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the new business normal

Michael Rock, now retired, taught and researched emotional-intelligence testing extensively.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

This is the story of two emotional people – one a strong, self-assured woman, the other a somewhat self-disparaging man.

Both were up for jobs at a small engineering firm north of Toronto. They were taking what was then, in the late 1990s, a relatively new test to measure their emotional intelligence, including such traits as empathy and self-awareness.

Michael Rock remembers it well, when he administered the test. Now retired, Dr. Rock taught and researched emotional-intelligence testing extensively and has watched the field grow in recent decades.

The tests have helped foster a language used in hiring employees and executive searches, all based on codifying and quantifying the kind of characteristics that breed success in business and team situations.

Military officers take them. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs are said to have taken the emotional-intelligence tests at one point. (Dr. Rock didn't mention how well the team actually scored.)

The male candidate, who had been out of work for a couple of years, scored on the low end of average.

The female job candidate scored unusually high. If she had been taking an IQ test, the woman would have been labelled a genius. "I thought, Oh my gosh, I've met a goddess," Dr. Rock recalled, feigning the reaction some may have had seeing her score.

But her scores gave an inflated positive impression, Dr. Rock said.

There is an additional scoring scale in that particular test, a forerunner to the EQ-i 2.0 test published by Multi-Health Systems (MHS) in Toronto, which detects excessively positive answers, Dr. Rock said. The test was originally developed by U.S. psychologist Reuven Bar-On, who, along with Daniel Goleman and others, is among the pioneers of the field, which gained momentum in the 1980s.

The questions ask test takers to explore their emotional inclinations and reactions to different scenarios on a five-point numerical scale, ranging from what seems most like them to least like them.

The EQ-i 2.0 test is also assessed by a practitioner certified by MHS, who provides feedback.

So who got hired? The man, and he turned out to be a successful team player. The woman? "It might have worked out, but who wants to have a prima donna?" Dr. Rock said.

The point is that although Dr. Rock believes in the usefulness of testing and the language it creates in talking about applied emotions, no test can summarize the full mettle of anyone.

"I call it the start of a conversation," Dr. Rock said. "You and I can't not display our emotional intelligence. We're hanging out there no matter what happens: the good, the bad, the indifferent.

"What we really would like – most of us, I think – is to be fluent in this new language," he said.

What was once called gut reactions and intuition is now described in terms of EQ-i scores. And behind that is a drive to measure those interpersonal skills, particularly amid the rampage of new technology changing how managers manage.

"As individuals grow into more senior-level positions, often what might have gotten them to that point is how strong of an individual contributor they might have been in their career," said Les Gombik, a managing partner in the Calgary office of the executive search firm Caldwell Partners.

"However, when you go further up and climb the corporate ladder, there are a lot of responsibilities either in terms of working within teams or leading teams. Breaking down silos, team-based approaches require strong emotional intelligence."

Social media and websites such as, which ranks companies for their attributes (and faults) as employers, are making the internal work environment all the more public. So fluency in people skills is essential, say emotional-intelligence proponents.

"People who lack emotional intelligence really don't deal well with change. That's one of the things missing, an ability to connect with people and to have empathy. It's often more about them. ... And frankly, when things are changing more rapidly, they can't cope," Mr. Gombik said.

"It's part of a larger shift starting to challenge the whole nature of intelligence itself, and how we define intelligence," added Brett Richards, president of Connective Intelligence, a strategy and executive-development consultancy in Newmarket, Ont., and a teacher at the Executive Education Centre at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

It's said that intelligence gets you in the door of a company, but emotional intelligence gets you to the top, Dr. Richards noted. Yet, whereas an emotional-intelligence test is all about oneself, the aim is to apply that ability to self-motivate and self-manage feelings to the larger emotional terrain of an organization as a whole.

Emotional-intelligence analysis sprung from the understanding that IQ smarts aren't the full picture of a person, but some, such as Dr. Rock, caution that EQ testing also isn't enough.

He feels there is a risk in slotting people according to EQ scores or using emotional-intelligence testing as an instrument to fine-tune employees.

Test scores instead are "a barometer. It gives me a visual," Dr. Rock said. It provides a language for emotional traits and how employees present themselves. But there is still more to know, from life experiences to other abilities still hidden from standardized testing. There's a certain poetry in each individual which shouldn't be lost.

"I like looking at the whole package," Dr. Rock said.

How to improve your emotional intelligence:

- Respond honestly in an emotional-intelligence test. Don't try to score highly or base your responses on staying consistent with how you answered on a previous test. The test can suss that out.

- Think of what may be the correct emotion at the correct moment. Brett Richards of Connective Intelligence calls this "emotional power," the ability to not let your gut response dominate a situation that may call for a different or more nuanced approach.

- Realize that some good traits may actually cancel out others. The ability to communicate your point of view is an asset. But getting your point across may undermine your ability to empathize. Be aware that one positive trait can sometimes butt heads with another.

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