How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman highlights three ways to measure strengths and weaknesses.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

How smart do you think you are? Try rating your IQ on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 at the high end). Now on the same scale, how do you rank your emotional intelligence?

I often use this exercise to clarify the differences between IQ scores and EI (the term I much prefer over “EQ”). And I add this: “The better question is, in what ways are you emotionally intelligent?’

Unlike IQ, we don’t have a single emotional intelligence score. My model of emotional intelligence includes twelve learnable competencies; you likely have strengths in some competencies and limitations in others. We all do.

It’s also difficult to get a full picture of our EI by just rating ourselves. We all have blind spots, limitations we don’t see (though they may be glaringly clear to people who know us well). People low in the emotional intelligence competence of self-awareness, for example, would likely rate themselves better in that ability than would their colleagues and direct-reports.  

Whether you simply want to gauge your emotional intelligence or use EI for training or development within your organization, well-validated EI assessments offer reliable, research-based tools. There are three major approaches to assessing EI. The situation in which you want to use an assessment can inform your choice.

The first kind is the “self-assessment” or “trait” approach. Individuals answer questions based on their self-perceptions. For example: “I am good at reading other people’s feelings.” Tests using this approach yield a high correlation with personality test results. And while sometimes used in conjunction with a 360-style assessment to gain a more complete picture, the type of questions asked–which relate to the test taker’s self-perceptions and inner world–are often difficult for others to answer accurately.

The second approach tests for “ability-level” EI. Developed in the tradition of IQ testing, questions on these assessments include hypothetical scenarios in which the test taker must choose a course of action, as well as identify peoples’ emotions from photos. Scores on this kind of assessment tend to correlate with cognitive intelligence. Tests of ability EI don’t account for our actions.

The final approach assesses “behavioral level” or “competency-based” EI. The questions on these assessments measure how often people utilize EI competencies in their daily lives. For example: “Sarah initiates actions to improve her performance.” My colleague, Richard Boyatzis, cites data supporting this approach in a new research article. Since much training and development aims to help leaders change the way they behave, measuring EI in this way opens a path to benefit leadership development. 

Competency-based assessments, like the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI), typically use a 360-degree format in which individuals assess themselves and also receive anonymous feedback aggregated from evaluations by people they choose, whose opinions are trustworthy and valuable. Instead of combining 360 results into a single “others” view, the ESCI creates categories based on the raters’ relationship to the focal person. This prevents one or two extreme scores from distorting the overall results. And the opportunity to compare the views of subordinates, peers, bosses, customers, and sometimes personal relationships like spouses/partners and friends can reveal eye-opening insights. Particularly important are competencies where the self-rating is much higher than how others see the person–or where a manager gives much lower ratings than do friends.

I recommend you use EI assessments purely for professional development, not for annual performance reviews.

Finally, a word from the Scottish poet Robert Burns, in praise of this valuable feedback:

Oh would some power the gift give us,

To see ourselves as others see us.


Click here to learn about Daniel Goleman’s facilitated online courses.