Dress for success

The book Emotional Intelligence says people who are socially graceful enjoy more success than people who are intellectually brilliant but socially inept. This unexpected insight was previously only known to high school nerds, IT professionals who report to 'a suit', and those who read Dilbert and actually get the joke.

ManagementSpeak: No, I've asked Bill to take the lead on this project.

Translation: You need to take me golfing more often, George.

-- This week's anonymous contributor got published because he took me golfing. (No, not really.)

If you want to know why practitioners of the hard sciences sometimes sneer at social scientists, look no farther than the popular book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. In it, Goleman presents a groundbreaking discovery: people who are socially graceful enjoy more success than people who are intellectually brilliant but socially inept. This unexpected insight was, until Goleman's book, known only to high school nerds, IT professionals who report to "a suit", and those who read Dilbert and actually get the joke.

I have a problem with Emotional Intelligence (measured by something Goleman calls "EQ") not because it's wrong, but because it's dumb.

To be fair, my criticisms of this book are in the domain of the purely rational. As Goleman points out, we've overemphasised the importance of rationality, the trait that separates us from every other species on the planet, and underemphasised the importance of our emotional selves. I guess that means we ought to base our evaluation of this book on whether it makes us feel good.

But I just can't bring myself to endorse a book that so hopelessly confuses description with prescription.

Goleman's description is correct, although so obvious one wonders why anyone would bother buying a book to understand it. Put succinctly, it's that if you want to succeed you have to get along with people. It's an accurate statement; one made in this column many times. If you want a successful career, pay attention.

But Goleman takes it a step beyond, to the Panglossian conclusion that this is a good thing. Maybe it is, although I have a hard time agreeing that we should downplay facts and logic in favour of something any baboon can master ... literally!

Here's the point Emotional Intelligence should have made: we tend to hire and promote those with superior social graces over those who excel at their work. And we buy from the sales representative with the best haircut, firmest handshake, most resonant voice and the most tasteful clothes. But that's a very bad way to behave, and with training we can learn to overcome it.

Or as I once explained to a hiring manager who reported to me, I'd prefer to apologise for my technicians' poor manners than for their lack of competence.

Of course, had Goleman made this point instead, Emotional Intelligence wouldn't have become a best seller, and he wouldn't have become as successful as he has.

Which just goes to show that if nothing else, Goleman eats his own cooking.

Send any comments to Lewis, who heads IS Survivor Training, which organises "Leading High-Performance IT". Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags IS Survival Guide

More about Bill

Show Comments

Market Place

[]