About EI

Emotional Intelligence – EI – means different things to different people. In our view, EI is an intelligence and emotions contain data. We’ve all seen how our emotions and those of others can derail us and impair decision making. But emotions also inspire us, help us make good decisions, and make life meaningful.

In our approach, EI is defined and measured as a set of skills. These skills are:

  • Accurately perceiving emotions
  • Matching emotions to help you think and to connect
  • Understanding the causes of emotions, how they change and how to describe complex feelings
  • Managing emotions so they can be used to motivate, inspire and problem solve while not overwhelming us


About Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth – Mayer & Salovey, 1997.


What is emotional intelligence? The answer depends upon who you ask. With the publication of the book by psychologist Daniel Goleman in 1995, interest in this heretofore obscure field greatly increased. What we are seeing now is that the various approaches that were once called emotional intelligence are beginning to differentiate. Thus, you will see models and assessments and workshops using the following labels:

  • Socio-Emotional Learning
  • Emotional Competencies
  • Competencies
  • Soft Skills
  • Emotionally Intelligent Behavior

It is important to note that the history of the field is still being written. Mayer and Salovey have cited previous publications that used the term emotional intelligence and they generally do not credit themselves with inventing the term. Nevertheless, their publications in the field have been extremely influential and have formed the basis for much of the academic research and thinking in the field.

The focus of this page and website is on the ability model of emotional intelligence that was developed by Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey. Comparisons with other approaches are also made on this page. But I have a strong bias in favor of this ability model, so keep that in mind as you read further.


Two psychologists – John (Jack) Mayer, Ph.D. of the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey, Ph.D. of Yale University – published two academic papers on emotional intelligence in 1990.

Salovey and Mayer defined emotional intelligence as the: “Ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” (1990).

A psychologist, Dr. Daniel Goleman, took some of Mayer and Salovey’s theory, combined it with a broad-based look at motivation, personality and various abilities,  and turned out a best-selling book titled Emotional Intelligence. Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, notes: “… John Mayer, a University of New Hampshire psychologist who, with Yale’s Peter Salovey, is a coformulator of the theory of emotional intelligence.” The book presents a cogent and well-written argument for the importance of “soft skills”.


Let’s start by examining two different dimensions – emotion and intelligence – which comprise emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotion?

We all know what emotion is, right? Perhaps not, as consulting the dictionary presents a not-very-helpful definition of the term: “an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness” (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1973, p. 467)

In turn, the dictionary defines affective as: “pertaining to feeling or emotion, especially to pleasurable or unpleasurable aspects of a mental process.” (p. 24)

What comes out of this exercise is that emotion is distinct from cognition (thinking) and volition (will, or motivation). There are three states of mind, then, three ways in which we can view ourselves and our world.

What Is Intelligence?

Intelligence has been defined in many different ways. The definition which makes the most sense for our purposes is as follows: “intelligence is a set of cognitive abilities which allow us to acquire knowledge, to learn and to solve problems”.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence must somehow combine two of the three states of mind: cognition and affect, or intelligence and emotion. Emotional Intelligence is defined by Mayer and Salovey as follows:

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth – Mayer & Salovey, 1997.

These four areas are further defined, as follows:

Perceiving Emotions – the ability to recognize how you and those around you are feeling.
Using Emotions to Facilitate Thought – the ability to generate an emotion, and then reason with this emotion. (Also called Emotional Facilitation of Thought, or Assimilating Emotions.)
Understanding Emotions – the ability to understand complex emotions and emotional “chains”, how emotions transition from one stage to another.
Managing Emotions – the ability which allows you to manage emotions in your self and in others.

Heart and Head Combined

It is very important to understand that Emotional Intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of head over heart – it is the unique intersection of both. Think about the definition of emotion, intelligence, and especially, of the three parts of our mind – affect/emotion, cognition/thinking, volition/motivation. Emotional Intelligence combines affect with cognition, emotion with intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, then, is the ability to use your emotions to help you solve problems and live a more effective life. Emotional intelligence without intelligence, or intelligence without emotional intelligence, is only part of a solution. It is the head working with the heart.


We walk a fine line when we discuss emotional intelligence and its importance. On the one hand, we firmly reject the popular presses’ notion that emotional intelligence is critical in all aspects of our life. We also reject the idea that emotional intelligence is about being a “nice guy” or just a new name for old ideas. On the other hand, we do believe that emotional intelligence can play some sort of role in leadership, career development and our work-life. This role is being defined as we speak, through empirical research and theorizing.

Emotional intelligence does not and should not be thought of as a replacement or substitute for ability, knowledge or job skills. Emotional intelligence is hypothesized to enhance workplace outcomes but does not guarantee it in the absence of suitable skills. Applications of emotional intelligence in the workplace may include these:

Career Development – If you have an aptitude for understanding people, and yourself, perhaps you should consider a people-intensive career such as those in the mental health field. (I am not a big believer in use of the MSCEIT – or any EI assessment – for selection. You would need to do job analyses and research before using any such tool.)

Management Development – Managers who focus on their technical skills do not manage, they’re just in charge. Understanding and enhancing emotional intelligence may enhance certain management skills and styles.

Team Effectiveness – Teams are more than the sum of the individual parts. The glue which holds teams together may be supplied by emotional intelligence.

The Limits of Emotional Intelligence At Work

Would you hire someone who lacked the technical skills to do the job? Most of us wouldn’t, unless of course they possessed the ability to learn the job-related skills quickly. Would you hire a person who had great technical skills but sorely lacked the skills of emotional intelligence? Perhaps you would, and perhaps you wouldn’t. It should depend upon the nature of the position. Some jobs require a higher level of emotional intelligence than others, such as that of a programmer. Some jobs may actually require emotional intelligence as a critical, job-related skill, such as that of a social worker.

As noted previously, research on the topic is new. In addition, emotional intelligence is not going to be shown to be critical to success in all careers and jobs. In fact, it may prove in some cases that being emotionally intelligent has a negative impact on job performance.

We do believe that emotional intelligence – defined as an ability – is something new and unique. However, popular claims that it is “twice as important as IQ” can be  misleading for a few reasons. First, in professional areas, everyone is smart and there is a limited range of IQ. So, other skills may differentiate the stars from the mid-level folks. Second, the impact of analytic intelligence (IQ) is lower in some areas of our lives, such as marital success. That allows other factors, that is, non-IQ factors, to play a relatively greater role in positive outcomes.


One of the most powerful and unique aspects of this four-branch model is that it is simple to understand and to apply. We can teach people to employ the model to assist them in integrating emotion and thinking. Consider these steps:

Perceive Emotions: How do I feel? How does the other person feel?

Using Emotions to Facilitate Thought: Is the mood helpful? Does it focus our attention, motivate us, or blind us?

Understand Emotions: Why do I feel this way? Why does the other person feel this way? How will we feel?

Manage Emotions: Do the decision and actions include emotional and logical data to achieve an adaptive outcome?


Why Does It Matter?

For many people, emotional intelligence serves as a Rorschach inkblot – they read into it all sorts of things! For others, emotional intelligence is anything that is not IQ. This has resulted in a number of trainers, therapists, consultants, teacher, etc., labeling their work as emotional intelligence.

There are many approaches to emotional intelligence. It is extremely important that you become an educated consumer. My major concern is that you have a deep understanding of the field so that you can intelligently select your measures and your goals and your methods. I will try to provide you with information on various approaches to the topic, and focus on the Mayer-Salovey approach, which you can judge it on its own merits.

The Mayer-Salovey model is an intelligence-based and ability-oriented approach. As such, it seems to offer a new way to look at intelligence and what it means. I believe that this field will undergo a major re-engineering effort. Let’s take a look at some alternative views of the field.

The MSCEIT’s Limits

If I want you to be constructively critical when evaluating EI models and assessment then I need to do the same. Our assessment is unique and powerful, but it has its limitations. Without adequate explanation, some clients find it “different”. The factor structure has not always been replicated, nor have others achieved our reliability numbers. It’s really hard to give feedback on the MSCEIT because people are often poor at estimating their own EI. It calls for a sophisticated approach to feedback, one we’ve developed over thousands of feedback sessions.

There is a huge body of work on facial recognition, emotion management, and other areas. Even the venerable Wechsler scales contain items that are somewhat similar to certain MSCEIT tasks. The MSCEIT may be unique in bringing together a variety of ability measures of emotion and emotional intelligence. Furthermore, the MSCEIT merely samples from the universe of emotional intelligence abilities.