What is  EQ?


Something happens. It registers in your brain. Processing occurs. You think. You act. Simple, right? Not a chance. Not even close. That five-step process involves the processing of far more stimuli, memory retrieval, contingency planning, and emotional processing than any computer in existence can accomplish in the same period of time. Some believe that it will take decades before a computer is designed that can match that processing and speed. Some believe it will never happen.

We take that brain process for granted, but we shouldn’t. Our ability to process stimuli and act upon it with such efficiency and speed is unmatched in all of creation. One aspect of this process that has been getting more and more attention is the emotional process. I wrote recently about “the buzz” that has been generated by what is know as emotional intelligence, or EQ. I’ve also written about the difference between IQ and EQ.

Even as EQ becomes more mainstream business language, I have also found that leaders do not really understand what EQ is and especially how to manage emotional intelligence in their own lives, or to help their followers manage their own EQ.

Cary Cherniss offered a helpful summary of EQ (also called EI–emotional intelligence):

The concept of EI is based on three premises. The first is that emotions play an important role in life. Second, people vary in their ability to perceive, understand, use, and manage emotions. And third, these differences affect individual adaptation in a variety of contexts, including the workplace.1

Read each one of those statements again and ask yourself two questions:

  1. Does that make intuitive sense?
  2. Do we effectively apply that truth in the workplace?

The answers to those questions is probably Yes and No for each statement. It’s the latter question that we must deal with, and which I am trying to address in this series of articles.

To aid in that effort lets take a look at some definitions of EQ and then explore a very easy-to-remember model to understand what happens in our brain related to EQ.


The three “big thinkers” on EQ are Reuven Bar-On, Daniel Goleman, and the team of researchers, John Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David Caruso. Most of what we read about today, related to EQ, connects back to one of these in one way or another.

Bar-On is credited with some of the earliest, formal research on EQ. He defined EQ as,

An array of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and behaviors that determine how well we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands, challenges and pressures.2

His model includes five components, or dimensions of EQ:

  • Intrapersonal skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Adaptability
  • Stress management, and
  • General mood.

These are measured in the widely used EQ-I and EQ-360 instruments. (Talk to me if you want more information about using these instruments in your organization.)

Next we have a definition for EQ from the team of Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso.

EQ is an ability to recognize the meanings of emotion and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them. Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them.3

Their model emphasizes mental ability and the information processing capacity of the brain. The model breaks EQ into four components: the ability to perceive emotions, the ability to use emotions to facilitate thought, the ability to understand emotions, and the ability to manage emotions. This model is operationalized in the MSCEIT instrument. MSCEIT is an acronym for Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test.

Finally, Daniel Goleman is a name you are more likely to have seen or heard than the others. Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence with some bestselling books in the 1990s. In reviewing various Goleman materials, I couldn’t pin him down with one, often-used definition of EQ. That’s not a bad thing, but it also indicates his approach is more “popular press” than scholarly. (That’s not a criticism, just an observation.)

If you examine those two widely used definitions of EQ (as well as many more lesser known definitions) you should see some common threads. These common threads provide insight into what emotional intelligence is all about. The common threads I see are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Other and social awareness
  • The ability to manage social situations

There are many nuances that add color to these elements, but this, I believe, is the bottom line of any approach to EQ.

So how can we work with EQ? How about a simple way to understand what happens in our brains? That should help!


John Mayer presented an easy-to-follow model to understand how we process and manage emotions in personal and social situations. The model involves four major steps: Perception, Facilitation, Understanding, and Management. The graphic below provides more detail,

2014-08-01 supplemental

(Mayer, J. 2008-2014. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/personalitylab/lab-theoretical-work/xemotintell.html on August 1, 2014.)

Identify a recent scenario from the office or home that involved a high level of emotion (so that you can easily recall what happened). Work through each step of the model and evaluate your level of conscious thought associated with each step. Also consider how aware you were of the emotions, yours and others’, at each step of the way.

If you’re like most people, you didn’t put a lot of conscious thought into the process and you weren’t very aware of what happened. It all happened nevertheless. Every step.

What would happen if you became more intentional about managing that process? What if you were more aware of your emotions, and others’, as that cycle went through the steps?

Do you think the outcomes might be better? Do you think there might be less stress and unproductive conflict? Do you think there would be more collaboration and innovation? Do you think there would be more trust in your relationships?

I trust that this is helping you see the importance and power in emotional intelligence.

In the future, I will select one of the EQ models and dig into it in detail so that you can better understand the nuances of that processing cycle. This will empower you to be more conscious and aware of emotions.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Xavier Boswell. Available at Flickr.com.

1: Cherniss, C. “Emotional Intelligence: Toward Clarification of a Concept.” Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2010, v3, #2, 111.
2: Bar-on, R. “A broad definition of emotional-social intelligence according to the Bar-On model.” Found at http://reuvenbaron.org/wp/?page_id=37.
3: Mayer, J., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. “Emotional intelligence: Theory, findings, and implications.” Psychological Inquiry, v15, #3, 197-215. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.6.503

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