Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Emotional competence

I don't write a whole lot about emotional intelligence (EI), mostly because I still haven't seen a consensus around its conceptualization and measurement, but there continues to be significant interest in it. And on that note, there's an excellent article in a recent issue of JOB that I think is worth discussing.

In a nutshell, Kim, et al. studied nearly 200 matched subordinate-supervisor pairs in four South Korean hotels. The employees worked either at the front desk or were waiters--folks that likely would benefit from emotional competence.

Emotional competence, you say, not emotional intelligence? Yes, the authors prefer the term competence for several reasons:

1) Self-report inventories such as those used in this study may not be appropriate for measuring abilities.

2) Self-report measures usually measure typical behavior rather than maximally possible behavior, which an ability test hypothetically does.

3) Self-report measures of EC have low correlations with tests of cognitive ability.

I commend the authors for distinguishing between these concepts. In fact, it leads me to wonder whether we should go a step further and say emotional confidence or emotional report. However, this does raise some troubling issues with respect to the similarity and differences between the concepts and is a good illustration of why many I/O types shy away from this topic (it may also have something to do with there being many instruments that claim to measure EI).

Anyway, back the study. The measure they used for EC was a 16-item scale using 7-point Likert-type scales. An example question was, "I am sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others."

The authors found uncorrected correlations of .15 between EC and the two work performance measures of task effectiveness as well as social integration (both p<.05). In addition, they found support for their hypotheses that the relationship between EC and job performance was mediated by "interpersonal proactive behaviors", measured here by supervisors as the extent to which the employee engaged in feedback seeking behavior and relationship development with the supervisor. So not huge correlations, but useful. The strength of the correlation is in line with what we often see for uncorrected self-report measures such as personality inventories.

To their credit, the authors chose employees who likely would have need of some type of emotional awareness. This of course would be one of the big questions if one were considering this type of selection tool, and the decision as always would rest with the results of a detailed study of the job. What the Uniform Guidelines would have to say about supporting this measure using content validation is another story for another day!


George Guajardo said...

I am glad to see researchers are taking another look at this construct. I think it is potentially useful, though we have to make sure we conceptualize it clearly.

Other researchers have taken this approach; distinguishing between emotional intelligence-related behavior and traits (the reference escapes me, sorry). I think this direction is a positive one for the study of emotional intelligence.

Ilona Jerabek said...

My team has been researching EQ for over a decade. In 1997, we developed an EQ assessment that was broken down into a number of factors. The factor structure has changed over the years as we gained more and more insight, but essentially, we always reported two subfactors - 1) Self-reported traits and attitudes, and 2) Knowledge component (assessed by situational questions).

Our EIQ Test assesses ability to identify emotions and emotional insight (into self and others), ability to express and manage emotions, social insight and empathy, goal-orientation and motivation, and integration of emotions. The Knowledge scale focuses the individual’s ability to recognize or identify the responses (emotional, cognitive and behavioral) that in the given situation present the most effective way of achieving the desired outcome, whether it’s dissipating an explosive situation, getting others to go along with what you want, or soothing yourself or others. The scale also assesses how well you can read a situation from overt behaviors of others.

The correlations between the self-report and knowledge components in our studies is in the 0.35 range (p < 0.0001), which is higher than the one reported in this blog, but it still goes to show that what people say and what they do is not the same thing.

There are several reasons why, in general, self-reports are less reliable – impression management is a big one, especially in a pre-employment testing situation. Self-deception and true cluelessness (or lack of self-awareness) about one’s ability to read others (and self, for that matter) are also likely to contribute to the “noise” found in assessments using self-reports.

The bottom line is: the ability to figure what others are feeling and adjust one’s behavior and communication style accordingly is an extremely valuable skill for anybody who deals with people, regardless of whether that means working with clients, teammates, direct reports or management. As such, it should be assessed, developed and used in performance evaluations.

Ilona Jerabek, PhD

Jennifer said...

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