwhile, the general public has long been convinced that emotional instability, or emotional reactivity, is clearly formative in altering mental health, and that emotional regulation must be involved in quality leadership. Into this void stepped Goleman popularizing the term Emotional Intelligence in such a way that it has become a mainstream ‘theory’ for leadership development. This indicates, I believe, that the public is ready to embrace a theory of human development that includes a central discussion of emotional process. However, an exciting TED talk on Emotional Intelligence, and various anecdotal stories on skill development are easier/quicker to digest than learning a comprehensive theory on human behavior, and applying this theory to human behavior. Nevertheless, given the leadership of our sitting President, as well as our inability to manage racial profiling, it may be that a comprehensive theory that includes emotional process is ready to be received.