Published: May 17, 2017
Put your emotions aside so you can think clearly” is common advice we still hear today. But another line of thinking has emerged in the last couple decades—that wisdom and clarity can also stem from
having a positive and productive emotional investment in your family members, co-workers, projects,
First introduced in 1990 by psychologists Peter Salovey at Yale University and John Mayer at
the University of New Hampshire, emotional intelligence (EQ) is a combination of self-awareness,
motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills. Harnessed effectively, emotional intelligence
can result in more meaningful personal relationships, more success at work, and a greater ability to
navigate the trials and stresses of everyday life. In fact, the ability to listen, be observant of others’
emotional cues, and embrace open communication is found to be just as—if not more—important
than IQ and professional degrees.
Two faculty members and an alumna from Pacific Oaks College weigh in on the importance of EQ
to create success in personal relationships, the workplace, and the larger community.
Yolanda Carlos is a core faculty member in the School of Education. With more than 30 years of instructional experience, she was instrumental in developing the STEAM specialization program at Pacific Oaks. She holds a bachelor’s in child development from the University of LaVerne and an M.S. in Behavioral Management from Cambridge College.
Dr. Carlene O. Fider is a core faculty member in the School of Human Development. The Jamaican native is also a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) with a B.S. in Psychology from Northern Caribbean University; an M.S. in Marital and Family Therapy and a Ph.D. in Family Studies, both from Loma Linda University.
Stacey Smith-Clark is the center manager at Long Beach City College Child Development Center and Learning Lab and a faculty member in LBCC’s Child and Adult Development Department. She is also the co-founder of the grassroots organization Early Education Action League. She holds a B.A. in Human Development and Social Change, and an M.A. in Human Development, Leadership & Education from Pacific Oaks.
Q: Thank you for talking with us about this important, and sometimes misunderstood, topic. Do you believe that emotional intelligence is a learned or innate skill?
Smith-Clark: I think it’s both. If you have privilege and come from a home where your parents and family had the time and capacity to support you emotionally, then I think it’s probably very likely that you would innately have more emotional intelligence as an adult. But if you come from a family where there’s trauma and stress, then EQ might not be something that you were able to develop. Not because your parents didn’t love you, but because they had other concerns to focus on.
Fider: I agree. Here’s a bit of research on this. In 1997, John D. Mayer from the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey from Yale University— considered to be the fathers of the EQ movement—said that EQ is “the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” In that definition, we hear both learned and innate skills. I see EQ similar to traits like language acquisition. Each individual is born with the biology (a brain) to navigate the use of language. Yet, if a child does not have adequate exposure to language, then the ability to form words and sentences becomes a challenge. The more language is reinforced, the more the child will develop language skills. Each person is born with a brain that houses areas specifically responsible for emotional responses. Based on their lived experiences, they will either become more adept in responding in more socially appropriate ways, or not. In essence it’s the product of the learned due to the presence of the innate.
Q: Do you believe that emotional intelligence is just as important as traditional intelligence?
Carlos: Yes! IQ is narrow in that it defines intelligence through a standardized measure and cannot provide a full picture of the ability for someone to understand and express emotions in relationships, the workplace, and in interviews. Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is critical in how people are able to get along with others and relate in an empathetic way to build not only personal relationships but working relationships.
Smith-Clark: And honestly, regardless of traditional intelligence, if you can’t get along with other people, you may not be as successful careerwise. There are definitely jobs for people who work alone, but those jobs are few and far between. There’s also the matter of getting along with a diverse group. So many people go into education because they really like children, for example, but they underestimate how many adults they’re going to work with: colleagues, supervisors, parents, and family.
Q: That’s a great point. How have you integrated EQ into your career?
Smith-Clark: When communicating with anybody, even in an uncomfortable situation, I try not to react too quickly. Is this person just venting to me? Is this person really angry, or does he or she just need help or empathy? Evaluating their intentions will usually be how I decide to respond. However, I don’t just want to be someone’s problem solver. I want to be a partner with them to figure out how to better improve those personal and working relationships.
Carlos: Yes, developing trusting, empathetic relationships with others is extremely important. That has helped to open doors for me. It’s the concept of, “the heart leads, then the head.” They should work in tandem.
Fider: Speaking from a classroom perspective on evaluating intentions, first, I attempt to create research-based content that specifically addresses EQ. Then I translate that into practical lessons and techniques that people can apply when they are under pressure. Second, there is the inclusion of practical and interactive exercises that gives people the opportunity to learn and practice how they can apply the new EQ techniques they have been exposed to. Often this comes as the class discussion gets intense. It’s capitalizing on those moments that I find to be most useful.
Q: How do you think Pacific Oaks’ unique educational pedagogy can contribute to advancing the tenets of emotional intelligence in its students?
Smith-Clark: I really grew from my wonderful experience at Pacific Oaks. It helped me recognize privilege and biases I didn’t know I had. PO was the first environment I was ever in where students like myself got called out for their flaws. Those moments were used productively as an opportunity to acknowledge shortcomings and grow.
Fider: Best of all, it’s not just the students who acknowledge and evaluate their behavior. Administration, faculty, staff, and students alike have a chance to be part of the process of creating environments that encourage and foster emotional intelligence. The courses heavily emphasize the importance of leading through change, increasing engagement, creating accountability, and building teams with all of these groups.
Carlos: Agreed. In my experience, the courses at PO help to develop the whole person. Not just their academic understanding, but the next step as well—the development of the heart or passion our students have for their professional goals. When students ask what work they will be able to do with their degree, my response is: “Your upward mobility and whether you stay employed has more to do with your passion, heart, diligence, and work ethic than anything else. Once you adopt this thinking, opportunities you never thought would materialize will open up to you.”
Q: What do you think happens when EQ and IQ come together?
Fider: The former is much more difficult to measure. And I’d say that there is still a social preference given to IQ. It’s the belief that logic, abstract thought, memory, and problem solving are more valued than an awareness of emotional knowledge. But the most interesting and engaging people I know have the ability to create a balance between IQ and EQ. When they collide, this can result in the birth of something that is not only engaging, but an opportunity to highlight the necessity of both ways of being and interacting in the world.
Smith-Clark: From a personal perspective, my husband has a very strong IQ but is not great at reading people. I, on the other hand, am pretty good at identifying a person’s emotions. Just as someone with high EQ needs their personal feelings acknowledged, someone with a high IQ has just as much right to be acknowledged. In both personal and professional relationships, there’s also the added benefit of utilizing emotional intelligence to devolve a conflict. Conflict is not necessarily bad. If I know a lot about Topic A and you know a lot about Topic B, then maybe we can work together to reach a better solution than we would had we worked alone. Change comes from conflict. If there was no conflict, nobody would change. But rather than make it an uncomfortable situation, if we can both agree that we’re both bringing something to the table, then it’s a win-win.