In his book, Emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman, the populariser of EI, writes that the model of emotional intelligence “was first proposed [by] Peter Salovey and John D Mayer” and goes on to give their idea of EI being made up of five domains as the “basic definition of emotional intelligence”. These domains are
Knowing one’s emotions
Managing [one’s] emotions
Recognising emotions in others
Handling relationships. [*]
Goleman’s explanatory text makes clear the “Managing emotions” means “Managing one’s emotions”.
It is to be regretted that Goleman writes (p43) that “The art of relationships is, in large part, skill in managing emotions in others”.
It isn’t possible to “manage” other people’s emotions. Noone can make another person feel a particular emotion, believe a specific belief, or do a particular action. The best we can hope for is to manage our responses to others’ emotions well and to endeavour to influence others constructively.
There’s no evidence that person A can manage, or control, the thoughts and feelings of person B in the sense that, if A decides B shall have a particular thought or feeling, B has no choice but to have it; in the sense that, if A chooses to inculcate emotion X in B, then B inevitably, or even usually, experiences that emotion.
How could it possible for A to control B? How would A have direct access to B’s brain? How would A know which neurons and synapses to tweak, and by how much, in order to create the desired response in B? Of course, this is impossible.
The idea that one can control the minds of others is a delusion of megalomania in the one and of psychosis in the other.
The best that can be done is to manage our own responses to our perceptions of the other’s emotions and thoughts, and, by our behaviour and communication, to create a context in which the other person and the relationship is most likely to thrive and develop.
And this is good enough. It’s what all good coaches, teachers and mentors do, and it’s at the heart of leadership.
A moment’s glance at the five domains listed above shows that the dominant word is “emotions”. Goleman did not—and does not—discriminate between “positive” emotions and “negative” emotions.
However, many people—sometimes those who flirt with new age practices, but often, simply, nice people who would like the world to be better than it is—insist that the emotionally intelligent person is, by definition, a “good” person, well disposed towards others, benign, considerate and so on.
Such people are to be valued and used as models for others; and such people are, no doubt, emotionally intelligent (though they might not be).
But it is simply not the case that emotionally intelligent people are, by that fact, necessarily “nice” people. Emotions vary from the most benign to the most malign. Bering aware that one has malign emotions may be emotionally intelligent but, obviously, unless the emotions themselves are addressed, the person is unlikely to be a nice person.
[*] Daniel Goleman, Emotional intelligence (1996), pp 43-44 and ch 3, notes 12 and 14
Peter Salovey and John D Mayer, Emotional intelligence, in Imagination, cognition and personality 9 (1990), pp 185-211, specifically p 189
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2014 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 8 february 2014, edited 28 june 2017 . image: Free images