When Being Good Enough Is Better Than Being the Best

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he described the story of Lewis Terman – an American psychologist who tracked children with high IQ scores. He found that although many of them went on to great successes in their careers, there were some who underachieved relative to their perceived potential.

Gladwell argues that after a certain threshold of IQ, it makes very little difference in how applicable their genius really is. For instance, the US winners of the Nobel Prize tend to come from a variety of different universities, not just the Ivy League schools reserved for the upper echelons of genius students. Albert Einstein had a high IQ of 150, but there are people out there with IQs of around 200 that dropped out of university and now work in menial jobs.

Of course, as Daniel Goleman would attest to in his book Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence is just as important as IQ in determining career success. An extremely ‘smart’ individual would find it difficult to navigate the world if he had little social awareness or issues with emotions like anger or extreme sadness.

This leads to the question whether companies should follow “affirmative action” guidelines to hire a more diverse set of individuals for their firms, at the expense of hiring the “best-qualified” candidates. While it would be foolish to hire a lawyer with an IQ of 70 because they fit a racial quota, most people who apply to be a lawyer would have an IQ above around 120 anyway. After this threshold, the more important factors are those such as communication skills, strength of character and creative ideas. A member of another social class, religion, race, sexuality and gender are more likely to add to the pool of collective knowledge and ideas too. The concept of diverse thinking is further demonstrated in Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.

What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Intelligent?

Emotional intelligence is a phrase we see loosely throw about in conversations, but what does it actually mean to be emotionally intelligent?

Yale psychologist, Peter Salovey, split emotional intelligence into five domains:

Knowing One’s Emotions

The more we understand our own emotions as they arise, the more self-aware we become and better able we are to describe how we are feeling. We are also better equipped to deal with whatever emotions crop up from moment to moment. An inability to recognize emotions in ourselves leaves us at their mercy. Being in tune with our emotion leads to more certainty in decision-making and we trust ourselves more.

Managing emotions

This builds on the self-awareness of emotion. When we recognize that we are irritable, sad, angry, or anxious, can we soothe ourselves or find a way to act towards a goal despite of these negative emotions? An inability to do this can lead to impulsive decisions or a constant battling of distress.

Motivating oneself

Success towards a goal is largely attributed to delayed gratification and impulsive control. The more we can manage our emotions and still do what we set out to do, the more chance we have of succeeding. Emotions can hijack the brain and without the willpower we can go astray. Being able to enter a ‘flow’ state is another skill emotionally intelligent people are adept at, so that time passes by without distraction.

Recognizing emotions in others

This is probably what most people think of when they hear the term ’emotional intelligence’. How empathic are we? Can we recognize when someone is starting to get irritated, or feeling sad or happy? The more that we understand how someone is feeling, the more we will understand what they need and want. This is crucial for career paths in sales, management, teaching, and caring professions.

Handling relationships

This all culminates in how we are able to handle our relationships effectively. Our quality of life is often attributed to the quality of our relationships, so the better that we can manage the emotions of ourselves and others in our important relationships, the more fulfilled we will be. Having a high emotional intelligence will enable us to become better intimate partners, better to work with, and better to spend time with.

Each individual varies in how well they rank in the five domains of emotional intelligence. Some people may be better at soothing someone else when they are upset, but when they are upset themselves they may find it difficult. Others may be self-aware but oblivious to the subtle cues that others give to them in a social setting.

Even so, what we should all recognize is that our emotional intelligence can be learned, even if some people seem more naturally adept than others. Our brains are remarkably plastic – they can be shaped and biologically influenced based on our input.

Personally, I found that I became much more attuned to other people’s emotions after working in sales because I was engaging in much more face-to-face communication, and it was important for me to get better at it.

Daniel Goleman puts forth in his book Emotional Intelligence that EQ is much more predictive in success than IQ. As a social species, it’s hard to disagree.

Do Children Stop Playing or Carry on When Someone Gets Hurt?

According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, girls are much more likely than boys to stop their games if someone becomes upset or hurt. In boys’ games, the upset boy is expected to move out of the way so the game can continue.

This shows that there is a disparity in the way that boys and girls respond emotionally, even at a young age. Girls are more occupied with minimizing hostility and maximizing co-operation, while boys are more focused on competition, independence and toughness.

I can testify to the boys’ side of this phenomenon: When I split my chin open playing football in school, the game continued on and I resumed once I had gotten successfully patched up by the school nurse. While skateboarding there have been times where people have hurt themselves – if they haven’t moved out of the way they are gently asked to. Obviously there have been times where the injury has been serious enough to stop the game too.

Goleman explains that differences between genders like these can lead to a deficiency in how men and women communicate with each other in intimate relationships. By increasing our emotional intelligence, we can more often become conscious of how the other is feeling, and communicate better.

Want to know more about the five domains of emotional intelligence? Click here.