Emotional Intelligence versus IQ – what’s more important?

Emotional Intelligence versus IQ – what’s more important?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a much-hyped concept across different areas of life and very prominently so, when it comes to job and workplace-related issues. Everyone has made the one or the other experience with surely highly intelligent people who lack any emotional or social skill whatsoever, hence EQ must be relevant. The question is, how important EQ is compared to intelligence (IQ) regarding job performance.

Insights into this matter could determine success in the recruitment process, given that finding and hiring talent is both time-consuming and expensive and companies should therefore not only be interested in hiring the right talent but also in driving and keeping attrition rates low.


What is EQ compared to IQ?

So, let’s first have a look at what EQ actually means.

If you search emotional intelligence in the internet, you find a wealth of information, for instance that EQ is considered as one of a number of different intelligences, or talents, that people possess apart from (cognitive) intelligence. In essence, EQ is understood as the ability to recognise and subsequently use emotions to regulate oneself and others. People with high EQ are thus considered better in picking up even subtle emotional cues (or messages conveyed through emotion) and in responding to them adequately.

EQ is regarded as different from intelligence, which is defined as cognitive ability and is measured to assess rational thinking and problem-solving.

If you look at the scientific research literature, there are two main conceptualisations of EQ, ability-based and trait-based or mixed models:

Trait-based model:

Here, EQ comprises several constructs, including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, each of which are again comprised of a range of aspects, including self-confidence, conscientiousness, optimism, or service-orientation. Whilst each of these aspects have merit in promoting success at the workplace and in life, this definition is criticised for being too broad, as it encompasses constructs that have their very own standing in the literature, as for instance, conscientiousness is one of the well-known and widely used “Big Five” personality traits. Trait-based models are usually measured via self-reported scales.

Ability-based model

In contrast, the ability-based model is defined more narrowly and focused on measuring, e.g. the ability to identify emotions from photographs. An example is the four-branch model from Mayer, Caruso & Salovey, which distinguishes between

  • Perceiving emotion, i.e., identifying emotions in oneself and others
  • Facilitating thought using emotion, i.e., prioritizing thinking, generating emotions e.g. to relate to other people’s experience
  • Understanding emotion, i.e., labelling emotions, understanding emotions, their origins and consequences, assessing and predicting emotions
  • Managing emotions, i.e., deciding whether to engage in emotions, using own or others’ emotions to attain a preferred result


EQ and job performance

The positive influence of EQ on job performance is not only touted by popular literature or HR consultants, it has also been shown extensively in scientific research. For instance, EQ was linked positively to project management success, through project managers’ positive attitudes (job satisfaction) and ability to build trust with project teams.

Trait-based models of EQ have shown to be especially good for predicting job performance. Yet, they are criticised for being an assemblage of other concepts, and the reason for their positive results was identified to be exactly what the criticism entails, i.e., an overlap with well-known psychological constructs such as the “Big Five”.

On the EQ/IQ relationship, one study found IQ to be most predictive for good job performance, followed by EQ, indicating that both measures should be used.

Yet, there’s a word of caution. Research has found that people with high EQ but low IQ can achieve good work performance, suggesting that they may be able to – consciously or not – manipulate superiors into liking them and thus being rated more favourably on their work performance as would otherwise be adequate.

EQ and leadership performance

Regarding the effects of EQ on job performance, a study using the ability-based model found that EQ predicts leadership performance, because leaders with high EQ scores were found to achieve better business results and better ratings by their subordinates, whereby the ability to perceive emotions appeared to be most important. The same study indicates that IQ may be a necessary condition to reach managerial levels but once there, EQ would be more important.

Does everyone need to have high EQ scores?

If you see EQ as any other ability, the answer is no. Just as not everyone is super proficient at coding or foreign languages. Yet, one study states that awareness of one’s EQ is more important than the score itself, i.e., if you are aware of having a lower EQ, you can always get support from those who are good at understanding emotional cues and applying the necessary reactions, e.g., to avoid conflict. If we don’t speak a foreign language, we can get an interpreter, right? Even better, EQ can be learned to a certain extent, irrespective whether ability-based or mixed EQ models have been used for training. Hence, everyone can become more self-reliant in discerning messages conveyed through emotion and improve work or leadership performance or recruitment chances.



Please contact me for a list of references.


Birn + Partners, Germany

Andreas Rauch


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