EQ Over IQ: We Need Emotional Intelligence

emotional intelligence lesson

When I was in the fifth grade, my reading teacher Mr. Feerick forever transformed the way I think about emotional intelligence. With a glass of water.

During this time, my classmates and I had entered an age when self-comparison begins in earnest. Contests were held to determine who was the “smartest in the class”. Cruelly, it also meant determining who was the “dumbest”. These tests took their basis from word games and logic puzzles and from the grades doled out by our well-meaning teachers. Say what you will about the unfeelingness of youngsters. But, truth be told: we were taking our cue from the adults in our lives, who judged our success and influenced our sense of self-worth with similar metrics. What we might call a conventional approach to the measurement of intelligence, codified with the intimidating acronym: IQ.

A lesson through a glass of water

Mr. Feerick, ever the unpredictable maestro, pulled two empty glasses from his desk. One was nearly twice as large as the other.

“I have two sons,” he said. “When they were small we had their IQs tested. One scored off-the-charts, a certifiable genius, and the other landed solidly among the average.”

He told us to imagine the cups as metaphors for his sons’ relative volumes of intelligence. They were the limits of their cognitive ability. With a pitcher of water, he filled the larger cup about halfway. With thesmaller one, he filled it right up to the brim, so that it exceeded the waterline of the other.

He explained that his son with the higher IQ leaned on his natural intelligence. Thus, he skated effortlessly through his work in school. This happened all the way through college. When he got out, he expected the world would bend to his will. What he met with, again and again, was frustration.

On the other hand, his other son knew his success would require serious effort. Through the course of his education, he learned to ask for help and to collaborate with his fellows. He solved problems creatively and overcame challenges through teamwork. Now, after many years of hard work, of failures and successes, he was the CEO of a large healthcare company.

Our teacher smiled and many in the class breathed a silent sigh of relief. The lesson was clear. Success in life is not about the size of your cup but how much you manage to fill it.

What is emotional intelligence?

It turns out that Mr. Feerick’s wisdom was prophetic. Research across the spectrum of Education Studies reports that, when it comes to success in the workplace, IQ is a weaker factor than its counterpart: EQ, or Emotional Intelligence.

So, what is Emotional Intelligence?

It’s a skill that begins with empathy, the ability to feel deeply the emotions of another. Emotional empathy is one of our most primal evolutionary traits and functions as the glue binding together our interpersonal relationships. It occurs within the family, at work, and among society at large. When emotional empathy is paired with an ability to negotiate and mediate the emotions of others and to manage one’s own emotions in relation to the larger emotional matrix of a community, one is practicing Cognitive Empathy.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace

Researchers writing for the Harvard Business Review name Cognitive Empathy as the master skill of effective leadership. They cite examples of workplaces managed by bosses with and without an awareness of two factors. These were their employees’ emotional needs and their own emotional leadership styles.

Moody and negative managers who lead with rigid expectations create work environments full of tense and fearful employees. This method may achieve short-term success, but almost always fails to clock long-term, sustainable growth.

This is intuitive stuff. We all know what a slog it is to work under an uninspiring and inauthentic manager. Alternatively, we know how exciting it can be to work with a leader who makes us believe that anything is possible by the sheer force of their optimism and authenticity.

The Review notes that there is an “incontrovertible link between an executive’s emotional maturity, exemplified by such capabilities as self-awareness and empathy, and his or her financial performance”. There are cynical warnings about the “real world” and its emphasis on cutthroat strategies of achievement. However, it turns out that kindness really does carry you a long way indeed.

Students everywhere who struggle with what they perceive to be the limits of their conventional intelligence should be inspired by this news. Intelligence is a broad and intricately complex set of skills, only some of which can be indicated by IQ tests. And the living world, the world beyond the classroom, listens with greater care to the leader who listens back.

About the Author

Tommy R.

Tommy R.

Tommy is an experienced writing tutor at Gooroo, a tutoring membership that matches students to tutors perfect for them based on their unique learning needs. Gooroo offers Math, English, SAT, Coding, Spanish tutoring, and more.