Emotional Effectiveness - In Theory image

Emotional Effectiveness - In Theory

At the time of writing, my wife is eight days from the due date of delivering our first child. By the time of posting, apparently I won’t be awake enough to complete this, so I had better crack on. (Update: I’m a slow writer. I didn’t crack on. Our beautiful daughter is now 16 days old.)

Let’s recap. The six posts (after the introduction) in this mini-series deal with physical, emotional and mental energy in turn. Two posts per type of energy, following the same structure: (1) In practice, how have participants in the Personal Effectiveness Project got on; (2) In theory, what is this kind of energy and how does it relate to our spiritual lives? I am not including ‘spiritual energy’ as a separate category of its own because I don’t much like the term and I want to explore the relationship of whatever ‘spiritual energy’ is to the other three categories.

Be in no doubt: Emotional intelligence (EI) is important. In one study of 2000 supervisors, middle managers and executives at Case Western Reserve University covering 12 different organisations, researchers identified 16 abilities that distinguished star performers. Here’s what they found: all but two of those 16 abilities were to do with emotional intelligence (see below for examples).

Studies aplenty have been done to back this up. But what is EI? Here’s one definition from JCA (Occupational Psychologists) Ltd.

EI is a combination of skills, attitudes and habits that distinguish superior performance from run-of-the-mill performance. The examples follow are not gospel truth, just some of the definitions of Emotional Intelligence that are out there:
• Emotionally Intelligent people are good at picking up what is going on inside them and doing what they need to do about it. For example, Emotionally Intelligent people have high Personal Power, which means that they believe that they are in charge of, and take sole responsibility for, their outcomes in life.
• Emotionally Intelligent people are good at picking up what is going on inside other people and between people and doing what they need to do about that. For example, Emotionally Intelligent people manage conflict assertively, not passively or aggressively.

One of the great things about EI is that, unlike Rational Intelligence (sometimes known as Intelligence Quotient or IQ), anyone can work on it and improve it significantly1.  Hundreds of organisations, assessments and tools are out there to help you, each with their own approach. In the rest of this post I want to refer to two aspects of EI (as usually defined) that I find troubling.

1. Self-concept or self-regard.
‘Self-concept’, also known as ‘self-regard’, is the extent to which you accept and value yourself. EI tools generally assume that the more self-regard you have the better. Tony Schwartz identified part of the problem with this in one of the books I have been featuring in this series, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. He noted that when leaders and managers have not had their own basic emotional needs satisfied, they often call attention to their own value and disparage others to bolster themselves. He added, “In Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies humility, along with fierce resolve, as one of the two key qualities of CEOs of the most enduringly successful companies2. ”

The problem is that inflated self regard can be a cover for insecurity or can be a genuine sense of entitlement or superiority. In Jesus, we rather see one who was humble, one who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.

Instead of simply advocating high self-regard, I would like to see EI tools use a bi-polar scale in relation to this aspect of EI3.  For example:

To put it another way: An authentic Christian understanding of our own value includes humility. But Christians do not believe that they have no value. “I’m just a worm, woe is me” theology falls short. It was God’s idea that we exist at all! God thinks we are worth dying for! God loves us! These are bigger markers of value than we can imagine. Together with this, we are not God. We are not the centre of the universe.  It is possible to be narcissistic.

2. Personal power.
As defined above, personal power is the extent to which you believe that you are in charge of, and take sole responsibility for, your outcomes in life. As with self-regard, EI tools usually assume that the more personal power you have the better. In this thinking, high personal power equals high EI. I would challenge this. I like the idea of taking responsibility. But sole responsibility? Me in charge of all outcomes in my life? Surely we are part of a bigger story at the centre of which is God, not us! We need either a different, more subtle definition or another bi-polar scale.

None of this is to say that we should avoid works that tell us about Emotional Intelligence, especially the seminal book that Daniel Goleman wrote. We should enjoy their insights actively, asking two questions:
- How is what this author says connected to a philosophy of life? 
- How much sense do the links make between this author’s teaching on emotions and his or her philosophy of life?

Overall then, as Christians being emotionally intelligent should be linked to our philosophy of life. Humility and our self-concept are authentically rooted in the great biblical story of God’s work through Jesus Christ. There can be no greater example!



  • Typically, your IQ rises through your teenage years, peaks in your early 20s and depressingly tails off gradually for the rest of your life. There are exercises you can to do heighten your IQ but only to a small extent, unlike EI which you can develop massively.
  • Pages 142-4.
  • Bi-polar scales are common in some EI tools. A bipolar scale has two ends (also called poles) which in this case are negative behaviours. Some people exhibit behaviour at both poles. Others at just one pole. The ideal is to avoid unipolar or bipolar behaviour and act according to the middle.

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