There’s a lot being written about EQ (or EI) these days – a sign of society’s evolving awareness of emotion and feeling and a moving away from an over-emphasis on rational intelligence. That’s good.

But a lot of what I read strikes me as being both misleading and limiting, the result of rationality attempting to reduce EQ to yet another variable to be optimised.

So what exactly is EQ? Well, there are plenty of definitions out there, but as is so often the case for intangible concepts, it can be more helpful to state what EQ isn’t, rather than what it is.

So here goes, but if you feel your blood beginning to boil as you read down this list, 1. bear with me until you’ve read the whole article; 2. apply your EQ…

  1. EQ is not a technique to boost sales, turnover and profit
  2. EQ will not enable you to persuade others that you’re right and they’re wrong
  3. EQ will not make you more charismatic, respected or liked
  4. EQ cannot be measured
  5. EQ cannot be reduced to an algorithm
  6. EQ cannot be taught
  1. Developing the individual and collective EQ within an organisation may well boost financial performance, but it may not. What it will do is reduce any fixation or obsession with figures as focus shifts to the quality of the working experience from moment to moment.
  2. Trying to persuade someone, over and above offering a view, is emotional stupidity. EQ makes you receptive first. The emphasis swings 180° from trying to influence, to being open to influence. Paradoxically, your own susceptibility to influence will make others more open too. But the focus is on you.
  3. To all of you who would like to be more charismatic – here is how: forget it. Anyone trying to be charismatic or liked or respected will eventually create the opposite effect. Again, paradoxically, those that are emotionally intelligent will be more liked, respected and charismatic than those that aren’t – but their focus will be elsewhere.
  4. To measure a variable you need a unit of measure – a metric. You also need an absolute standard against which to measure your variable. Seconds, degrees Celsius, volts and millimetres all allow you to measure variables of time, temperature, potential and distance. For all intents and purposes, these do not change. So although you can assess EQ (with all the uncertainty, variability and unreliability which that implies), you can’t strictly measure it. Reducing EQ to a number is rather like saying that my mother’s love is an 8 out of 10.
  5. & 6. You can read about and listen to all the latest ‘wisdom’ on EQ until you’re blue in the face, and not learn one jot. This isn’t about learning how to change a fuse, or close a sale – it’s about observing your inner thoughts and feelings, in the moment. It’s about spotting how you react to circumstance and getting in the gap between stimulus and reaction. No one and no algorithm can teach you that.

This is a very incomplete list, so please add more below if you wish.

So the reality of EQ is full of conundrum and paradox, at least from a logical point of view. Perhaps the biggest confusion around EQ is the perceived ability to influence others’ emotions – calm them down, help them see and feel clearly, get them onside and saying ‘Yes’. Although this may well be an outcome, if it is adopted as such, it will surely backfire. Trying to influence others’ emotions through EQ is an ego game; becoming aware of your own feelings and emotions is true Emotional Intelligence.

And the perfect time to practice is over holiday periods, in close proximity to the extended family – at around the time when you’ve had enough and are looking forward to going home.

P.S. The dog in the picture represents EQ – if you have a dog, you will get it. The picture is full of other symbolism too…