Anywhere I go to speak I’m asked, “How can I understand what emotional intelligence (EI) is without having to get a PhD in it?” The short answer is, you know it when you see it and you definitely know it when it’s missing.When it’s there, you probably feel attracted to a person (not necessarily physically); you feel enlarged or at least respected. When it is lacking, you feel like something is amiss or it may be so obvious that everybody in the room just feels bad. If you feel threatened, intimidated, angry, anxious, deeply sad and so on after an interaction with someone…there’s a good chance one or both of you is handling the situation without the best of emotional intelligence.

Since that’s probably not enough to quench the curiosity thirst for most people, in a nutshell, it’s the ability to understand your own and others emotions before, during and after an emotionally charged event and act accordingly to bring about the best possible outcome. It’s managing emotions before they get the best of you, because left to their own devices, emotions are messy and do not pay attention to reason. That’s why they have to be given intelligence. As seminal EI researcher Reuven BarOn, PhD says, EI is basically the measurement of common sense, wisdom, street smarts.

EI helps us to understand why IQ is not as good a predictor of workplace and life success as we originally thought starting about 70 years ago. IQ is a great predictor of test scores and entrance exams, but it doesn’t tell you how a person will succeed in the long term. As a matter of fact, people with high IQs often exhibit more derailment (demotions, loss of job, loss of relationships, depression, etc.) than those with more moderate IQ. IQ gets you in the door, but EI moves you up the ladder. There are those who moved up the ladder without a ton of EI because they clawed and punched their way up. They often derail in a blaze of dishonor, but alas, sometimes you get a jerk or two running the show. It takes good EI to deal with that.

EI Models and Measurements

There are many emotional intelligence models out there and suffice it to say that they mostly measure the same thing with some exceptions. There is a great deal of argument over just what constitutes an emotional intelligence attribute. But, I say pick a model and go into it wholeheartedly. There are several measurements of EI. The thing yo want to do is ask about the validity of the instrument. Ask for the “psychometrics” of the instrument and if it’s not your bag of tricks to understand them, ask someone who understands statistics of behavioral instruments to interpret. Basically you want to know if it measures what it says it is; if there is a high degree of correlation of success in those who exhibit the attribute and failure in those who do not; and if people who are high in a certain attribute answer certain questions in the same way over and over again.

At my company use the EQ-i® and EQ-i®-360 for a variety of reasons and have great success. Other instruments to consider are the ECI, MSCEIT, HeartMath, SSI and so on. Whatever you do, do the homework to determine the best instrument for you.

So…we could go on for days about what is EI and what it isn’t. All day long you will witness EI and the lack of it. Learn from those experiences. That in itself is a great way to learn about those street smarts.