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Consumer Reports

Think you're smart? Can you tell what's on her mind? | (KRT) Do you know when your spouse's angry tirade is actually masking fear? Or how to handle a colleague who takes credit for your work? Are you comfortable confiding in friends? Can you hold your tongue when under stress?

If you answered no to the above questions, you might want to sharpen your emotional intelligence - the ability to understand emotions and to respond to them effectively.

Just 13 years after John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey of Yale coined the term "emotional intelligence," the concept has gained currency as being just as important as cognitive intelligence in determining success - if not more so.

Even professional bean counters are getting the message. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has adopted a vision statement calling emotional intelligence an extremely important skill for the profession. How so? Because good accountants must be perceptive, persuasive and problem solvers - all of which relate to facets of emotional intelligence.

Researchers agree that high achievers often are highly emotionally intelligent, particularly those in fields that demand keen insight into others' motivations and feelings - chief executives, salespeople, therapists and military leaders, for example.

But there's disagreement over exactly what constitutes emotional intelligence, how to measure it and whether it matters more than IQ.

According to psychologists Mayer and Salovey, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify emotions in yourself and others and to apply the information to guide thought and action. Mayer and Salovey see emotional intelligence as a mental aptitude that can be measured using responses to specific questions and tasks.

Reuven Bar-On, an Israeli clinical psychologist who was the first to attempt to measure what he called "emotional quotient," frames the concept as part of a personality theory. His BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory test (EQ-i) uses reaction to various statements to gauge skills such as adaptability and stress management ("When I disagree with someone, I'm able to say so").

Howard Gardner, a psychology and education professor at Harvard University, prefers the term "personal intelligence." In 1983, Gardner published his groundbreaking theory of multiple intelligences. He divides intelligence into seven areas: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. The last two constitute personal intelligence, which Gardner says is the ability to understand people's feelings and motivations.

Daniel Goleman, a former New York Times science reporter whose 1995 book "Emotional Intelligence" wound up on the best-seller list, studied to what degree three types of competencies determine who becomes a top performer. After comparing the contributions from technical skills (such as programming), purely cognitive abilities (analytical reasoning) and emotional-intelligence abilities (conflict resolution, customer service), Goleman concluded that "in general, the higher a position in an organization, the more emotional intelligence mattered. For individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies were in the emotional-intelligence domain."

Outstanding leaders tend to be self-aware (understanding their own needs, weaknesses and values); in control of their feelings and impulses (thoughtful, reasonable); socially aware (empathetic); and socially skillful (influential, clear, collaborative), Goleman said.

High emotional intelligence can be an asset, even in fields that would appear to have little need for it, said Michael Akers, a professor of accounting at Marquette University in Milwaukee. For example, if company executives and their auditors disagree about the proper way to record a financial transaction, repeatedly reciting applicable accounting rules might not be enough to break the impasse, Akers said.

"You have to understand where they're coming from as well as try to influence them," Akers said.

Other examples abound from the business world that emotional intelligence can make a deep difference in the bottom line.

When cosmetic giant L'Oreal tested and selected salespeople based on certain emotional skills, they outsold the traditional hires by an average of $90,000 a year.

The U.S. Air Force used the EQ-i test to screen recruiters, and found that the most successful hires were also the ones who had the highest emotional-intelligence scores.

But Gardner of Harvard cautions that emotional intelligence isn't a universal advantage. Low emotional intelligence in a Boeing engineer, for instance, might not be nearly as much of a disadvantage as it would be for, say, a basketball coach.

"If you want to predict a successful computer programmer or professor of Sanskrit, you will look at different intelligences than if you want to predict a successful salesman or politician," Gardner said. "Obviously, the personal intelligences are more important in the latter cases."

Salovey, the Yale psychology professor who originated the term emotional intelligence, said the biggest misconception about it "is that it matters more than intellectual quotient when, in fact, we really don't know."

Salovey helped develop the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT, pronounced mesquite), the world's first ability-based test for emotional intelligence. The test contains 141 questions in eight task areas, such as reading facial expressions, understanding how one emotion can morph into another and ascertaining which moods might be most useful for tackling different kinds of problems.

Salovey draws a distinction between emotional-intelligence abilities and personalities or character traits such as optimism and empathy. The former is aptitude, the latter behavior.

For example, former Tacoma, Wash., Police Chief David Brame, who shot his wife and then committed suicide on April 26, reportedly failed a mental exam two decades ago. Such psychological tests would have measured Brame's character traits, such as whether he was angry or depressed. MSCEIT, on the other hand, measures how skillful Brame would have been in managing those traits, said David Caruso, a co-author of MSCEIT.

Kathy Kram, professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management, said emotional intelligence - or "emotional competence," as she calls it - is assumed to be a requisite for success in business. Kram said some younger students challenge that notion, but older students with more work experience are less skeptical.

She said there are corporate titans who have succeeded despite shortcomings in emotional intelligence. But leaders who rule by fear or who are autocratic can unwittingly undermine their effectiveness by stifling creativity and motivation or by failing to articulate their vision.

Kram points to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a vivid example of how emotional intelligence can enhance leadership skills. Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Giuliani had a reputation as a combative and egotistical politician. But his sensitivity and empathy toward the victims of the attacks more than rehabilitated his image and catapulted him into a national leadership role.

"The crisis provided him an opportunity to demonstrate his emotional intelligence," Kram said.

Gardner said people with low emotional intelligence needn't necessarily stay stuck there.

"Mathematical and musical intelligence probably rise most rapidly, reach a high point, and are difficult to enhance after adolescence," he said. "On the other hand, the personal intelligences may well improve throughout life."

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services