Emotional Intelligence: very useful but incomplete theory

Since its publication in 1995, the Emotional Intelligence book by Daniel Goleman has become an editorial phenomenon. It is on the list of bestselling books of The New York Times for more than a year.

The proposal of Emotional Intelligence revolves around the existence of two kinds of intelligence: the rational and the emotional. Goleman argues that at key moments in everyday life, when passions appear, «the balance leans: it is the emotional mind that dominates and crushes the rational mind.»

According to Goleman, the notion of Emotional Intelligence includes skills such as “being able to motivate and persist in the face of disappointments; control the momentum and delay gratification; regulate mood and prevent disorders from decreasing the ability to think; show empathy and hope». Based on this concept, Goleman states that the «emotional quotient» is more important than the intellectual quotient to achieve personal excellence. Thus, the author explain what it means to provide intelligence to the emotion and how to do it.

In the theory of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman conceives of the communicative exchange in relation to emotional skills. The author proposes that through the effective mastery of behavior, especially emotional abilities, any individual has the possibility of achieving optimal social performance. In this way, knowing and managing the emotional responses guaranteed success in interpersonal relationships.

Goleman states that each emotion has unique characteristics that distinguish each other. Therefore, each gesture that expresses these emotions also has a particular meaning, specifically of the context in which it takes place. Thus, in the anecdotes and the stories described in his work, the author places the emotions above the reasoning, while determining the basis on which his theory is based. Likewise, the psychologist develops a thorough description and classification of emotions, an end to anticipate one of the main arguments of Emotional Intelligence: it is possible to modify the emotional repertoire through an «emotional relearnment» (the ability to identify each feeling and channel it rationally).

For other specialists, and especially the members of the Palo Alto School, the social actors participe in a system in which all behavior releases socially relevant information. Then, when studying the way in which individuals interact, that count less the personal factors (their psychological nature, temperament, or humor) than the systems in which they are inserted: family, institutions, society, culture. These systems work according to a logic that can be formulated by rules external to individuals.

On the other hand, Goleman argues that those who are able to identify and master their feelings, that is, effectively handle non-verbal and body language, have advantages in relation to others. In the same way, these people have the possibility of becoming natural leaders characterized by charm, social success and charisma. In this way, Emotional Intelligence not only guarantees optimal social performance, but also individual satisfaction and productivity.

Theorists of the Palo Alto School consider that the interlocutors are not authors of the communication but participate in it. While they conceive of communication as an exchange that exceeds individual behaviors, determined to the individual as an element of that system.

On the contrary, Goleman describes the subjects as the main actors of their interactions, granting them supremacy in relation to the communication process. Thus, relying on discursive resources such as «identification», Goleman reinforces the idea of ​​»responsibility» of each subject in the episodes of his daily life.

For the authors of Palo Alto it is impossible to «not communicate» because even silence implies a meaning: «Activity or inactivity, words or silence, always have a message value: they influence others, who in turn cannot leave of respondent to communications, and therefore, also communicate”.

For Goleman, silence is «inexpressive», it is an absence of significance that must be corrected.

Goleman argues that people that unable to verbally express their emotions or feelings, are boring and cause uncomfortable to those around them. In this way, it conveys the idea that the inability to recognize one’s feelings and declare verbally will inevitably lead to personal failure in social relationships.

In this case, Goleman restricts communication only to verbal language, ignoring the communicating force of the multiple channels used by individuals to express their feelings, either consciously or unconsciously. These include silence, nonverbal language, gestures, body movements, and so on.

The positions occupied by participants in a communicative exchange will determine the «symmetry» or «complementarity» of the interaction: «the first is characterized by equality and the minimum difference, while the second is based on a maximum difference» (Palo Alto School).

For Goleman, a determining factor of personal efficacy is the ability to influence people’s emotional state: named «emotional brilliance.»

For Goleman, emotional intelligence allows the development of fundamental social skills, such as, «Relief of altered emotions of others.» The importance of knowing how to interpret and respond to the emotional keys of others, would allow to reach the «emotional brilliance».

For Palo Alto intellectuals, symmetry or complementarity are two basic categories into which all communicational situations can be divided, but they have no intrinsic value. Namely, «symmetry and complementarity in communication are not in themselves «good» or «bad» , «normal» or «abnormal «».

Goleman develops an implicit opposition between «verbal or rational language» and «gesture or emotional language,» that is, he does not conceive of communication as an «integrated whole,» but isolates each component of the global communication system.

Also, in the cases that Goleman analyzes in his book, he distinguishes «cause» and «effect» in these interactions. This particular way of approaching communicative exchanges responds to a logic of linearity. According to Palo Alto’s postulates, this logic is not possible due to the circularity of the interaction.

Also, in the book there are suggestions or general advice aimed at solving problems of daily life, in order to be put into practice by any individual. In this sense, the author does not take into account the social and cultural context where the exchanges of each person take place. While, according to the Palo Alto School, the multiplicity of communication modes is integrated into transactional systems, where the «context» is the only one capable of making sense of the elements that are part of it.

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