Trait Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

August 9, 2017 Richard Justenhoven
image low EI in workplace

Continuing Emotional Intelligence Research

The topic of Emotional Intelligence is still on the rise and highly discussed in literature. The term was first used in 1990 but the topic of Emotional Intelligence came to the attention of science in 1995 when Daniel Goleman published his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”. Since then many theories have evolved around this topic, and it’s hard to keep track of these and maintain an overview, but one of these theories will be further discussed in this article.

As already highlighted in a previous blog post, there is no common definition or measurement for this construct. And its validity and incremental validity to IQ is criticised by some authors. As a result, many different measurements have evolved in the literature. One of these is the concept of ‘Trait Emotional Intelligence’, which treats the construct rather as a set of lower-level personality traits instead of an ‘ability’. These can then be measured by a self-report questionnaire.

Trait Emotional Intelligence theory is at the forefront of psychometric research and therefore one into which we should delve deeper. Its additional value to other psychometric tests is discussed and examined in many recent studies. In contrast to former Emotional Intelligence tests, it focuses on self-report, rather than ability tests.

Our research

In a cross-sectional study conducted in 2016 by Oke Brandt, the construct of Trait Emotional Intelligence was examined for construct validity. The study took different job-relevant characteristics of personality into consideration, which either shared some characteristics of Trait Emotional Intelligence or should be completely unrelated. The sample consisted of 174 participants which were mainly US-citizens.

Initially, the relationship between Trait Emotional Intelligence and the Dark Triad was examined. The Dark Triad is a set of personality traits that consists of Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism. They are related and share a rather abusive and emotionally cold behaviour. 

As expected, people with high scores in Trait Emotional Intelligence:

  • Are less susceptible to psychopathy and Machiavellianism;
  • Are able to control their emotions;
  • Do not fall easily for impulses;
  • Have a more optimistic view on life.

However, there is a strong relationship with narcissism as narcissists have higher self-esteem than most and are typically social and assertive – and these are the characteristics within the Trait Emotional Intelligence concept.

Leadership-specific self-efficacy describes the belief in one’s ability to master leadership situations. It has, according to this study, a relatively high relationship to Trait Emotional Intelligence – and this was expected as Trait Emotional Intelligence is associated with leadership effectiveness.

However, in this study there was no correlation found between Trait Emotional Intelligence and verbal intelligence, as measured by our scales verbal test.

In conclusion, it’s questionable that the construct Trait Emotional Intelligence should really include the word “intelligence” – as it has no association to it! A better term might be Trait Emotional Self-Efficacy as it is alternatively proposed by the Oke Brandt himself.

Other studies have shown the positive impact of Trait Emotional Intelligence and proved its additional value to other assessments such as general mental abilities or the Big Five personality traits. It is particularly relevant in leadership positions when there is a need to understand subordinates and influence their emotions and moods.

So how can Trait Emotional Intelligence be implemented into assessment and development procedures?

This study also included our shapes (management) questionnaire and, using these results, our team is now developing a report option that includes important elements of Trait Emotional Intelligence.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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