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Emotional Intelligence – how does the research conceptualise it?

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Most of us all know by now that emotional intelligence (EI) is the key to driving performance, improving relationships, and becoming more successful on every possible measure that we care about as humans. But it is a relatively new area with a rapidly growing body of knowledge as social scientists all over the world swarm to this new frontier of discovery. Many studies have repeatedly shown that people with high EI have greater mental health, job performance, are financially better off, have stronger long-term relationships and are seen by others to have greater leadership skills.

One model, in particular, has recently caught my eye. The Salovey, Mayer, and Caruso model published in 2012. This model contains 141 areas summarised in eight tasks which belonged to four main branches of EI. Its purpose is to assess EI in an individual according to each dimension, but I also think it provides an interesting conceptual framework for EI as well.

Branch 1 is the perceiving emotion branch. It looks at your ability to identify emotion in physical and psychological expressions. It is the ability to express, describe emotions accurately, and to recognise when emotions are articulated inaccurately.

Branch 2 is the ability to use emotions to redirect and prioritise thinking on the basis of associated feelings. Basically, it’s your ability to identify and reframe your thinking to change your reality and others.        

Branch 3 is to what depth you understand different emotions and their impact for yourself and others, including when many emotions are being experienced at the same time – referred to as blended emotion. This also includes your ability to identify when emotion intensity changes and when one emotion turns into another one.        

Branch 4 is your openness to pleasant and unpleasant emotions, and accurately reflect on those emotions without judgment.       

I like this model because it reinforces the idea that EI is not a personality trait, or something less mailable like EQ, it is a learned ability that we can train and build over time. Yes, some of us are more naturally talented at it than others, but we can all learn it. When reading these four branches, how did you go thinking about your own capability in each of these areas? All of us can keep developing each of these dimensions, it’s one of those lifelong journeys, the key is sticking at it and exercising your EI muscles regularly.


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