Emotional Intelligence Home Page

Measuring EQ

Why it's emotionally UN-intelligent!
Keith Beasley

The idea of measuring EQ makes my heart sink. Whilst the idea did occur to me when I first wrote about Emotional Quotient in 1987, I very soon decided that to quantify our sensitivity or expressiveness was not actually an emotionally intelligent thing to do! There are many reasons why this is the case, not least because EQ is, in many ways, a balance to our IQ: the discussion of our emotional natures was specifically designed to get us to consider facets of our thought processes other than our logical, rational ways of thinking. To measure and quantify is very much a 'left-brain' activity and has little if any place in the 'right-brain' world of emotions. Such a view is very much in support of the original use of 'emotional intelligence' by Wayne Payne in his 1985 paper:

Evidence is presented that the mass suppression of emotion throughout the civilized world has stifled our growth emotionally, leading us down a path of emotional ignorance. (from Payne's dissertation abstract)

Besides, why DO we feel the need to measure everything? I'd suggest it has much to do with mankind's preoccupation with so called 'facts' and figures. This is one of those emotionally UNintelligent habits of humanity that I feel strongly needs to be faced and undone.

When it come to actual things . . . like buying food or measuring distance then feet or meters have a use. In engineering and technology, too, there is perhaps a need for fixed units and agreed ways of measuring an array of factors. But humans!? I find the idea that I can be classified like a nut or a bolt and measured like a Volt or Amp offensive. We are all unique human beings. To measure or categorise us is to consider us as any other commodity . . . and pretty much all administrations and marketing folks do that too much already anyway . . don't they? It's bad enough for our banks, governments and supermarkets to treat us as just another number or category of customer without psychologists getting in on the act!

As I first explored the idea of EQ within the British Mensa Special Interest Group (the 'Sensitive SIG') that I'd established, Mensa was very much into psychological profiling and was promoting the Myers Briggs (MB) test. I looked into it as a first step in measuring EQ. What I found put me off such measurements. Full stop. My experience of being classified into a few letters triggered a revulsion of anything to do with psychological testing. It's only now, some 12 to 15 years later, after much soul searching and intensive self-development that I'm able to write about the subject without getting too wound-up by the matter!

To be asked 'am I intuitive or logical?' I find not just offensive but over simplistic to the extreme. What really annoyed me about the Myers Briggs and other psychological tests was that I was expected to answer 'A' or 'B', I couldn't respond with what to me was the honest answer "it depends". I can be intuitive some of the time and I can be logical at others. I can be introvert, for example when I'm tired . . . and an extrovert when given the opportunity to speak to a group about EQ! I am not one or the other. I am, or at least have the potential to be, intuitive and logical . . . introvert and extrovert. It's not a question of being one or the other . . . life is a matter of being able to be both . . . and to be able to switch between the two extremes as and when a situation requires it.

This 'either - or' thinking is, I believe, a major sign of emotional UNintelligence. It may satisfy our logical minds to categorise things A or B, black or white, good or bad, intuitive or logical, but in most aspects of the world it's SO far from the truth that anybody with any common sense should throw out the idea immediately. The world is black, white, all shades of grey and all the colours of the rainbow . .. plus a few! So how on earth can it be useful to have to decide A or B all the time? It isn't. If we're to become at all emotionally intelligent we have to stop doing it!

"Ah", the psychological tester will say "but you'll be predominantly one or the other". At this point I'll probably look skywards, struggle to stay calm and either walk away or, if I have time and patience on my side that day, attempt to explain the following:


My interest in emotional intelligence has been very much from the point of view of personal self development. In 1987 I realised that I needed to 'sort myself out' and thus began a long and often painful process of finding out who and what I really was. Taking the MB test did much to help me see that I certainly wasn't an INTJ, ESFP or INTP. But it did give me some idea as to how complex my character was. As I explored different facets of my personality so I grew out of some and developed others. As I did this I became aware of a whole raft of traits and characteristics . . . some natural and inherent to the real me . . . and many 'inherited' or picked up from my parents and society.

However, the various tests and quizzes that are available didn't really help much when it came to identifying which was the real me . . . and which aspects of myself that are best described as 'my conditioning' - habits, beliefs, attitudes and ways of doing things that were straight copies of my parents'. What profiles like the MB test seem to be about is to identify where on a scale we fit. It's a comparison. It's judging our traits with respect to 'the average'. Maybe I'm being emotionally and intellectually thick here, but why is this important? What does it matter how I compare, on a particular scale, with the rest of a given population?

This whole approach seems to be judging me. Now I appreciate that it is not the intent of such profiles to say that a particular trait is less or more desirable than another, but the very act of putting us on a scale does just that. Any measurement of personality, presumably because there is no absolute scale available for such a measurement, has to compare us to others. But what value is that? My question, and concern over psychological tests generally, applies equally to measures of IQ, EQ or to any attempt to label or quantify our personality traits or aspects of intelligence.

To me, the aim of identifying various facets of myself is to enable me to live a more natural, enjoyable and worthwhile life. If this is not the intent is personality profile and measurement of EQ or any other psychological parameter then why on earth are we doing it?

It's great to find out that I have a tendency, for example, to get angry when interrupted in a task. But to then label me as a 'Type X' achieves nothing. If however I dig a bit deeper and realise that I'm behaving selfishly because I've lived on my own too long . . . then I can change my behaviour and become a nicer person to live with. Merely labelling me 'short tempered' will probably just make me even more so!

If I've read current EI material correctly (e.g. John Mayer's EI web site: http://www.unh.edu/emotional_intelligence ), emotional intelligence is seen as our ability to understand and make positive use of our emotions. Here here! Whilst the conventional view may be that to understand something requires that we measure it, I'm not at all sure that such an approach is valid for something as variable, complex and personally unique as our emotional intelligence. I'd suggest that whilst we need to become more aware of our natural traits and conditioning it doesn't help at all to label, categorise or quantify such characteristics. Doing so tends to limit us to such labels . . rather than help us become the real, whole, true, us.


See this page on Keith's early writing about the idea of "EQ"


Reading Keith Beasley's article questioning why we need tests of emotional intelligence got me thinking. I started writing that one reason we need such tests is to "identify those who have a higher potential for solving emotional problems." Then I started thinking about the problem of "terrorism" and the efforts to stop it. And it came to mind that terrorism is an emotional problem.

It is an emotional problem because it is a problem based in the emotion of hatred and years of feeling of resentment, which themselves are based on other feelings, such as the feeling of injustice. The effort to stop terrorism is largely based on the emotion of fear. And in George Bush's case, on the feeling of self-righteousness.