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Emotional and Cognitive Intelligence

Cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence have both been widely examined with regard to their effect on individual workplace abilities. A critical comparison of the two concepts will be the basis of this essay. Some theorists have hypothesised that the ease with which an employee can process information and work towards solutions (our cognitive intelligence) is the key aspect in our ability to contribute to the workplace, particularly in more complex environments (Viswesvaran & Ones, 2002).

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While others support the theory that our ability to use and adapt to emotion (our emotional intelligence; EI) has the greatest affect on our organisational involvement (Cherniss, Extein, Goleman, & Weissberg, 2006). Through exploration of both theories, and their respective strengths and weaknesses coupled with their practical applications, this essay will aim to support the, perhaps rather diplomatic, view that the two concepts are not only equally important but, in fact, complementary (Cote & Miners, 2006).

Since the emergence of emotional intelligence as a theoretical construct in the work of Salovey and Mayer (1989) there has been much debate surrounding its precise definition (Spector and Johnson, 2006). Despite these deliberations EI has come to be accepted as an one’s ability to recognise, project and shape their own emotions, and identify and appropriately respond to the emotions of others (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000). Furthermore, through research EI has become widely acknowledged for its organisational importance.

Organisational leadership is purportedly more likely in individuals with high EI abilities (Rosete & Ciarrochi, 2005) while Kirch, Tucker, and Kirch (2001) speculated that accounting firms’ sole focus on cognitive capabilities when recruiting may lead to unhappy working environments. A popular method of testing for EI in research is the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso emotional intelligence test (MSCEIT) (Cherniss, 2010; Cote & Miners, 2006). When a store manager recognises one of their staff is stressed or unhappy and offers them a break, some time off or even counselling they are employing their EI skills.

It is estimated that anywhere up to 80% of our business potential is dependant on these skills, with only 20% of an individual’s organisational success based on their cognitive abilities (Kirch et al. , 2001). This leaves little doubt about its importance in business. In complete contrast, cognitive intelligence is not a debatable concept. Generally speaking cognitive intelligence refers to an individual’s quantitative abilities, such as memory, problem solving and the ability to absorb and then utilise information (Cote & Miners, 2006).

It has been studied in relation to the workforce for well over 80 years (Viswesveran & Ones, 2002), and it is quite obviously a valued attribute in wider society. We extensively test the cognitive abilities of our Year 12s in the examinations for the Higher School Certificate; receptionists are tested on their typing skills based on a words-per-minute measurement, and individuals are even asked to complete a comprehension task when the apply for training in the police force – physical ability alone is not sufficient.

Cognitive intelligence is used every day; remembering to pick something up from the store, or calculating the total of the bill in a restaurant are examples of everyday cognitive capabilities. As such it is highly valued in jobs of elevated practical and mathematical expertise, such as linguistics or laboratory science. Some might even say the value placed upon these strengths is too high, but we will elaborate on that later.

The existence and importance of emotional intelligence in life and work is virtually indisputable. Every time a sales manager sits down with a new recruit to ensure they are comfortable and prepared before their first cold call, or a doctor shields his fear about a potentially dangerous diagnosis to keep the patient calm, EI is in use. However, perhaps its greatest limitation lies in the ambiguity and near-cliche of the term itself (Cherniss, 2010).

It has been studied and elaborated upon so much, that what was initially a concise realm of specificity, has – particularly in the area of EI testing – become convoluted by measures of social intelligence and emotional and social competencies (Cherniss, 2010), which while similar to EI do distinctly deviate from the generally accepted Mayer et al. 2000 model of it. Some measures even include tests of cognitive intelligence, the concept with which it is supposedly in direct contrast. This has led to criticism about whether or not measures of EI have construct validity (Cherniss, 2010).

From a theoretical standpoint the equivocality regarding an agreed definition of EI most specifically affects the theorists studying the concept. From an organisational perspective the practical implications of uncertainty surround the measurement of the concept, as opposed to its definition. For example if an organisation relies heavily on a team which is cohesive, cooperative and connected to one another the business may screen potential employees to ensure they will suit the role using a measure of emotional intelligence.

Here in lay the problem; if a construct cannot be clearly defined, how can a test every truly have construct validity – how can the variables indicating an particular outcome ever be accurate, when we do not know exactly what we are measuring? Moreover, a focus on EI within businesses and organisations could have significant drawbacks. Unavoidable though it may be, if EI is the sole focus when staffing a coffee shop, the outcome may be a lack of efficacy, drive and direction.

For example, if all of the staff are preoccupied with the emotions of their co-workers and are constantly self-monitoring their behaviour so as to maintain absolute harmony within the team, the focus will be on the relationships rather than the task at hand. Similarly cognitive intelligence is an important component of not only our work lives, but also our everyday lives. You would not allow an electrician to delve into your fuse box if they did not have the capacity to understand its complexities – nor would they have been employed in the field in the first place.

In the same sense, an individual might struggle to make it to work punctually without the ability to comprehend the bus timetable. With that in mind however it is important to recognise the limitations of cognitive intelligence. If you take for example the Graduate Australian Medical Schools Admission Test (GAMSAT) which future Australian medical, dental and optometry students must take in order to be allowed into their preferred degree. The role of the test is to gauge the cognitive abilities of the individual, given the sophisticated level of learning required.

However, few universities in Australia allow, even a high GAMSAT scorer, entry into a medical degree without the successful completion of a face-to-face interview because demonstration of their emotional intelligence capabilities is a vital aspect of this job, and one could argue all fields of work. If all the lawyers in a law firm possessed only cognitive abilities, they would likely complete tasks with a great deal of efficiency and accuracy. However when it came to recognising distress, sadness or indeed any emotion in a client being questioned on the stand, they may fail o even recognise the discord. It has also been acknowledged that even though cognitive testing is widely recognised as valid and reliable (Viswesvaran and Ones, 2002), there is always the possibility that an individual with a high score on an accepted measure of cognitive intelligence such as the Stanford-Binet IQ test (Wood et al. 2010), will perform poorly in a workplace deemed below their individual capacity, and in reverse someone with a low cognitive expectancy may perform well in a role of great complexity (Viswesvaran & Ones, 2002).

Explanations for these variances are broad, and generally speak to the fluidity of the concepts. In spite of what is clearly a myriad of conflicting research studies, basic logic gives rise to the theory that both types of intelligence have their strengths in the workforce. Emotional intelligence accounts for very subjective every day workplace experiences such as the friendships we form; and moreover the evolutionary path of EI could also be said to be responsible for the development of things like bereavement leave, exit interviews, employer counselling facilities and team building seminars or meetings.

The en masse emotions and moods of employees throughout the past few decades – and the highly emotionally intelligent people who observed these emotions – could arguably be said to have paved the way for these positive changes in policy and corporate development. Judging emotional intelligence strictly by a measure of success potentially contributes to the perception that it is a weak concept. It is possible that emotional intelligence is related to beneficial outcomes that cannot be measured by a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in business.

For example Cherniss, 2010 cited various researches that indicated EI contributed to personal wellbeing, improved interpersonal relations and even a reduction in the likelihood of depression and drug use. Aside from the obvious strength of giving people the ability to complete work related tasks, the abundance of attributes under the umbrella of cognitive intelligence is probably the greatest asset of the cognitive family. The boundaries of cognition are vast; the concept covers memory, mathematical processing, verbal reasoning, perception, memory, visual processing, judging, use of language and many other elements.

Thus it is almost impossible to be completely lacking in cognitive strength generally. As indicated by Viswesvaran and Ones (2002) and Cote and Miners (2006), if one is weak in a particular cognitive area they will likely compensate with strength in another. For example, a mathematics professor is an obvious candidate for someone with immense cognitive power, however if that same professor always forgets his keys or where his car is parked, this is a cognitive failure. Therefore it is possible to be cognitively strong, and therefore potentially productive in the workplace, if you have capabilities in just some cognitive areas.

From an organisational perspective the application of the both the cognitive and EI constructs often takes place in the recruitment phase. Before an applicant can be invited for an interview at Flight Centre Limited a series of tests must first be completed. The first is a detailed cognitive task involving mathematical equations, logic and reasoning as well as a test of personality and emotional ability to assess your emotional compatibility with the brand. While this approach has its limitations, as detailed above, generally speaking it is a productive process of elimination.

Organisations also support cognitive abilities with training days, and development beyond the expectations of an individual’s role. For example a hairdresser has the cognitive intelligence to cut hair, the employer may develop the employees cognitive abilities by having their staff learn make-up application techniques. This in turn develops the employee’s cognitive skills, with the real-life benefits of giving the staff more professional development and offering the employer another approach to gaining more business.

A staff member of a newspaper might have great writing ability, but insufficient grammatical skills; in response an employer might offer that employee a sub-editing course to hone those cognitive deficiencies. With the exception of the recruitment phase of a business, the theory of emotional intelligence is much less tangible and therefore more difficult to apply in an organisation. It is of course what contributes to a regional manager of a retail outlet sending a new employee to a particular store – due to their EI fit with that team – but deficiencies or imbalances in EI are difficult to police and adjust.

Some businesses apply it as part of a philosophy, by encouraging (and sometimes enforcing) monthly or weekly one on one meetings with senior management to discuss their feelings towards the business, or offering planning and social days so that teams can bond and perhaps become better able to receive the emotions of one another. It could also be suggested that organisations look to people of high emotional intelligence to lead teams, and divisions as the emotionally intelligent perhaps have the ability to motivate and inspire the cognitively gifted to complete their tasks with a greater level of efficacy or quality.

Such substantiations have not, however, been verified. This might seem the appropriate time for the introduction of some revolutionary third workplace success measure, one not as littered with limitations as the two aforementioned concepts are. On the contrary, the myriad of weaknesses serves only to support the idea that cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence are both vital and complement one another in life and in work. More that being equal contributors, independent of one another, they serve individuals in harmony, creating balance between personal relationships and emotions as well as, tasks and problem solving abilities.

To that end it stands to reason that without a certain level of cognitive capability any task, let alone job, will not be able to be completed. However, as anyone who has been a part of an organisation will know, work is much more than just the tasks at hand. The people you work with, for and alongside play a crucial role in our work lives and our ability to monitor both their and our own emotions complements our general mental ability. ? References Cherniss, C. (2010). Emotional intelligence: Toward clarification of a concept.

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A critique of emotional intelligence: What are the problems and how can they be fixed? 325-344. Mahwah: Lawrence Eribaum. Viswesvaran, C. , & Ones, D. S. (2002). Agreements and disagreements on the role of general mental ability (GMA) in industrial, work, and organizational psychology. Human Performance, 15(1/2), 211-231. Wood, J. , Zeffane, R. , Fromholtz, M. , Weisner, R. , Creed, A. , Schmerhorn, J. , Hunt, J. , & Osborn, R. (2010) Organisational Behaviour: core concepts and applications, 2, 44-45. Milton: John Wiley & Sons.


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