The Reflective Detective and Restoring the Integrity of Emotional Intelligence with Tom Rhys Evans.
As I began upon my journey I sought out those people and organisations that could help with my thirst for knowledge and education. This led me to the Association of Business Psychologists (Manchester Branch), where I am now the student representative on the committee.
The Association of Business Psychologists (ABP) Manchester Branch holds regular events at the Manchester Metropolitan University Business School – and they are always very informative and entertaining. They are also attended by a great group of people who are very informed and generate stimulating discussion – but are also very welcoming to lay persons like myself.
On one particular Wednesday in November I attended an excellent and intellectually challenging event. Tom Rhys Evans, Lecturer in Occupational Psychology and PhD Student at Coventry University, delivered a stimulating presentation on the research he is conducting into Emotional Intelligence entitled: Emotional Intelligence: Restoring integrity through theoretical clarification.
You may guess from the title that Tom seeks to challenge the present ‘fashion’ of emotional intelligence in business and how it has been adapted into pretty much every aspect of life (including the female orgasm!) as the golden bullet solution. A solution which is argued has always existed but we just haven’t been emotionally aware enough to recognise it: ‘old wine in a new bottle’. Tom argued that business had picked up the two words ‘emotional’ and ‘intelligence’ and run away with them, without truly understanding – or being able to articulate – what emotional intelligence is.
Tom sought to educate the audience on the history of Emotional Intelligence and cited Mayer and Salovey (1990) as describing emotional intelligence as an ‘ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions’. Tom explained to us how the definition expanded through the work of Goleman (1996) and into a concept open to a multitude of interpretations (Caruso, 2003) until it became to resemble an inkblot..
..not sure what it is, and what it isn’t.
Tom seeks to regain clarity of emotional intelligence and articulates emotional intelligence as an umbrella term with three different approaches:
- Ability: Intelligence and knowledge
- Competency: Practical skills and actual behaviours
- Trait: Personality and typical behaviours.
The ability model has a four branch structure which defines emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions.
It is suggested that emotional intelligence is a second stratum factor of intelligence – akin to constructs like verbal reasoning (MacCann, Joseph, Newman and Roberts, 2014).
The trait model is related to personality, and drawing upon the Big 5 personality traits, the trait model is very close to neuroticism but also draws on extraversion and agreeableness. Importantly they are affective behavioural preferences not related to cognitive ability or the speed and accuracy of emotional processes (Felner et al. 2007). The trait model acknowledges the subjective nature of emotion and can be assimilated into well-known personality theories.
The competency model identifies competencies as behaviours that reflect upon an individual’s intent upon a situation, they are behaviour manifestations of emotional intelligence (Ryan, Emmerling, and Spencer, 2009). Competencies are susceptible to training and can easily be observed – so are popular commercially, but not particularly practicable as Tom argues; ‘there is no point teaching people to give tissues if they can’t recognise when people are sad’.
So it is at this point of our education that Tom reassures us that now that we know what it is that we are dealing with – we can now think about measuring and hopefully influencing emotional intelligence.
Tom counselled us to proceed with caution when being presented with a measurement for emotional intelligence and to consider which area it was that we would like to consider. Tom recommended forms of measurement for each element of emotional intelligence.
The first was MSCEIT, which measures the ability element of emotional intelligence and identifies emotions through facial expressions and uses this knowledge to affect behaviour through understanding, managing and using emotions. Here Tom talked us through the appropriate mood to meet our in-laws with, giving us the choices of ‘tension’, ‘surprise’ and ‘joy’… For some of us the answer wasn’t as clear as you would have thought…
Tom argued that, although this is the most commonly used measurement of emotional intelligence, it is flawed as it ignores other elements of emotional intelligence.
This led Tom to discuss measuring the trait element of emotional intelligence through the use of TEIQue (Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire, Petrides and Furnham, 2001). This test uses situational questions that cover a broad spectrum from emotionality, wellbeing, sociability and self-control and comes in a short form (30 questions) which is free to use for research purposes.
To measure the competency element of emotional intelligence Tom looked at EQ-I (Emotional Quotient Inventory, Bar-On, 2011) which examines Self-perception, Self-expression, Interpersonal, Decision Making and Stress Management. Unfortunately this test requires whoever administers it to be trained and is quite expensive!
Tom then explored the need for the integration of the different models and relevant measurement, quoting Seal and Andrews – Brown (2010) who articulate the need to validate arguments in support of emotional intelligence theory.
This is the element of emotional intelligence that Tom is addressing through his research.
Tom talked us through the situation of being stuck on a train for two hours next to two people who are arguing..
Tom purported that we would more than likely experience some emotional distress (irritation?)… that we would have the option of a range of behaviours (competencies) in response to our distress, which would be limited by our range of abilities (i.e. to negotiate?).. so Tom argues that we are likely to go for your most dispositional response.. tutting before moving seats (if you’re British).
Which brings Tom onto:
‘An Integrated Model of Affective Individual Difference’. Tom’s research.
Simply put Tom’s argument is that abilities and competencies are like apples into apple sauce:
Abilities and Competencies.
- Trait emotional intelligence captures our preferred or typical response.
- Though trait gives an indication as to what behaviour we are likely to engage with, it is not determined by our ability: it is a preference, not the actual behaviour.
i.e. we could choose to ignore a distressing situation – but this may not be appropriate in the circumstances and we might not be successful in our attempt.
From this understanding Tom has developed his model of integration:
but goes on to remind us that emotional intelligence is part of other models and can’t be seen in isolation:
which Tom explored earlier in the presentation.
So, how does this work in application?
Tom took a group of undergraduate students and took them through a lesson of recognising emotions through facial expression, moving from basics emotions to mixed emotions (recognising that emotions such as ‘bitter sweet’ can be difficult to identify). Tom then asked the students to apply this to real life situations and emotions. Next, Tom then took the students through a self-awareness exercise – identifying their own strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to what their nearest and dearest thought were their weakness and strengths, and to reflect on this.
So, Tom trained his students in emotional intelligence ability, equipping them with a greater emotional understanding of themselves and others which should influence which preferred response they select in future situations, which can therefore be observed by examining their emotional intelligence competencies (behaviours). For Tom’s research he has elected to follow the undergraduate students through to employment to see if their learning has led them to be more successful in obtaining the employment of their choice.
I think Tom makes an excellent argument as to how we should approach emotional intelligence. It seems to make sense to me (the lay person) that we shouldn’t be trying to examine emotional intelligence in isolated elements: there is so much that goes into our behaviour.
Some of the audience wondered if this process could be used in 360 assessments – which Tom thought would be very useful – self-awareness is very important in affecting emotional intelligence competency.
Others in the audience wondered how you could exclude environmental factors, and Tom talked about the importance of understanding and articulating the context of situations – i.e. being at work has an impact on emotional intelligence competencies.
After Tom’s talk many of us stayed behind to discuss what we had learnt, and talked about the importance of bringing emotional intelligence and awareness into schools, but also agreeing with Tom for the need to make sure that using and measuring emotional intelligence needs to be done in a controlled and ethical way – there is a danger in applying these techniques if we aren’t sure what we are doing, and what we are doing could be creating harm.
It seems that Tom’s research will lead us further down the line to structured, holistic and rational understanding of emotional intelligence that can be applied appropriately in our places of work to positive effect.
Has Tom been successful in what he set out to achieve? Well for me Tom has certainly given me theoretical clarity (and education) on emotional intelligence, and this is clearly the way to bring back integrity to the field – and hopefully more effective use in our organisations. Thank you Tom – I will certainly take up your call to arms..
and fight for greater integrity in the assessment and application of models of emotional intelligence.