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Emotional Intelligence or Perfect Private Secretary?

I recently came across a book from the 1960's titled "The Perfect Private Secretary." (ref) It sounded amusing so I took a look. As I flipped through, I found a list of characteristics which the South African author says represent the perfect private secretary. The list sounded a lot like the list of "Emotional Intelligence Competencies" promoted by Daniel Goleman! This motivated me to take a closer look at the book. Here is some of what I found.

The book starts out with this quote:

Of all business careers for women, the one which appears to have the most refulgence and lustre and to possess the most exalted status is that of private secretary to a business executive or manager, to a professional man or to a highly-ranked government official. Quite rightly so! The position of private secretary does certainly stand at the apex of feminine occupations in the world of affairs, if one excludes the very few exceptional instances of representatives of the weaker sex reaching managerial rank.

One cannot wonder, therefore, that many young girls entering the field of business area fascinated by this haloed position. The are attracted by the glory and distinction of working and moving in the select company of bosses. They want to be private secretaries. They talk about it. They dream about it. Yet, so very few among them possess a precise understanding of the attributes, knowledge and skills, of all the refined qualities that are the hallmark of this well-paid, glamorous office. (p. 1)

It continues later..

Private secretarial qualities possess two different aspects. The one involves knowledge and the acquisition of technical skills. It is closely related to the education and training of the future secretary... The other one involves the arts which she must exercise for happy and successful human intercourse. It is closely related to the personality of the secretary, who must be an expert in human relations.. (p 3) (My italics)

So far the book reminds me of Goleman, Bar-On and others' work in several ways. These include the exaggerated claims being made and also the importance of personality for success. This author, though, doesn't try to pass his work off as a study of emotional intelligence! (Although he may be working on a revision of his book to freshen up his terms!)

Later the author talks about how it is helpful, but not necessary for the perfect private secretary to have a university education. "With eagerness and zeal, and the right attributes..." a person with a good general education has "...without any doubt, the potential qualities and the ability to become a perfect secretary." (p. 4) (I am fairly sure Goleman also talked about "zeal" in one of his books, though I can't find the reference right now. -- S. Hein)

Next are notes from some of the remaining chapters.

Chapter 3 - "Human Relations"

The author tells us "Much of our personal or collective happiness depends on our ability to resolve problems of human relations." I agree with him on this point. He also lists these very real consequences of our failure to resolve our human relations problems:

"Homes are broken... friendships are discontinued...commercial and industrial concerns are disbanded...trading profits are lost...fellow countrymen live in a state of hostility with one another...nations go to war.." (p.8)

The author says "Recognition of the value of sound human relations is becoming more and more widespread.... Contemporary managers are trying to bring greater contentment to their employees, even at the lowest levels, by devising policies which, instead of considering the worker as the proverbial human cog in the business machine, accept him as a being with emotions and ambitions."

Then the author says that at the individual level a person will be successful or not depending on "his outlook on life, his emotional attributes and his disposition towards others. To these it must be added, in conjunction with his productive employment, his general intelligence, his special aptitudes and interests, his educational attainment and, if it has a bearing on his job, his appearance, even the clothes he wears: all qualities which combine to make up his personality."

Next the author says that "personality is indeed at the very root of all human relations...The initial impression which a man or a woman creates on others flows from the outward signs of his or her personality...The chief characteristics of a pleasant personality are to be found in a smile, in a tone of voice, in the ability to control emotions, in poise and in the attitude shown towards others." (p.9)

Then the author talks about each of these in more detail. The book gives so many insights into how people, especially business people, thought a few decades ago that I found much I wanted to share. It also helps us look at Goleman's writing in a historical perspective. Everything below is directly from the book, unless I have put it in italics.


"A smile is a far more valuable asset in human relations than many people realize. It is, indeed, an investment which costs nothing and pays handsome dividends in goodwill."

"It must be a real smile, not a smirk, not a mechanical grin which does little more than lift the corners of one's mouth. If it is forced, and can be seen to be forced, it has an unsavory effect."

"The real smile comes from the heart and reflects one's pleasure in meeting people. In the sincere, winning smile, the eyes play a part, and the whole face is illuminated. There is a bright, silent message which says: I like you. I am glad to see you. You are welcome."


"The voice can be affected by one's mood. Irascibility and irritability often creep into the spoken word to make it rasping and harsh. This need not be! Sufficient restraint should be exercised to maintain a pleasantly vibrant tone of voice."

(This seems to contradict the author's previous statement that a winning smile must come from the heart. Here the author is telling us we can mask our emotions and falsify our tone of voice. )

Control of emotions

"It can be argued that, easy though it may be to speak glibly about exercising restraint over one's bad moods, this is, in fact, difficult to accomplish. Granted! It is certainly often hard to control one's emotions. One may feel depressed or out of sorts. One may have got out of the wrong side of bed. There are one hundred and one reasons why one may be under the strain of mental agitation. Not a single one of these can be advanced as a valid excuse for an off-hand approach to other people. Let us never lose sight of the fact that it is a sign of mental maturity to be able to inhibit ill-humour and bad temper. No adult can have any claim to a thoroughbred personality without mental maturity."

(Like Goleman, this author puts a lot of emphasis on controlling emotions. Also like Goleman, he mixes his terms. And what this author calls "mental maturity is pretty much what Goleman calls emotional intelligence.)


(This one sounds especially like the popular definitions of EI marketed by Goleman, Bar-on and others. For example, the author says some are gifted with it, but others may still develop it. )

"Poise is an individual faculty which denotes mental and emotional balance. It is a complex attribute characterized by the ability to relax, be serene and at ease in the presence of other people, to show composure and equanimity in facing all situations, particularly difficult ones, and to behave with a high degree of self-assurance. In all human relations, the quality which, perhaps more than any other, inspires confidence to those one meets."

"To a few fortunate people, poise is a natural gift. But it is also within the grasp of anyone who aspires to it and is willing to observe the following points:

(a) as mentioned above, it is essential to assume full mastery over one's emotions

(b) one must practise relaxation to obviate or eliminate nervous tension and its hindering effects (Goleman promotes meditation to do this but the author speaks of another type of mediation, more of reflective thought and planning, as we see next. )

(c) through meditation, one must plan proper reactions to given social situations in order that, when these arise, they may be handled with skill and assurance. Then one must carry out one's plans on every possible occasion, test them and, if necessary, correct them until they become perfect. This will fertilize and develop self-confidence, which is the germ of poise.

Attitude towards others

"A person's attitude for happy human relations must be prompted by a desire to please, to be helpful. This is particularly important in business, private or governmental, where the emphasis is on service to the public. Employees of all ranks, including the private secretary, are paid to render this service. They cannot escape it and it is their duty to make every endeavor to render it pleasantly as well as efficiently.

"Service is affable and urbane when it is rendered with joy, with a wish to please.

"Service is perfunctory when it is rendered with indifference, mechanically, to get it over.

"Service is churlish when it is rendered with a frown, with contempt for one's job or one's entourage.

"There can be no doubt that the most commendable way of being of service to others is that which is animated by an attitude of friendliness and helpfulness.

"It is the way chosen by all who take pride in their reputation, in their personality, in the quality of their human relations.

"It is the way chosen by the perfect private secretary. (p 11,12)

Chapter 4 - Further Hints for Successful Human Relations

Interest in others

"The qualities of a pleasant personality which have been discussed so far can be acquired and used as the spearhead of good human relations. But they are superficial. If this personality is just a travesty, a put-on attitude calculated to inveigle others into our ways because it suits or benefits us, its initial attractions will sooner or later become mixed with escaping signs of our insincerity and be spoiled. Our wiles will be discovered. We shall lose our good name and credit. We shall lose face -- and deserve it. It is so disappointing if, after one has liked the veneer, one finds that the core is worthless!

"Personality, to be truly successful, must, in its polished outward expression, reflect a refined inward sentiment and must thus be backed by delicate considerations. It is not sufficient that, in our intercourse with others, we should be pleasant on the surface. We must show a sincere and genuine interest in them and thus, put their wishes and their wants, provided they are legitimate and honest, before our own for their benefit. (The author still talks about "showing" interest, but if the person does not truly "feel" interested, it will be just a show. SH)

"The private secretary must remember this, because meeting people is an important aspect of her job.

Simple means

"Showing an interest is easy. Except to the selfish, of which there are unfortunately too many, to the impassive and the callous, of which a fair number can be found, and to the die-hard misanthropist, of which, happily, there are but few, it comes almost naturally to the majority of people. And it is achieved by simple means which are pure common sense.

"The first of these means, is, of course, understanding. It is impossible to be genuinely interested in others unless one understands and appreciates the motives which spur them to action: search for health or wealth; welfare of family; parental preoccupation; security; physical, mental spiritual, and emotional needs; recreation and hobbies; ambition; vanity. It is therefore important to discover the things which actuate the people with whom one comes into contact and, unless they are truly unworthy, to display, when we meet them, a healthy curiosity and concern in these things.

"Being a good listener is another means of showing interest in others. It makes possible to discover their motives.Many people like to talk. Encourage them to do so. Listen to them with attention. Ask them questions. It will flatter them, give them a feeling of importance, tickle their vanity. They will find you a place in their heart.

"It goes without saying that those who have a sincere concern in others refrain as much as possible from speaking about themselves. (But someone who is just trying to sell you something could use the same strategy to act interested. SH) They avoid the personal pronoun "I" but make lavish use of the personal pronoun "You". Not more than one "I" to twenty-five "You's" would be a creditable and profitable proportion. It is, indeed, the "you's" which bring high return in goodwill and friendship. Self-investment in "I's" is not likely to yield much benefit in human relations.

"And now, a piece of good advice. To anyone in any language, the sound of his name is sweet music. Remembering a person's name will thus be taken as sure proof of interest in him.

Useful points

"There are also a few useful points which it is profitable to bear in mind when dealing with other people.

"Contradicting an interlocutor when he expresses his views or states facts which are not of immediate or major importance humiliates him. It is not necessary. Why not allow him his views and overlook his minor or harmless misstatements? There is nothing to gain by embarrassing anyone, and much to lose if he has a resentful and vindictive nature.

"It is a sacrosanct rule in human relations never to contradict others if one wishes to gain and maintain one's good reputation.

"There are cases, of course, when one has to deal with a blunderer who may make a serious mistake or whose inexactitude will have detrimental repercussions. He must, of necessity, be put right. This must be done with much tact and the bungler helped to save his face.

"Running down a person behind his back is a dangerous practice and, indeed, one which is always unfair and often cowardly.

" Calumny is criminal. But even if the unfavourable utterances are true, they may start a rumour which, having a predilection for distorted exaggeration, grows with snowball effect and often becomes slanderous and malicious in the process.

Dealing with the angry

"Sometimes, in business and elsewhere, one is faced with an angry person, a person with a complaint or grievance. Sparks will come out of his eyes. He may fume and rave.

"There are two kinds of angered and dissatisfied people. Those who have taken umbrage over some action or omission for which you or your organization are responsible. They are definitely in the right. Those who have fancied grievances and are thus definitely in the wrong.

"The important rule when facing an angry person, whether he is right or wrong, is to let him breath fire and fury without interrupting him until he has talked himself out. Trying to argue with him is playing into his hands, because he is more than ready for a verbal encounter. It is far better to give him all one's attention. Then, even if he is wrong, one must sympathize with him, tell him that one sees his point and understands fully how he feels.

"If the complainant is in the right, it is wiser to acknowledge one's mistake frankly and to apologize than to find excuses. And, if he has suffered in any way, one must try to make good on his loss. If he is in the wrong, his complaint must not be approached from a logical or legalistic angle. (This is especially good advice. Unfortunately few people follow it in the business world, as things become more and more legalistic and contractual. Telling someone "but the contract clearly states..." or "our company policy is..." rarely helps them feel any better. SH)

"It is more beneficial to make suggestions which, very carefully and tactfully, will introduce your point of view. Diplomacy and conciliation will often lead him, as a matter of fair play, to reconsider his own arguments. It may take time but, usually, when he has got over his tantrums, his imaginary grievances will vanish, and all will end well.

Human tolerance

"Anyone wanting to be successful in human relations must build up his or her reputation. By the very nature of her job, this applies in a high degree to the perfect private secretary. By adopting a correct and pleasant attitude towards the people who she meets, she will enhance her personality and create a good impression. She must gain and keep other people's confidence, she must remain friendly, though dignified, likeable and helpful, and, even under trying conditions, she must keep the glow of human tolerance alive and burning.

Chapter 5 is on etiquette and good manners.

Chapter 6 talks about courtesy.

Chapter 7 talks about friendly good will and equality. Under equality the author says "The bore will be there... there will also be the nit-witted and thick skulled. But whom will it help to show impatience or petulance towards them? It almost certainly will not change them! It is better to remember that they, like us, are human beings with feelings, a heart and the need to earn a living. A friendly approach is more likely to bring about reciprocal kindly feelings."

Harmonious Atmosphere

"The private secretary will lead a happy existence among her fellow-workers if, by her unassuming, charming personality, she creates a harmonious atmosphere of understanding and friendliness. She will accomplish this by... meeting her colleagues with gentle reserve and a spirit of cooperation and helpfulness.

Chapter 8

Talks about loyalty and trustworthiness. "...she must always respect him, his person and his authority..." "If he blunders, she does her best to cover it." This chapter also contains the list of "desirable business qualities" which caught my eye as being very similar to Goleman's list of "EI competencies"

"Desirable business qualities (p. 43-44)





















The rest of the book is about typing, letter writing how to organize her desk etc.! More of my commentary is below.

Commentary by S. Hein

After taking a close look at this book I see more clearly how expertly Goleman marketed his first two books on EI as something new, when he actually said very little which was not already said in books on etiquette, manners, personality, management, citizenship, making friends, influencing people and on becoming the perfect private secretary! Besides that, the book was interesting to me because it did have some very good practical advice. My biggest complaint with the book is that the author does not address the feelings underlying the behavior he advocates. He says we must be sincere, but he tells us to put our true emotions to the side. The behavior he advocates is surely "profitable," just as he states. One problem, though, is that it is impossible to live day after day in conflict with one's true emotions without this taking a toll on us or our families.

This points to another problem, one which still waits to be solved. That problem is how do we, on an individual level, create or bring forth the underlying feelings which lead to the desired behavior? Or, how do we as managers, help bring out these emotions? How do we get ourselves to truly feel interested in someone? How do we get our employees to feel interested rather than just "show" interest?

I don't believe the Goleman/corporate model of emotional intelligence gives us much help in answering these questions. Their model focusses on behavior and on control of emotions. As such it is likely to promote emotional falseness. Emotional falseness goes against the inherent value of our emotions. When we are emotionally false we are not aware of, or we are deliberately avoiding, our true emotional needs.

The author says that showing interest is easy, "except to the selfish". But what is a selfish person except someone who has unmet needs and is focussed on trying to meet them? Is it not natural for a hungry person to focus on getting something to eat? Is it not also natural, then, for a person who has been starved for acceptance, approval, admiration, attention and a feeling of importance to try to fill these unmet needs?

As I have stated elsewhere, I believe most of our unmet needs are emotional needs --at least for those of us with food in our stomachs and roofs over our heads. I further believe the Mayer-Salovey model of emotional intelligence can help us in several ways.

  • It can help raise our awareness of the importance of our emotions and emotional needs.
  • It can help us identify our emotional needs and help us take necessary action to fill them.
  • It can help us communicate our emotional needs in ways which increase the chances that others will help us fill our needs, or at least respect them.
  • It can help us understand our own and others' emotions and emotional needs.
  • It can help us help others fill their emotional needs.

As more of our own emotional cups are filled, our attention will naturally turn more towards the needs of others. If we are drowning we are not going to be very good listeners. (Unless the other person is telling us how to save ourselves.) But if our basic emotional needs are met we are more likely to truly be interested in others and their problems and desires. We are also more likely to have time for them. Neither a drowning nor starving person is likely to have much time to help others.

Once we (a) realize we have emotional needs, (b) identify our personal unmet emotional needs (c) take steps to fill them, we gain a deeper understanding of emotional needs in general. Then we are better able to understand others' emotional needs. For example, once we realize how much we need to feel listened to and taken seriously, we are more likely to look for and eventually find someone to listen to us and take us seriously. It will then be easier to listen to someone else and take them seriously.

I don't believe we can turn people into either "perfect private secretaries" or "star performers" by just giving them a list of all the attributes (or "emotional competencies") we are seeking. Nor do I believe we can bribe or coerce sincerity of feelings. I do believe, though, that we can take more responsibility for managing our own emotional needs.

Note that I put the emphasis on managing our emotional needs rather than on our emotions. I have found that when I focus on my identifying my unmet emotional needs, the emotions tend to work themselves out. Perhaps it is our emotional intelligence which helps us do all of this. Or perhaps anyone can do it with either modeling or training. This I am unsure of, but I am still a believer that some people are born with higher levels of innate emotional intelligence. And I am still a believer that we can identify these people when they are young, then help develop them into emotional consultants, advisors and problem solvers.

I believe these are the kinds of people the world truly needs right now. Perhaps in the 50's and 60's we needed more perfect private secretaries. Perhaps in the 80's and 90's we needed (or thought we did) more star performers in the tobacco and cosmetics industries. But now I believe we need people with exceptional levels of EI; people who can mediate the kinds of international conflicts which are presently killing thousands of people, and which have the potential for killing many tens of thousands more.

I believe we need people who understand emotions. People who understand the feelings of resentment and hatred. People who understand respect and don't confuse it with fear. People who can become the new leaders. People who can lead us away from financial profits and military power. I believe we can develop these new leaders from among the children and teenagers who are the most sensitive and who have the highest innate emotional intelligence. I don't believe these are the same people who would become star performers in killing people or in selling them cosmetics or life insurance. Instead I believe they are the people who could become the star performers in mediation, conflict resolution and peace-keeping. These are two different kinds of people, trained and educated in two very different ways.

Goleman's model of emotional intelligence stresses things like loyalty and cheerfulness. This is exactly what a military officer wants. And what the president of a nation or company would want. Even most school principals want loyalty. Those in power typically want those below them to loyally and cheerfully go about their duties, whether it be memorizing irrelevant homework, selling unneeded products or killing people in foreign countries.

The differences between the Goleman model of emotional intelligence and the Mayer-Salovey model are still not widely understood. But they are important. In the Mayer-Salovey model, as I interpret it, one must always listen to one's own inner voice, even when it goes against the voice of authority. One must always feel empathy for other human beings and remember that we are all united by our emotions, no matter what our skin color, nationality or belief system. The Goleman model, though, pushes us to remain loyal to authority; to be "good students" in our parents' schools, "good citizens" of our ancestors' countries, and "star performers" in our bosses' companies.

I am trying to construct a new model of emotional intelligence, one which is based on the Mayer Salovey model but which is more clearly differentiated from the Goleman model. Instead of focussing on behavior, as Goleman's model does, my model focusses on feelings. Instead of focussing on success, competition and winning, my model focusses on understanding, unity and cooperation. Goleman's model seems to view humans as competitors in the struggle for survival. Mine sees us as partners.

I believe these differences reflect a much needed change in thinking not only about emotional intelligence, but about humanity. I believe it is imperative we understand this difference if we want to set a new course for ourselves. When too many people place loyalty to their leader above their own consciences; when too many people let others set the agenda; when too many people let others do their thinking and feeling for them; the whole world is becomes at risk.

October 25, 2002
Cape Town, South Africa


J. F. Loriaux. Publisher Juta & Company. 1968

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